- Legal activists question a decade of detentions at Guantanamo
- Former military JAG says detainees become "heroes and martyrs" in terrorist camps
- Demonstration outside White House urges Obama to make good on shutdown promise
Activists say the U.S. is handing the enemy a victory the longer it allows the detention of enemy combatants at the U.S Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"When we leave them at Guantanamo, in a military prison, we give them a status they don't deserve," said John Hutson, a former U.S. Navy judge advocate general. "We make them heroes and martyrs to their friends and colleagues back in terrorist camps," he said.
Ten years after the first detainees were brought to Guantanamo from what was considered the battlefield in Afghanistan after 9/11, constitutional and judicial experts held a news conference Wednesday to say the Obama administration needs to restore American values of human rights and the rule of law.
Hundreds of protesters rallied later outside the White House as part of the event, with organizers saying the rally was to "call on President Obama to keep his promise and shutter Guantanamo Bay now."
Under the Bush administration, the United States claimed that Guantanamo Bay detainees are not on U.S. soil and therefore not covered by the U.S. Constitution, and that "enemy combatant" status means they can be denied some legal protections.
President Barack Obama in January 2009 ordered the camp to be closed within a year, citing security concerns. But as of July of last year, 171 detainees remained at Guantanamo.
Their prolonged and murky circumstances were the focus of the Wednesday event.
"There is no case that is so important that we should sacrifice our dedication to human rights and rule of law," Hutson said. "It's not a rule of law unless it applies all the time, and it's not a human right unless it applies to all people."
Morris Davis, a former chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo, said political interference from back home during the Bush administration blocked any basis for a fair trial.
"Initially I was probably the leading proponent for Guantanamo, and for military commissions," Davis, a retired Air Force colonel, said Wednesday. But he eventually resigned after he said the Bush administration pressured him to use evidence he felt was obtained through torture.
"I believed at the time that we were committed to having full, fair and open trials," Davis said. "I resigned when I lost confidence that that was our commitment."
Obama, in a 2009 speech delivered in Cairo, Egypt, acknowledged that the U.S. had acted "contrary to our ideals" in the time that followed the 9/11 attacks. After telling his Middle East audience he had "unequivocally prohibited the use of torture," Obama then said he had "ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed," on a timetable that would have ended about a year ago.
"If we roll up the Constitution every time that there's a difficult factual situation, we might as well roll up the entire democracy," said Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Talat Hamdani, a Muslim American whose son died in the attacks on World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, spoke at the rally in front of the White House.
"We say we are not at war with Islam, yet actions do speak louder than words," Hamdani said. "Guantanamo is a shame -- a disgrace for our nation and we need to set the record straight by leading by example."
Despite a steady downpour of rain, the large group of protesters -- including some in orange jumpsuits symbolizing the Guantanamo Bay detainee uniforms, marched past the White House and on to the Supreme Court following the rally.