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Monday, December 5, 2016

Sometimes the absurdities of an official policy or action are so clear that they need not be elucidated. Such is the case with the Obama administration’s maintenance of the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, a grotesque place that only the novelist Franz Kafka, who wrote brilliantly of nightmarish milieu, could adequately describe.

Last week, President Barack Obama told reporters that he intends to once again press Congress to close the facility, as he had promised to do in his first campaign. But there is no indication that the president intends to devote any of his remaining political capital to the task — any more than he did during his first term.

Still, Obama was right about this much: Everything about the prison is “contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.” So, when will it be shut down? How long will the United States continue a policy that alienates our allies, inflames our enemies, and sullies our image as a defender of human rights around the world?

Most Americans tend to think of Guantánamo as a prison for murderous jihadists — those, for example, who helped Osama bin Laden carry out the 9/11 attacks. In fact, most of Guantánamo’s remaining 166 inhabitants are unlikely to ever be charged with any crime.

Indeed, 86 of them have already been fully or conditionally cleared for release by courts or government national security agencies. But most of those are Yemenis, and Obama doesn’t want to send them home for fear they will fall in with Yemen’s al Qaeda arm. So they are stuck in limbo.

(Here’s the irony: If they had not been kept so long in brutal confinement, they might have gone home as defenders of U.S. interests. After years of cruel detention, however, they might well be risks to U.S. security.)

Some of the other 80 or so detainees may be terrorists, but only six currently face military commissions. The government has reason to suspect others of terrorist connections, but it has little evidence it can use in court.