Despite the perception of many people, the prisoners held in Guantanamo are not all the “worst of the worst,” people who we need to lock up and throw away the key in order to keep ourselves safe.

In fact, the current situation in Guantanamo shows a different picture entirely. Many of these men were caught up in the early days after 9/11, turned in by enemies or neighbors for bounties that were being handed out. Over the years, many of the detainees were cleared and sent to other countries; only 164 detainees remain in Guantanamo of the more than 800 that were there. Of those still detained, 84 actually have been approved for transfer, and yet they remain.

That is why it is time for our members of Congress to vote to close Guantanamo.

The Senate recently upheld proposed amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014, sponsored by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. These changes would facilitate the transfer to other countries of those who have been cleared, something that has been virtually impossible lately. It would allow for a temporary transfer of sick and dying prisoners to U.S. medical facilities to receive treatment they cannot get in Guantanamo.

Finally, it would allow individuals who are ready for trial to be transferred to the U.S. if the secretary of defense feels it is appropriate for them to have a trial in a federal court as opposed to the military commissions in Guantanamo. These transfers for trial would be allowed only if it is proved that it can be done safely and it is in the national interest.

Dozens of prisoners have been approved for trial before military commissions, which do not meet international standards for fair trials. These commissions are slow, face many obstacles, ignore the evidence of torture, and limit the attorney-client relationship. Since the prison was opened, there have been nine deaths, several of which have been suicides. There have also been several mass hunger strikes, which have resulted in inhumane force-feeding.

For more than 10 years, the local members of Amnesty International in Maine have called for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility through lobby visits to our members of Congress, letter writing, petitions and phone calls. In fact, the members of my Amnesty International group in Waterville have personally lobbied and written about this issue several times. Yet the facility has remained open, in spite of the declining health of the inmates, the horrors of force-feeding, the international outrage stemming from its very existence, and the illegal nature of the facility.

For too long, we in this state and elsewhere in the country have been complacent about a place that never should have been opened in the first place. It is easy to forget about people locked up on some distant shore, people we have been told constantly are the worst of criminals.

No longer can we stand idly by and let Guantanamo exist. We are a country that believes in the rule of law, and so we must follow the law. Our constitution does not provide for indefinite detention, torture and inhumane treatment. Our willingness to continue to detain the remaining 164 men is against the law and casts a shameful hue on the United States in the international community. It is hard for us to proclaim to the world that we are a land of freedom and dignity, if we continue to support the existence of Guantanamo Bay.

I call now for the people in the state of Maine to urge our elected officials to shine a light on the injustices done in Guantanamo Bay by supporting the prison’s closure and by supporting the detainee transfer provisions in Levin’s proposed changes to the National Defense Authorization Act. We believe phone calls and emails can make a difference.

Debbie Huck is an education technician who works with special needs students. She lives in Fairfield and is the coordinator of Amnesty International Local Group 549 in Waterville.

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