President-elect Barack Obama had hoped an economic stimulus package would be the first piece of legislation he would sign upon moving into the Oval Office. But endorsing a resolution to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay more than qualifies as a significant first for the incoming 44th president. The symbolism of that action will reverberate across oceans and in foreign capitals, where America's image and reputation as a nation of laws have suffered egregious harm from the continued existence of this unjust prison.
The detention center in Cuba has become the repository of untried suspects and unwanted castoffs of the Bush administration's war on terror. It is the center of the government's extrajudicial system of tribunals that has settled no outstanding case and represented the inhumane tactics used to get information.
This week, the government's use of torture was again confirmed, only this time it was a Bush administration official acknowledging what detainees and lawyers have long asserted.
Susan J. Crawford, charged with deciding which detainees will be tried at Guantanamo, was candid in her assessment of the government's treatment of a 30-year-old Saudi national - it "met the legal definition of torture," she told The Washington Post. That's why she didn't refer him for trial. The torture resulted in the detainee, the intended 20th 9/11 hijacker, suffering a "life-threatening condition."
He was tortured with frighteningly routine and authorized methods: sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and lengthy exposure to cold. And though she was disgusted by his treatment, Ms. Crawford was clear about the risk of releasing the detainee: He is "a very dangerous man."
That remains the troubling legacy of Guantanamo: where to relocate those detainees who can't return home and remain a threat. The difficulty in transferring them, however, should not deter Mr. Obama from keeping his promise to close this shameful place.