By Mick Krever, CNN
Hearing Colonel Morris Davis speak, it’s easy to forget that he used to be the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay.
“We used to be the land of the free and the home of the brave; we’ve been the constrained and the cowardly,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.
President Obama promised to close the Guantanamo detention facility when he took office in 2009; four years later, it’s still open.
A majority of the detainees, over 100, have been on hunger strike for more than three months to protest their detention; the military has resorted to force feeding them.
Eighty six of the detainees, Davis said, have never been charged with a crime. Many of those who were convicted of crimes were sent back to their home countries, and many are now free.
“It’s a bizarre, perverted system of justice,” he said, “where being convicted of a war crime is your ticket home, and if you’re never charged, much less convicted, you spend the rest of your life sitting at Guantanamo.”
A scant six years ago, as chief prosecutor at Guantanamo under President Bush, Colonel Davis sounded like a true believer.
In an op-ed in the New York Times, he called Guantanamo “clean, safe, and humane,” and said it was “worth keeping.”
On Tuesday, he told Amanpour that while Guantanamo is a model prison physically, it is wrong in every other way: financially, policy-wise, legally, and as a recruiting tool for extremists.
“It’s hard to see the upside to Guantanamo other than right-wing talking points to try to make the president look like he’s weak on terrorism,” he said.
Reporting from Guantanamo Bay on Tuesday, CNN’s Chris Lawrence told Amanpour that a military commander he spoke with denied that inmates were being force fed at all.
“It’s a standard military tactic,” Davis said of the obfuscation around the term “force-feeding.”
“When I was the chief prosecutor,” he said, “there were some suicide attempts, and we couldn’t say ‘suicide attempts’ – it was called ‘self-injurious behavior.’”
Just as Davis says his military commanders skirted the truth with politically correct language, so too has the political process itself eclipsed what was once a simple and moral issue.
“It was a non-partisan issue for while,” he said. “John McCain said he wanted to close it. Yet, it’s still open because it became a political football. And people are paying for it with their lives.”
Indeed, Davis said, it “certainly looks” as though one of the detainees will have to lose his life before something happens – “but it’s totally unnecessary.”
Congress removed funding for the president to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo, scuttling Obama’s plans to move detainees to the United States.
“We have never taken a detainee into the U.S.,” Davis said. “We have begged and bribed other countries to do it. Bermuda took some of the detainees. We’re supposed to be the home of the brave. We could at least be as brave as Bermuda.”
According to Davis, despite congress’s actions, Obama and the secretary of defense still retain the power to move the men to other countries by having those countries foot the bill.
“What we’re asking the president to do is to keep his word,” Davis said. “To use a Sarah Palin term, he’s got to ‘man up.’”