Last Friday I had the honor of visiting the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility administered by Rear Admiral David M. Thomas, Jr., USN.  After visiting the facility, I feel strongly that closing Guantanamo Bay would be a mistake.

Guantanamo Bay has been inaccurately portrayed as a site of ongoing detainee torture and mistreatment – nothing could be further from the truth.  We have done a grave injustice by allowing widespread misperceptions of the facility to be perpetuated.  There are three key facts that I think would surprise most Americans.

First, contrary to popular belief, waterboarding never happened at Guantanamo Bay.  Our own military personnel were not involved in these techniques on this base.  The closure of this detention facility would not prevent a single instance of waterboarding.

Second, people should understand that our troops go to great lengths to treat detainees with respect.  In many ways these people are treated better than they would be in federal or state prison systems.  Among the examples I witnessed on my visit:

  • Detainees are given opportunities to pray freely 5 times a day;

  • They are able to have 5 books at any given time from a library of more than 10,000 titles;

  • They have access to hundreds of movies such as Oceans 13, Liar Liar, and Finding Nemo;

  • They have outdoor recreation facilities that include a soccer field, basketball hoops, and access to weight training equipment;

  • There is no solitary confinement;

  • Detainees receive more than 2,000 calories of food per day, monitored quarterly by the International Red Cross;

  • They have regular access and interaction with their individual legal counsel.

Third, the public may not realize how unique and irreplaceable this facility is.  Should we close it, there is no equivalent alternative.  Guantanamo Bay has natural geographic barriers which keep detainees far from American civilians.  The remote location also provides a necessary barrier against anyone who may wish to do harm to detainees—or attempt to set them free.

The American taxpayers have made a substantial investment, spending hundreds of millions of dollars over the years.  We have built a fully functional facility that is safe for our detainees and provides positive working conditions for troops who serve in a challenging environment.  We should not simply walk away from the investment the American people have made in this facility because we’re more concerned about the politics of appeasement than with the dangerous realities of the situation.