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Editorial: Guantánamo quagmire a stain against U.S.

Barb wire surrounds the prison camps at Guantanamo

Barb wire surrounds the prison camps at Guantanamo Bay at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba. (April 17, 2013) Credit: AP

Scores of men detained at Guantánamo Bay are on a months-long hunger strike, and the Pentagon is seeking $200 million to refurbish and expand the prison.

Many of the 166 detainees, some whom are no doubt dangerous extremists, have been imprisoned for a decade without charges or trial or the official designation of prisoner of war. That flies in the face of the nation's core principles of due process and respect for human rights. Instead of gussying the place up, President Barack Obama and Congress have to end the intolerable legal and moral quagmire.

When the first of 779 detainees in the war on terrorism were locked up at Gitmo in 2002, it was supposed to be temporary. Eleven years later, the prospect of languishing there forever is what reportedly spurred 97 to engage in the hunger strike, now in its third month. About 19 of the men are being force-fed through nasal tubes.

Obama pledged to close the prison when he ran for president in 2008. A Justice Department review in 2009 designated some detainees for trials and 86 others for release and transfer to other countries. But Congress blocked transfers from Guantánamo to the United States for trial or imprisonment by denying funding. By imposing strict security conditions, Congress also made it all but impossible to transfer detainees to other countries. Legal and constitutional issues have stalled trials before military commissions. And the administration considers a few dozen detainees too dangerous to release but impossible to prosecute -- likely due to a lack of evidence, or evidence tainted by torture.

The administration seems unacceptably resigned to the status quo. A State Department official responsible for negotiating transfers was reassigned in January, so there's no end in sight. That's got to change.

Despotic regimes lock people up without trial and throw away the key. The United States used to be better than that.