Jeff Weintraub wonders why Guantanamo, the physical prison, has to be closed in addition to discontinuing the slew of misguided and reputation damaging policies that have been implemented there.
I see two reasons. First, because a prison is by nature secretive – and indeed, Guantanamo was selected precisely because the Bush Administration felt it could skirt US obligations to international law – there’s no credible way to communicate a shift in policy without closing the prison itself. I suppose the US could submit Guantanamo to some sort of review by an international body, but given the US’ weighty influence in any such body, the results would likely be viewed with skepticism. Given that the goal of shifting policy is to restore confidence, leaving as little room for skepticism is the best path forward.
Finally, shuttering the prison itself has non-symbolic justification as well. Lacking a scheme for extra-legal imprisonment, the US would be forced to hold prisoners either as bona fide POWs, or else in prisons within in the US borders. In either case, the US would be signaling compliance with — and more to the point, willingness to be subject to — existing international agreements.