The Vatican has waded into the debate, frozen on Capitol Hill for six years, concerning the status of the men held in legal limbo at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Church officials say Pope Francis wants to help find a way to close the controversial prison and help place the detainees in countries abroad.
The news of the pontiff’s offer was first reported by AFP. The proposal came during recent talks between Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
“The pope made clear his feelings on the kind of abuses associated with Guantanamo in October, when he railed against the ‘penal populism’ that led to countries facilitating torture, using the death penalty and incarcerating people without trial,” AFP wrote.
The news raises the awkward specter of Republican lawmakers seeking ways to stymie the efforts of the leader of the Catholic faith, which at 67 million adherents is the most popular of any faith denomination in the country. Most Congressional Republicans in the Bush-Obama years have simultaneously championed Christian values at home and human rights abuses in the War on Terror. They have been adamant in their opposition to the president’s efforts to shutter the Guantanamo facility.
The Gitmo facility has been condemned by human rights and international law organizations since it was first established by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks. U.S. personnel tortured the detainees and the military tribunals used to try the prisoners have been mocked as kangaroo courts, where in the early years defense lawyers enjoyed attorney-client privileges riven with holes and where evidence derived from torture was accepted at trial.
At one point 779 men were held at the facility, the vast majority never charged with crimes. Six detainees were transferred to Uruguay earlier this month, leaving 136 at the prison, according to AFP. Estimates put the cost of holding each prisoner at the facility at $2.7 million per year.
Pope Francis, an Argentinian and the first Latin American pope, has made a break, at least in tone and in mission priorities, from the conservative prelates who have headed the church for decades. He has given pains to conservative-politics Catholics in the United States by asking them to pivot from the social wars around abortion and gay marriage that have dominated church politics here since the 1970s and look instead to embrace members of minority groups and to serve the downtrodden — in part by opposing tax and trade policies that have led to growing inequalities and exploitation in the United States and around the world. Francis plans to make his first visit to the United States next September, just weeks ahead of a major policy meeting of Church leaders scheduled at the Vatican.
Wisconsin congressman and 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, a Catholic, drew criticism among fellow Catholics after Francis became pope for the “supply-side” budget plans and “free market” ideological positions Ryan’s name has become synonymous with and that prioritize the interests of the wealthy and powerful, a fact which suddenly seemed out of step with his faith.
Like so many of his colleagues, Ryan has been a reliable opponent of efforts to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay.[Photo by Catholic Church England.]