When a U.S. military commander suggests medical facilities at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, may have to be upgraded to care for aging terrorism detainees, it's a clear sign that President Obama needs to redouble efforts to deliver on his 2008 campaign pledge to close the embarrassing facility.
Even more compelling, before beefing up health-care services for the retirement set, prison authorities may need to expand their morgue. A hunger strike by many of the 166 men being held at the island naval base without trial has entered its fourth month. That means the years-long delays in moving ahead on shuttering the prison could yet give America's enemies the new martyrs they have always desired.
Even the recent decision by the Defense Department to force-feed some detainees is subjecting U.S. antiterrorism policy to more harsh, global scrutiny. Putting a feeding tube up inmates' noses is viewed by human-rights activists as "a painful process that could be perceived as torture . . . in violation of international law."
Yet it's been several weeks since the president gave any recent indication that he was prepared to fight back on Guantánamo, whose closure has been thwarted by one congressionally imposed restriction after another.
The president, who was expected to talk about the prison in a speech today, was right in declaring that indefinite detentions are "not sustainable," likening the situation to "a no-man's-land in perpetuity." Now the question is what he's prepared to do about it.
Only a handful of detainees have been brought to trial, and more than half were cleared for release to other countries several years ago. A third of those detainees were given the green light to leave even before President George W. Bush left office.
Despite congressional moves to bar repatriation, the president is believed to have greater authority under his executive powers to move ahead with the releases. The Obama administration needs to explore all those options - the sooner, the better.
For congressional opponents, the interminable delay in closing Guantánamo has disproved their fears that former detainees would return to the terrorist fold. Indeed, the recidivism rate for felons released from domestic jails is far higher than any documented among Guantánamo detainees.
What's more, U.S. intelligence agencies' ability to monitor released detainees has improved significantly since the 9/11 attacks, so the risk to national security should be even lower.
Lawmakers - in particular, politically partisan critics of Obama - simply have to understand that the situation in Guantánamo grows more and more untenable as the months and years roll on.
The prison's existence remains an affront to America's standing in the world community, dimming what should be a beacon of democracy. And with the new risk that continued politically partisan opposition to Guantánamo's closure could prolong a potentially deadly hunger strike, the president should have more allies who share his sense of the urgency on the need to shutter the prison.