Obama’s latest shameful climbdown on Guantanamo

Posted on December 15, 2011

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“As President, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists.”

The words of then-Senator Barack Obama in August 2007, making a promise he would repeat often during his successful presidential campaign, a promise that won him the support of millions of Americans and the goodwill of an international community sickened by the Bush administration’s disregard for international law. This promise, and Obama’s subsequent signing in January of 2009 of an executive order to close Guantanamo within a year, signified the significance of Obama as a candidate and as a president. But, alas, it has proved merely rhetoric, as Obama has proceeded to completely disregard one of his key campaign promises and lost buckets of legitimacy in the process.

Nobody is suggesting that the president could merely wave a magic wand and close the detention facility, but the lack of urgency and direction has been painful. Did he ever have any real commitment to doing so, or were they merely empty words to win domestic and international support? The fanfare around the pledge has certainly not been matched by any great political pressure from the White House, reflective perhaps of Obama’s weak leadership and the fact that most of his political capital was used up in the exhaustive fight over his healthcare bill. Not closing the camp is a huge failure. Yet this year we have seen an escalation of activity at Guantanamo, both in Obama’s lifting the two-year ban on military trials and Wednesday’s refusal to veto a bill that allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terror suspects arrested on US soil. People on all sides are right to condemn him for this. Human Rights Watch correctly notes that he will now go down in history as the president that enshrined indefinite detention without trial into US law, something even Bush and his cronies baulked at. And all that remains is a question that will forever go unanswered: did he mean all that he said in 20o7 and 2008, or were they empty words used to win power that he never had any intention on following through on? The president’s integrity must be called into question.

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Posted in: Issues, Politics