During his 2008 Presidential Campaign, then-Presidential hopeful Barack Obama assured the American public that the American military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba would be shut down within the first year of his presidency. On January 22, 2009, shortly after taking office, Obama signed an executive order stating that authorized the use of an alternative detention facility in Illinois, and mandated “the closure of detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.”
Four years later, the excessive brutality of the American military at Guantanamo continues. Opened up in 2002, the base holds a variety of prisoners, largely accused of crimes related to terrorism, captured in the aftermath of the Bush administration’s exuberant and trigger-happy push to eliminate global terrorism. An independent task force published a report earlier this week made it clear that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture.” The task force classified the US prison facility as “abhorrent and intolerable,” and—as several human rights activists have in the past—implored President Obama to shut down the controversial prison.
Earlier this week, The New York Times published an op-ed narrated by a Guantanamo prisoner on hunger strike. Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel and 51 other prisoners at the facility have been on a hunger strike. This is out of a mere 166 men officially held at Guantanamo. Hasan Moqbel claims he has “been detained at Guantanamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.”
The entire process involved in the establishment and functioning of the facility at Guantanamo Bay is appalling. Bush’s Patriot Act, its consequent drive to imprison any remotely suspicious citizens, and the glaring contraventions of international treaties is outrageous. For an administration that so aggressively pushes its agenda of freedom, equality and fairness on the world, the American government has forever remained oddly hypocritical with regards to Guantanamo Bay. The prison explicitly violates the UN Declaration on Human Rights by denying hearings and torturing prisoners. The illegality of detentions is ironic, given the strong civil liberties and rule of law in the United States. The legal status of the prisoners is that of “illegal enemy combatants,”ambiguously placing them in a state of limbo between criminal and prisoner of war.
Simply put, Guantanamo represents an America of the past: cornered, intimidated and trigger-happy in the aftermath of the brutal 9/11 attacks. President Obama sold himself to Americans as a harbinger of change and hope, representing a quantum leap from the dark days of the Bush regime. He has shown he can talk the talk.
It’s about time he walk the walk.