Obama's Non-Closing of Gitmo
The New York Times' Charlie Savage reported yesterday that the State Department "reassigned Daniel Fried, the special envoy for closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and will not replace him". That move obviously confirms what has long been assumed: that the camp will remain open indefinitely and Obama's flamboyant first-day-in-office vow will go unfulfilled. Dozens of the current camp detainees have long been cleared by Pentagon reviews for release - including Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a 36-year-old Yemeni who died at the camp in September after almost 11 years in a cage despite never having been charged with a crime. Like so many of his fellow detainees, his efforts to secure his release were vigorously (and successfully) thwarted by the Obama administration.
Perfectly symbolizing the trajectory of the Obama presidency, this close-Guantánamo envoy will now "become the department's coordinator for sanctions policy". Marcy Wheeler summarizes the shift this way: "Rather than Close Gitmo, We'll Just Intercept More Medical Goods for Iran". She notes that this reflects "how we've changed our human rights priorities". Several days ago, Savage described how the Obama DOJ is ignoring its own military prosecutors' views in order to charge GITMO detainees in its military commissions with crimes that were not even recognized as violations of the laws of war.
Whenever the subject is raised of Obama's failure to close Gitmo, the same excuse is instantly offered on his behalf: he tried to do so but Congress (including liberals like Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders) thwarted him by refusing to fund the closing. As I documented at length last July, this excuse is wildly incomplete and misleading. When it comes to the failure to close Gitmo, this "Congress-prevented-Obama" claim has now taken on zombie status - it will never die no matter how clearly and often it is debunked - but it's still worth emphasizing the reality.
I won't repeat all of the details, citations and supporting evidence - see here - but there are two indisputable facts that should always be included in this narrative. The first is that what made Guantánamo such a travesty of justice was not its geographic locale in the Caribbean Sea, but rather its system of indefinite detention: that people were put in cages, often for life, without any charges or due process. Long before Congress ever acted, Obama's plan was to preserve and continue that core injustice - indefinite detention - but simply moved onto US soil.
Put simply, Obama's plan was never to close Gitmo as much as it was to re-locate it to Illinois: to what the ACLU dubbed "Gitmo North". That's why ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said of Obama's 2009 "close-Gitmo" plan that it "is hardly a meaningful step forward" and that "while the Obama administration inherited the Guantánamo debacle, this current move is its own affirmative adoption of those policies." That's because, he said, "the administration plans to continue its predecessor's policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial for some detainees, with only a change of location."
And the reason Democratic Senators such as Feingold voted against funding Gitmo's closing wasn't because they were afraid to support its closing. It was because they refused to fund the closing until they saw Obama's specific plan, because they did not want to support the importation of Gitmo's indefinite detention system onto US soil, as Obama expressly intended.
In sum, Obama's "closing Gitmo" plan was vintage Obama: a pretty symbolic gesture designed to enable Democrats to feel good while retaining the core powers that constituted the injustice in the first place. As the ACLU's Romero said: "shutting down Guantánamo will be nothing more than a symbolic gesture if we continue its lawless policies onshore." Again, had Obama had his way - had Congress immediately approved his plan in full - the system of indefinite detention that makes Gitmo such a disgrace would have continued in full, just in a different locale.
Reading the full article with updates at The Guardian
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