Eight Years of Guantanamo: What's Changed?

The
first 20 detainees arrived at Guantanamo's Camp X-Ray eight years ago,
on January 11, 2002. Just over seven years later, President Barack
Obama-on his second full day after taking office-issued an order to
shut the prison within a year.

The
first 20 detainees arrived at Guantanamo's Camp X-Ray eight years ago,
on January 11, 2002. Just over seven years later, President Barack
Obama-on his second full day after taking office-issued an order to
shut the prison within a year.

His rhetoric was clear and
decisive. "There is no time to lose," he said, remarking that the
United States can fight terrorism without sacrificing "our values and our ideals." To that end he committed to real change: "I
can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will
not torture. Second, we will close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp
and determine how to deal with those who have been held there."

That
was January 22, 2009. But the Obama administration has failed to close
the facility, where-by many accounts-inmates were harshly interrogated
and even tortured, by its own deadline. Now there's talk that the
prison will remain open at least through 2010. And the proposal to move
detainees to a maximum security prison in Illinois superficially
retires Guantanamo as a symbol, while retaining the legal problems it
embodies. Equally troubling is the administration's expansion of
detention facilities in Afghanistan that are almost impenetrable for
lawyers and humanitarian groups.

The "prolonged detention"
without charge or trial that Obama plans for some inmates strips
detained men of basic legal and human rights, more deeply corrupting
American governance with the reckless assertion of the executive's
near-limitless power.

The barely foiled Christmas Day attack by
a suicide bomber aboard a flight to Detroit exposed ongoing weaknesses
in our multi-billion-dollar security apparatus. But its aftermath has
revealed how our ideals continue to falter, as Obama's policies mirror
those of his predecessor and fail to match his own high-minded
rhetoric.

The response to Flight 253 hasn't only been long lines, body scans at airports, and mea culpas
from security agencies. There are also swift, loud and vicious
proclamations from Republican leaders and conservative media that the
only way to ensure security is to blast at our enemies and the rule of
law with both barrels. Send "underwear bomber" Umar
Farouk Abdulmutallab to Guantanamo and keep the prison open forever.
Suspend plans for civilian trials of terror suspects. Revive "enhanced
interrogations." Summarily execute al-Qaeda suspects.

The Obama administration hasn't publicly challenged this nonsense.
It has, however, already made a sad concession to this fear-mongering
by suspending the release of all Yemeni men from Guantanamo, even those
who have been cleared through the government's extensive Guantanamo
Review Task Force. This decision, which condemns innocent men to months
or years of more illegal detention, confirms a pattern of the Obama
administration promising change but delivering more of the same.

No
less troublesome are a host of other Obama administration policies: the
continued practice of rendition and operation of secret prisons; the
planned use of use Bush-style military commissions to try some
detainees; the expansion of the Bagram prison in Afghanistan and the
denial of habeas rights to inmates there not captured on the
Afghan battlefield; the repeated, tendentious use of the "state's
secrets" defense to block lawsuits by former detainees seeking redress
for their mistreatment; and the effective grant of immunity to those
who designed, ordered, and executed torture policies under the Bush
administration.

In a worrisome sign of possible things to come, the Bush-appointed Judge Janice Rogers Brown recently asserted in an opinion rejecting the habeas petition of a man held at Guantanamo that
the war against terrorism thrusts us into a new paradigm, "one that
demands [that] new rules be written...War is a challenge to law, and
the law must adjust."

That's exactly the opposite of what must
happen. The law needs our president as an authentic advocate-not just
in words but in deeds-when times are "hard" and war rages. This is the
case right now. To do anything else is to condemn this nation to a free
fall into the "dark side" where Dick Cheney seems so comfortable.