America's shame

Immediately after president Barrack Obama took over in January 2009, he had unambiguously, though rhetorically,  declared that the infamous Guantanamo prison would be closed down. He had given a deadline of one year for that. But more than two years down the line it not only exists but is going to remain open in future. The US Congress has voted against the closure and transfer of the detainees to the mainland where they will have to be given normal democratic and human rights. It is an irony that the Democrats, who are considered to be much more committed to human rights than the Republicans, have driven the vote. They were afraid that a hardening popular mood in America would make closure an unpopular event. Obama has therefore shelved his idealist plan and decided to go along with the decision.
Guantanamo was a symbol of the Bush administration’s contempt for human rights. Prisoners captured from Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the course of the ‘war against terror’ have languished there, subjected to extreme torture and without trial.

Many of them have no charges against them except suspicion. Some of them were released after the Obama administration came to power. But the idea and reality of Guantanamo will be kept alive. Some measures to liberalise treatment of prisoners have been announced. New military boards for trial will be constituted, parole may be granted in some cases and some detainees will be given legal representation and access to evidence against them. But these are cosmetic measures and will not make any substantial change to the status of the prisoners and the treatment they are subjected to. The proceedings against them will not measure up to the legal standards followed by civilian courts. The administration feels that some of the detainees may not be convicted in any court for lack of evidence but cannot be let free also because they may act against the US in future. That is dangerous logic.

Guantanamo is a denial of everything the US claims it stands for — democratic rights and the rule of law and abjuring of detention without trial. The US would condemn other countries if they practised the policies it follows on Guantanamo. Its continued existence also strains its relations with the Islamic world. Obama’s failure on Guantanamo is a sign of his growing compromises.

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