Is Obama’s Gitmo Statement Merely a PR Stunt?

by ALAN MACLEOD

My old dad always told me that, in politics, talk is cheap. You judge people by their actions, not their words. That is why I am not particularly hopeful when it comes to Obama closing Guantanamo Bay prison. This week, at the White House, the President stated the controversial jail was “not necessary to keep America safe.” He went on to explain why he feels it should close: “It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us, in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts.”

At no point did the President cite its gross immorality or its illegality under international law as factors, rather, it is simply a costly public relations nightmare for Washington. Obama appears quite happy to hold people without trial around the world, in less infamous jails. Indeed, in 2009, the Obama administration planned to simply transfer the Guantanamo inmates to a small prison in rural Illinois, far from the eyes of the foreign press.

Obama’s announcement comes in response to a mass hunger strike, now in its third month, which has led to growing international scrutiny of the cruel and unusual conditions at the prison. Increasing numbers of people are questioning why the US has a base there at all.

Back to History Class

The US intervened in the Cuban War of Independence, forcing the Spanish out, making way for US business interests. They pressurized exhausted Cuba into granting all manner of concessions, including signing a lease to allow the US to use the port as a coaling station. This coaling station evolved into a military base, and, eventually, what we have now. This despite strong protests from the Cuban government.

Described as the “gulag of our times” by Amnesty International, inmates are subjected to psychological, physical and sexual torture. “They used dogs on us” says Al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Haj, released after six years without charge. “They beat me, sometimes they hung me from the ceiling and didn’t allow me to sleep for six days.” Violence is so prevalent that even the guards are not immune. In 2003, Sean Baker, an undercover US National Guardsman playing the role of a prisoner in a training exercise, was beaten so violently he suffered serious brain damage. Before his election, President Obama promised he would do everything in his power to close the unpopular prison. He even signed an order to close it in 2009, which was later, quietly, forgotten.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, nearly 800 people have been incarcerated at the jail, including at least 21 children like Canadian citizen Omar Khadr. Today, there are still 166 inmates from 23 countries. 86 of them were cleared for release in 2009 but remain interned. Even according to the Obama administration, 92% of the inmates have never been Al-Qaeda operatives. Only 12 are even accused of terrorism. The Bush administration released 532 inmates, Obama, just 72. Those that are charged will be taken to the Orwellian-named “Camp Justice”, to receive a military tribunal.

Despite his carefully chosen words about freedom and peace, President Obama has intensified the war in Afghanistan, violated Pakistan and Yemen’s national sovereignty with drone attacks, and continued to interfere in Americans’ privacy at home. The sad truth is Obama’s major achievement in human rights is to make George Bush seem like a civil libertarian. Until the President backs up his rosy words with concrete action, there is little reason to rejoice. The message should be “close Guantanamo, yes, but what about the still-open Abu Grahib and all the other detention centres round the world which have brought shame to America?”

A wise man once said “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.”

Time will tell if we are all being fooled again.

Alan Macleod can be reached at: alan_macleod11@hotmail.com.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 02, 2015
Paul Street
Strange Words From St. Bernard and the Sandernistas
Jose Martinez
Houston, We Have a Problem: False Equivalencies on Police Violence
Henry Giroux
Global Capitalism and the Culture of Mad Violence
Ajamu Baraka
Making Black Lives Matter in Riohacha, Colombia
William Edstrom
Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry
David Altheide
The Media Syndrome Between a Glock and a GoPro
Yves Engler
Canada vs. Africa
Ron Jacobs
The League of Empire
Andrew Smolski
Democracy and Privatization in Neoliberal Mexico
Stephen Lendman
Gaza: a Socioeconomic Dead Zone
Norman Pollack
Obama, Flim-Flam Artist: Alaska Offshore Drilling
Binoy Kampmark
Australian Border Force Gore
Ruth Fowler
Ask Not: Lost in the Crowd with Amanda Palmer
Kim Nicolini
Remembering Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?