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(en) US, Boston, Anarchist journal, BAAM Newsletter #18 - Reading the Fine Print in Obama's First Month by Sublett

Date Sat, 07 Mar 2009 21:57:54 +0200

On January 23, after less than four days in office, newly elected President Barack Obama
committed his first war crime. At his direct order, Predator drones fired missiles at two
locations in Pakistan, killing 18 people. The number of injuries was not reported. The
excuse given was that the residents were "militants," that is, they had the nerve to
resist the genocidal imperialism perpetrated by the US and its allies. A few days later,
on February 1, it was reported that the Obama administration was abandoning the war on
terror. The slogan, that is, not the actual war. Alternative phrases reportedly under
consideration are "ongoing struggle" and "enduring struggle against terrorism and
extremism," according to the Associated Press. The families of those killed in Obama's
missile attack will no doubt be comforted by the distinction.

This was not an isolated incident. In the weeks
since Obama took office, a clear pattern of hypoc-
risy and disingenuousness has emerged in his
administration's policies and actions. Examples
abound, but this article will focus on the execu-
tive order "closing" the Guantanamo Bay mili-
tary prison, and the halting of tribunals of
those held there.

The prison, located at the Guantanamo
Bay military base in Cuba, was established
by the Bush administration to hold "enemy
combatants" captured in the invasion of Af-
ghanistan. They were so designated to avoid
granting them prisoner of war status, so that
they would not, according to the Justice De-
partment, be entitled to protection under the
Geneva Convention. The prison's location
outside US territory gave the administra-
tion an excuse to claim that the Constitution
does not apply there either. Many of the men
imprisoned there were abducted by the mili-
tary's Northern Alliance allies in return for
a bounty, regardless of affiliation or combat
status. Others were snatched up in Europe
and elsewhere on little more basis than Mid-
dle Eastern ancestry and rumors of involve-
ment in terrorism. They will be referred to as
"hostages" hereafter.

The "closing" of Guantanamo was an-
nounced on January 22 and hailed with enor-
mous fanfare by deluded liberals nationwide.
But even a cursory glance at the fine print
shows that very little has actually changed.
The order specifies only that the prison be
closed within a year, and Obama is of course
free to extend even that generous deadline.
Since the tribunals have been discontinued,
there is not even a pro forma process in place
that could lead to the release of any hostages.
The administration has offered several excus-
es for the delay. None are convincing. Repub-
lican senators have been quoted as saying that
the hostages are too dangerous to keep within
US borders. This is obvious political postur-
ing by a party desperate to divert public atten-
tion from their own disastrous performance
over the last eight years. In any case, indi-
vidual senators and congressional representa-
tives have no authority over who gets sent to
federal prisons in their districts.

The claim has also been made that more
time is needed to review each case. This is
patently ridiculous. After over half a decade
in custody, all available information about
each prisoner has certainly been collected and
analyzed. The suggestion at this stage that
not enough is known to make decisions about
whom to release is an obvious delaying tactic.
The only valid objection to immediate release
is that many hostages might be arrested and
tortured again if returned to their home coun-
tries. However, this could be prevented easily
by sending them to neutral countries. Albania,
for example, has already accepted several Ui-
ghur hostages (from the Bush administration,
no less) who could not be returned to China.
They could very probably be persuaded to
take more if enough money was offered.
So why not just move the hostages to the
mainland all at once and try them in federal
court? Probably because they were arrested
with no warrants and no probable cause, and
have been held without trial for as much as
seven years while being tortured. Guantana-
mo's status as the "legal equivalent of outer
space" meant that anything could be done
to the hostages with complete impunity, and
was. Torture, beatings and abuse, including
waterboarding and worse, were everyday
occurrences, according to international ob-
servers, former guards, and the handful of
hostages released to Western countries.
Their stories were almost completely
ignored by the corporate media.

Since Obama took office, the situation has only
gotten worse. Binyam Mohamed, a British hostage,
has reported through his lawyer, Lt. Colonel Yvonne
Bradley, that 50 hostages are on hunger strike. They
are forcibly extracted from their cells twice a day and
strapped into chairs to have feeding tubes shoved down
their throats. They are beaten if they resist. Bradley
is quoted in the Guardian saying "The JTF [the Joint
Task Force running Guantanamo] are not commenting because
they do not want the public to know what is going
All this explains why civilian trials are not
considered an option by the administration.
The hostage's guarantees to a speedy trial,
against cruel and unusual punishment, against
self-incrimination, and more have all been
violated repeatedly. Given even rudimentary
constitutional protections, it would be im-
possible to convict them. And as William J.
Haynes, the Pentagon general counsel, once
put it, "We can't have acquittals." It's hard to
avoid the conclusion that the only purpose of
Obama's executive order was to extend his
honeymoon with liberals, and that the kidnap
victims imprisoned at Guantanamo will be
released, if at all, in the same slow trickle as
during the last years of the Bush regime.
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