Why is Guantanamo Still Open?
By Dennis Loo (1/8/14)
Obama promised during his 2008 campaign for the presidency that if elected:
“We will lead in the observance of human rights, and the rule of law, and civil rights and due process, which is why I will close Guantanamo and I will restore habeas corpus and say no to torture. Because if you elect me, you will have elected a president who has taught the Constitution, who believes in the Constitution, and who will restore and obey the Constitution of the United States of America.”
The clear flouting of these principles by his predecessor led so many to feel such relief to hear these promises and experience great joy when Obama was elected. Elation, however, was unwarranted.
Six years later, Guantanamo remains open with no reasons other than the wisps of more high-sounding but empty phrasemaking by Obama to expect it to ever close. Bagram, much larger than Guantanamo, remains open. CIA torture and detention sites remain open in undisclosed locations despite the Obama administration’s public declarations of denial. Habeas corpus has not been restored and torture continues, including through gruesome force feedings.
Rather than reverse the Bush Regime’s judicial stances, the Obama Administration has reinforced, renewed and expanded upon those stances.
As I wrote back on February 21, 2009:
Contrary to his public pronouncements about taking the "moral high ground," "restoring due process," ending torture, and that "no one is above the law," the Obama administration yesterday declared that the hundreds of prisoners in Bagram, Afghanistan being held by US forces, and subjected to torture and murder since our invasion of Afghanistan, do not have the right to challenge their indefinite detentions or the fact that they have been tortured.
Here is an excerpt from a May 16, 2013 Democracy Now! interview with Jeremy Scahill upon the release of his 2013 book Dirty Wars,
[T]his very popular Democratic president campaigned on a pledge to radically change the way that the U.S. conducted its business around the world and, upon taking power, issued a number of executive orders that were purportedly aimed at shutting down secret prisons, ending torture and closing Guantánamo, what has actually happened is that the Obama administration has made cosmetic changes, tweaked the language, made a few adjustments to the detention program, to the—what’s called the targeted killing program, but it’s anything but targeted, as we’ve seen so often—it’s an assassination program. And this administration has sold the idea to many liberals in this country that this is a clean war, that it’s a smarter war than the ones that were being waged by his predecessor.
If you look at the administration’s claims of bringing the Iraq War to an end, you have to examine what was on President Bush’s desk the day he left office. It was the very plan that President Obama implemented. It was already in motion. So this administration did not bring an end to the Iraq War; the Bush administration’s plan was implemented. But also we’ve seen an expansion of CIA paramilitary activity in Iraq over the past several months. The largest embassy in the world is the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and strike teams continue to operate out of it alongside thousands of mercenary forces.
In Afghanistan, the Obama administration is waging two wars: the conventional war that you see through embedded journalism, and then the covert war that we seldom see, which consists of special operations night raids, drone strikes and snatch operations. In Afghanistan itself, the U.S. military and the CIA continue to run detention facilities that are categorized as filtration sites, so that people can be held incommunicado because they’re not categorized as prisoners. They’re categorized as potential intelligence assets that can be used in interrogation to produce the next night raid or the next drone strike.
Under this administration, U.S. intelligence agents utilize a secret prison that is buried in the basement of Somalia’s U.S.-funded National Security Service.
This all brings us to the question – and the reason for the national speaking tour Close Guantanamo Now, headlined by Andy Worthington and Debra Sweet - that begins Thursday: Why despite repeated very high profile statements to the contrary, has Obama not closed Guantanamo? Why are sites like Bagram and the secret prison in Somalia still in operation? Why promise to restore due process and the rule of law, but continue to not do so? This is the proverbial $64,000 question.
Obama says that Congress is blocking his way, but as we pointed out in our May 23, 2013 full-page NYT ad, such claims are deceitful:
[Obama] closed the office responsible for processing prisoners’ releases; made it harder for lawyers to meet with their clients by recently banning commercial flights to the prison and barring emergency calls by attorneys to the detainees; ordered forced feeding through excruciating means and by strapping prisoners down (a violation of medical ethics and torture in itself); and authorized an April 13, 2013 assault in which guards fired rubber bullets on hunger strikers. Obama does not need Congressional approval: as Commander-in-Chief, he has the power to shut the prison down now.
While Obama cites Congressional interference for his inability to close GTMO, he has not allowed Congressional interference and opposition to his drone assassination program to stop him from using drones to kill thousands. Why is the POTUS powerless in the first instance to act in spite of some Congressional opposition and all powerful in the second, again in the face of Congressional opposition?
As reported by McClatchy on December 24, 2013, the US District Court of Appeals for D.C. upheld its earlier decision to once again deny four Bagram prisoners rights to habeas corpus appeals (the right to challenge their indefinite detention) on the grounds that Bagram is in a “war theatre” and therefore habeas corpus rights can be legitimately suspended. As McClatchy points out, the US is occupying, not waging war, according to its own statements. It can further be added here a) that the US is the foreign occupying force and any fighting going on is directly related to its continuing presence, and b) that Bagram prison has since March 2013 formally been under Afghan control. The ongoing power being exercised by the US occupiers, however, is evident in the Court’s ruling where they state:
We note that the Appellants’ current status is unclear. Although the Government represented in May 2011 that it detained them at the DFIP [Detention Facility in Parwan (DFIP), just outside Bagram], it has since ceded the DFIP to Afghan control. The record does not disclose whether, after that cession, the Appellants remain there or at some other facility and the Government has not informed us of the Appellants’ current location. The Appellants claim in their briefs—filed after the transfer of the DFIP to Afghan control—that the United States continues to detain them at “a separate prison facility at Bagram.” …. Because the Government concedes its continuing custody over four of the five Appellants, we accept the Appellants’ alleged location of their detention as accurate for the purpose of our jurisdictional analysis.
This confusion over who controls what and who mirrors the murky relationship between the supposedly withdrawing US and the Afghan government. This is further illustrated by the US response to the Afghan government authorities’ decision that 88 prisoners should be immediately released:
The Afghan review panel which inspects the cases of Bagram prisoners, announced Saturday [1/4/14] that 88 prisoners branded as dangerous by United States, are innocent.
Abdul Shakoor Dadras, a member of the review panel quoted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RFL) said, they have not received any document or evidence which shows the connection of the 88 prisoners in attacks against the Afghan and coalition forces.
Senator Lindsay Graham, responding to this announcement after meeting with Hamid Karzai, stated:
“The 88, to me, represent a defining moment in our relationship,” Graham quoted by AFP said, adding that the jailed men were responsible for over 60 NATO coalition and 57 Afghan deaths.
While de jure [legal) control over the Bagram prison is now in Afghan hands, de facto control still continues by the US, over at least some of the prisoners, if not all of them. Because Afghan President Karzai cannot afford to look like a complete puppet for the US, and because there are other elements in the Afghan government and society who have very sharp contradictions with the foreign occupiers – the US – this internal struggle will continue and likely sharpen in the coming weeks and months. As I wrote on November 14, 2012, “Afghanistan: When is ‘Withdrawal’ an ‘Enduring Presence?’”
For a taste of what Andy Worthington can illuminate on this tour:
From Andy Worthington, “Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story,” andyworthington.co (blog), August 3, 2009, http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/03/08/seven-years-of-torture-binyam-mohamed-tells-his-story/:
Understandably unable to resist the effects of the torture [which included 76-86 cuts on his penis with a knife], Binyam [Mohamed] proceeded to confess to whatever wild theories were put to him by his torturers. “They had fed me enough through their questions for me to make up what they wanted to hear,” he said. “I confessed to it all. There was the plot to build a dirty nuclear bomb, and another to blow up apartments in New York with their gas pipes.” As Rose noted, “This—supposedly the brainchild of the 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—always sounded improbable: it was never quite clear how gas pipes might become weapons.”
 Charles Pierce, “Absolution Without Confession,” Esquire, June 2008, p. 109, citing an Obama speech during the 2008 campaign.