Obama and Guantanamo Bay

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Barack Obama has recently been quoted as saying that the prison Guantanamo Bay needs to be closed; as it is “not necessary to keep America safe”, instead being “a recruitment tool for extremists”. Guantanamo Bay is a notorious detainment and interrogation facility belonging to the United States military located in Cuba. It was established in 2002 under Bush’s reign as president, to hold prisoners determined to be connected with terrorist attacks and what has been referred to as the ‘Global War on Terror’. At his inauguration in 2009, Obama stated that the closure of Guantanamo was one of his top priorities and he hoped to have closed it within a year, yet, four years on, the prison camp still remains as Obama struggles against congress to have it closed. But can this be deemed as a failure on Obama’s part, or a failure of the US government in complying with human rights regulations?

Guantanamo has a reputation for harming and torturing prisoners, after the Bush administration asserted that prisoners of the facility were not entitled to any of the protections of the Geneva Conventions due to the atrocity of the crimes they are accused of being associated with. However, many of the prisoners held at Guantanamo are yet to be charged.  A 2005 Amnesty International report compared Guantanamo to the “gulags” of Soviet Russia, and the United Nations have called for the camp to be closed multiple times. The United States do not have the most sterling record for treating prisoners well, if the horrors of Abu Ghraib are anything to go by, one judge observed “America’s idea of what is torture… does not appear to coincide with that of most civilised nations”. In my opinion, I feel like Guantanamo Bay had the best of intentions in protecting the nation, but it is also the epitome of America’s paranoia when it comes to people of different faiths or cultures. Whilst it is true America has suffered the most in acts of terror, Guantanamo Bay seems to be an overly cautious and Obama is right in wanting to close the facility, particularly when he notes that Guantanamo is a place where many people who could perhaps be more susceptible to “extremist” ideas are mixed with suspected terrorists – hardly beneficial to anybody and probably making it more likely to breed terrorism.

Obama’s failure to close the detainment camp has been cited as one of the reasons why some Americans were reluctant to elect him as President for a second term; believing his original promise to be false. However, the BBC state that the reason Obama has thus far failed to shut down Guantanamo was due to Congress blocking his efforts, and Obama has pledged to “renew discussions with lawmakers”.  There is also evidence that Obama has attempted to close down the facility, signing an order in 2009 to suspend the proceedings of the camp for 120 and to have it completely shut down within a year – this order was apparently rejected by a judge at Guantanamo. Further to this, whilst wanting to close the camp can be seen as a noble endeavour on Obama’s part, the question remains of where to detain possible terror-attack suspects in a safe place away from potential victims. Obama has stated that he believes the civilian justice system is a perfectly adequate way of dealing with terror suspects, in light of the recent arrest of one of the Boston marathon attackers, but, it is obvious that a person who seeks to create mass terror and kill hundreds of people should be dealt with in a different way to a thief. Therefore, a better regulated facility than Guantanamo seems to be the only valid option.

Omar Deghayes, one former detainee of Guantanamo, was recently interviewed about his experiences within the camp, and commented about the hunger strikes which have prompted Obama’s determination to close the facility permanently. Rupert Colville, United Nations spokesman on human rights, has stated that “if it’s clearly against the will of the people who are being forcibly fed, then in a view of the World Medical Association and indeed our view, this would amount to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment which is not permissible under international law”. However, Obama has seemingly supported the practice of force-feeding protesting prisoners, stating that he does not want the prisoners to die and therefore the situation must be managed “as best we can”.  The strikes allegedly began in reaction to mishandling of the Qur’an during searches of prisoner’s cells, although Guantanamo officials deny this; and now over 100 people of the 166 held at the facility are on hunger strikes. According to a source, 21 prisoners are currently being force-fed with a tube through their noses.

At the end of the day, Guantanamo could be an effective way of holding prisoners if the US government regulated the treatment of prisoners and ensured that they only held captive people who were appropriately charged. One of the main qualms with Guantanamo is that men are being kept as suspects and yet never told what they are being imprisoned for. Further to this point, Obama should be actively focusing on releasing prisoners who are no real threat and have not been charged with anything, to avoid resentment and take away the desire to want to strike back at the US for unfair treatment. For example, the BBC reports that “nearly 100 of the detainees have reportedly been cleared for release but remain at the facility because of restrictions imposed by Congress”, and thus are forced to stay at Guantanamo.  The failure to close Guantanamo Bay cannot be seen as a direct failing of Obama, but of the ridiculous reluctance of his government and squabbles between different political interests within his Congress.

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