Politicians are always prone to disregarding certain pledged policies – especially those promised during election campaigns – and generally most of these slip under the net of the public’s attention. Some, however, are just far too large to miss. Indeed, the outcry against the rise in cost of tuition fees was so great due to the fact that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats had publicly promised an abolition of such fees. The assurance beforehand resulted in the reversal in policy being taken by much of the public as a barefaced lie.
The situation of Guantánamo Bay is beginning to follow suit. Last month, the infamous prison turned ten, as the first detainees arrived on January 11th in 2002 as continuation of the conflict in Afghanistan and the Bush regime’s war on terror; yet this is an anniversary that should have never have happened.
Three years later, the days of orange jumpsuits and torture have gone, but the high-security prison camp remains very much open.
Two days into office, Barack Obama met his election campaign promise and ordered the closure of Guantánamo. In fact, he even gave a time frame of a year to get the job done in. Three years later, the days of orange jumpsuits and torture have gone, but the high-security prison camp remains very much open.
What then has gone wrong for Obama? Well, the job at hand was extremely difficult. Firstly, the US Administration had to decide which of the prisoners could be deemed safe enough to release. This is itself no easy task which would require a careful balancing of both factual evidence and speculation. The US government actually believes many inmates believed to be terrorists and deemed too dangerous to release, yet the evidence against them would not be enough – or unusable as achieved through torture – to use in a civilian or military court. Indeed, the controversy over former inmate Moazzam Begg, who came to speak at Southampton last year, indicate this is nowhere near a black-and-white situation, as many believe he does have ties with terrorists.
Of course, in truth, it is both immoral, totalitarian and illegal to detain people based on the potential of a person to commit a terrorist act (or, as named in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, a PreCrime) or purely for knowing individuals of a extremist nature. You cannot punish people in pre-emption; for crimes that they will never commit, thus essentially all the inmates, if they cannot be tried, should be released. However, this fails to understand the dilemma that the Bush’s legacy puts the US government in.
For example, if some of released detainees did end up committing acts of violence, the blame would lie squarely at Obama’s door. On a purely American political level, an administration would be unwilling to take such a risk as it would endanger their electoral chances. More importantly, however, it would more than likely sway much of the American public into the belief that the ‘preventive’ measures of Guantánamo were right.
A Gallup poll in 2009 showed that around two-thirds of the American population would be against bringing those that are still deemed a security risk onto American soil, even if on a military base.
Indeed, the first of those two points – that it would risk electoral defeat – can be seen in the second issue of closing Guantánamo. Once the decision is made as to which individuals are dangerous or not, what do you do with those who are still deemed too dangerous to release? A Gallup poll in 2009 showed that around two-thirds of the American population would be against bringing those that are still deemed a security risk onto American soil, even if on a military base. As a result, many politicians would be unwilling to take both the security risk – and potential of electoral backlash – of such a measure. Alternative solutions would therefore need to be found.
Indeed, Obama actually designated a chosen prison, Thomas Correctional Center in Illinois, to take around 100 detainees in 2009. In fact, many people in the town supported the decision in the hope it would revitalize the local economy, especially as the prison had never become fully operational. Instead, the facility has closed down and left empty, despite only being built in 2001.
With around 171 detainees still left at Gitmo, there will be no panacea for the US. Indeed, human rights groups have stated that many of inmates could not be returned to their own countries due to poor human rights record – a problem the British government are currently experiencing with their desire to deport Abu Qatada back to Jordan. European allies of the US have also been unwilling to come forward and offer prison residency for the inmates. In fact, success with proposals have been infrequent, limited and with less dangerous suspects; in 2009, four Chinese Muslim Uighurs were resettled in Bermuda from the camp in a move that was unknown by Bermudians as well as the UK, which handles the island’s foreign affairs. Other nations of Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, Iraq and Chad have also taken in ex-prisoners.
Much of the problem lies in the fact that European nations are unwilling to take on inmates due to the fact that the US has not take on any. It is seen as hypocritical by many to pass on these men to other nations when they are unwilling to take them on themselves.
No doubt there are many problems in the way to the closure of Guantánamo and it remains a major political obstacle to achieve Obama’s ambitious aim. Nonetheless, 3 years later, and the anti-Guantánamo rhetoric that was once so prevalent has largely gone. If Obama really wants the US to achieve its position as a respected world power, then the closure of Gitmo should become his priority.
Part Two will discuss how Obama has not only halted efforts to shut down the prison, but how recent measures will make it close to impossible.