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President Obama's remarks on Guantanamo at his April 30th press conference sounded a lot like the rhetoric circa 2008 and 2009, the first time he promised to close the indefinite detention center. While I applaud Obama's apparent epiphany that Gitmo situation is "unsustainable," his remarks ring hollow and hypocritical because they are devoid of any personal responsibility for his failure to close the base and his actions that have perpetuated one the greatest travesties of justice in American history.  

Obama spent much of his press conference blaming Congress for frustrating his attempts to bring detainees to the U.S. to face trial. Congress was certainly wrong, but Obama completely abdicated responsibility for, as WaPo put it,

his own actions — or his own inaction — [that] have substantially contributed to an impasse that has prompted more than half of Guantanamo’s inmates to undertake a hunger strike.
Most of the 166 detainees at Gitmo (nearly 90) have been cleared for release

What exactly has Obama done to keep Gitmo open? The list includes but is not limited to:  

*Obama eliminated the White House office working on closing the base;

*"After overseeing more than 70 repatriations or other prisoner transfers during the first years of his administration, Mr. Obama suspended those to Yemen after the attempted Christmas Day bombing of an airliner in 2010;"

*In March 2011, Obama rebooted constitutionally-inferior military tribunals for Gitmo detainees;

*"In 2011 and 2012 he signed defense bills imposing all-but-unmeetable conditions on any other transfers;"

*"... the Pentagon has failed to set up a promised new system for reviewing the cases of prisoners that Mr. Obama ordered established more than a year ago — which means that Guantanamo inmates are receiving less review of their cases than they did during the Bush administration;"

*Under Obama, the Justice Department has argued against giving Gitmo detainees regular access to their lawyers, an argument a federal judge called "substantially flawed."

*Despite that the Pentagon was given authority to grant waivers authorizing prisoner transfers, the administration has not taken any action;

*The Pentagon has been working on a $200 million project to expand and improve the base; and

*The State Department reassigned the ambassador effectively closing the office tasked with working with other countries to take Gitmo detainees.

These were not the actions of a President committed to closing Gitmo, despite his promises. Now the U.S. is force-feeding dozens of prisoners (a practice experts on both sides of the aisle say is abusive) who have become so desperate for justice that they're starving themselves. Actions speak louder than words, even Obama's soaring rhetoric, and it remains to be seen if Obama will deliver on his promise to close Guantanamo this time around. Just because he dusted off his old campaign speeches about the moral and political imperative to close Guantanamo does not make Obama's ignoring his own complicity in not only continuing the status quo, but actually making it worse anything less that morally-bankrupt and politically disingenuous.

Obama told the press on April 30th, "I don't want these individuals to die." The detainees would prefer death over a life of indefinite detention - that's why they are on hunger strike. As President of democracy, Obama should want more than just survival for the Gitmo detainees; he should want justice and should use his Executive power to effect justice, not to thwart it.

After 12 years of trying to improvise justice in a place created entirely to avoid the legal justice system, Congress and the President are now on a hunger-strike deadline thanks to their own roles in playing politics with people's lives.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (14+ / 0-)

    My book, TRAITOR: THE WHISTLEBLOWER & THE "AMERICAN TALIBAN," is Amazon's #1 Best Seller in Human Rights Books for February 2012.

    by Jesselyn Radack on Wed May 01, 2013 at 06:11:45 AM PDT

  •  Of all the presidents (6+ / 0-)

    in my lifetime the difference between rhetoric and action is greatest with Obama. There is no question about that.

    Gitmo is but one, albeit a very significant, example of this trait.

  •  Yeah, it's all Obama's fault, (12+ / 0-)

    not the fault of Congress, who passed laws making it illegal to transfer detainees to the US, prevents the Justice Department from spending money prosecuting Gitmo detainees in the US, and passed a law in 2009 saying that no money can be spent on closing Guantanamo.
    But yeah, it's all Obama's fault, he really doesn't want to close it.

    “We are not a nation that says ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ We are a nation that says ‘out of many, we are one.’” -Barack Obama

    by skohayes on Wed May 01, 2013 at 06:28:47 AM PDT

    •  Congress is wrong too, as I said (7+ / 0-)
      Congress was certainly wrong
      My diary is about OBAMA's speech. If Obama wants to speechify on closing Gitmo, he should recognize how his own actions, and inaction, have thwarted closing the base.

      My book, TRAITOR: THE WHISTLEBLOWER & THE "AMERICAN TALIBAN," is Amazon's #1 Best Seller in Human Rights Books for February 2012.

      by Jesselyn Radack on Wed May 01, 2013 at 06:41:26 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Uh huh. Sure. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        citizenx, second gen, ericlewis0, Avila
        And then 14 paragraphs about Obama.

        Non futuis apud Boston

        by kenlac on Wed May 01, 2013 at 06:52:28 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  So what? (6+ / 0-)

          Is there some sort of equal time requirement?

          And the fact is, President Obama is the CIC -- the only person who has the sole authority (in conjunction with the SOD) to transfer prisoners who've been cleared for release and thereby end the strike.

          Personally, I wouldn't mind if for the next week, President Obama didn't think about closing the prison but focused instead on saving the lives of the hunger strikers by using the power Congress gave him.

          Under the NDAA, the president can send prisoners home or to third countries if the SOD signs off. The President has no acceptable reasons not to do this and if they die, he'll be largely to blame, just as he's largely to blame for the abuse of the 21 who've are being force-fed.

          Transfer prisoners, resolve the immediate crisis. Now.

          •  There's no equal time requirement. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            david mizner, Wisper

            There's also no propaganda requirement, nor any slight-of-hand requirement, nor disingenuous reply requirement.

            Given the rather overwhelming lack of requirements for posting at this website, I'd say the only tool we have for ensuring we're staying reality based is calling each other on keeping things real.

            And I gotta say your three graphs here were worth about ten times more than the entire diary.

            Non futuis apud Boston

            by kenlac on Wed May 01, 2013 at 07:21:37 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            • the gatekeeping blues? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Boo, hoo, hoo!  You tried everything to intimidate Ms. Raddack, but she still is posting here and her list of followers and her mojo keeps growing.

              Given the rather overwhelming lack of requirements for posting at this website, I'd say the only tool we have for ensuring we're staying reality based is calling each other on keeping things real.

              Information is the currency of democracy. ~Thomas Jefferson

              by CIndyCasella on Wed May 01, 2013 at 09:55:23 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Hey, I lose the popularity contest! (0+ / 0-)

                I guess I get kicked out of your private club now, eh? You can return to patting each other on the back, free of non-member commentary.

                Sometimes I just can't tell if you people are for real or not.

                Non futuis apud Boston

                by kenlac on Wed May 01, 2013 at 11:25:13 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  Yeah, like during the Iran Contra scandal (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            skohayes, Avila

            the last time a president tried to do something after Congress had specifically cut off funds for the doing of that thing.

            But I'm sure you think the Republicans are much more fair minded than the Democrats and would never impeach President Obama for closing Gitmo after Congress specifically forbade it using the power of the purse.

            •  You're mistaken (4+ / 0-)

              The GOP cut off funds to transfer prisoners to the US. Congress -- including the GOP House - passed a law that explicitly give the president to transfer them to countries other than the U.S.

              The problem isn't the law; the problems are diplomatic and political.

              •  Except that ended (0+ / 0-)

                after the Christmas Day bombings.

                Around the time that the Obama administration took office, efforts to remove Yemeni detainees en masse expanded to include the possibility of sending some portion of the Yemeni population to Saudi Arabia to go through the Saudi reintegration program. The Obama administration spent a good deal of energy attempting to make this option viable.[6] By the fall of 2009, however, it had become clear that it would not pan out. What’s more, the situation in Yemen was not improving, and the U.S. government was losing a considerable number of Guantánamo habeas cases—raising the possibility of large numbers of Yemenis winning habeas cases and thus being ordered released by courts. Indeed, the administration clearly contemplated the possibility of being directed to release considerable numbers of Yemeni detainees as a result of habeas court judgments. More recently, the government’s victories in habeas cases in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals have dramatically altered this landscape, making the status quo—in other words, long-term detention of the Yemeni population until conditions in Yemen improve—much more realistic to imagine sustaining. But at the time, it would have been unwise to bet on this change in the litigation environment. The Obama administration thus faced a delicate pincer action, being caught between, on the one hand, litigation pressures to release potentially large numbers of Yemeni detainees and, on the other hand, conditions in the country that still would not, in the administration’s judgment, safely permit bulk transfers.
                To put the matter simply, there is no likelihood today of the executive branch releasing dangerous detainees to Yemen. This is not because of legislative transfer restrictions. It is, rather, because the executive branch—under the Bush Administration and under the Obama Administration alike—has never let the desire to remove Yemenis from Guantánamo blind it to the reality of dealing with a weak state with limited capacity and willingness to mitigate the threat posed by released detainees. Particularly now, the situation in Yemen simply offers no serious short- or medium-term possibility of a permissive environment for repatriations of significant numbers of detainees, and the executive branch knows this.

                “We are not a nation that says ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ We are a nation that says ‘out of many, we are one.’” -Barack Obama

                by skohayes on Wed May 01, 2013 at 09:56:55 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

    •  And when he does close it... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      skohayes, Wisper, Avila

      The diarist will make up something else to complain about. Maybe that he sent them home economy instead of business class.

      And, btw, "closing" Gitmo is the wrong phrase. Gitmo has been a US naval base for decades.

      The issue is repatriating or trying the prisoners, not "closing" Gitmo.

      I guess that will be the "in" for people like the diarist -- that even if the president repatriates all the prisoners, Gitmo will still be "open."

      Also, btw, if you think the Kenyan, Muslim, terrorist, secret corporatist, Manchurian candidate always planned to keep Gitmo open, you might look into his appointment of Harold Koh as State Department legal advisor early in his first term.

      Koh's claim to fame was winning a law suit against the Clinton administration closing Gitmo as a detention center for Haitian refugees intercepted on the high seas.

      •  Whoa. No one said anything about Kenyan, Muslim (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        terrorist, secret corporatist, Manchurian candidate...

        If you guys want to keep Daily Kos reality based as you claim you do, you might want to start by keeping your own posts reality based.

        Information is the currency of democracy. ~Thomas Jefferson

        by CIndyCasella on Wed May 01, 2013 at 10:04:54 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Can we at least put some deoderant on that zombie? (0+ / 0-)

      Obama never meant to put an end to endless military detention without trial or kangaroo courts, but merely to move the system to his home state.  Which is why Democrats like Fiengold voted against it's "closure".

      And nothing stops him from sending a civilian judge to Guantanomo to conduct trials there.  Or releasing prisoners that have long been cleared for release.

      Funny, though, how the president had all the authority he needed to start bombing Ghadaffi in Libya without an act of Congress (billion$), but is totally powerless to do anything about moving 600 prisoners (thousand$) without an act of Congress.

    •  i had no idea whatsoever (0+ / 0-)

      that Obama had this much power and influence in China.

      damn good thing El Salvador, Bermuda, Palau and Switzerland ignored Obama and agreed to take a couple of the Uighurs.

      Two Chinese Muslim detainees held for years without trial at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were released in El Salvador.  [April 2012]

      They could not be repatriated, out of fears that the Chinese government, which is suppressing a separatist movement among Uighurs in the Xinjiang region, would abuse them. China, which had demanded custody, pressured other countries not to take the men.

      Bermuda, Palau and Switzerland took in most of the other Uighurs.

  •  Obama's position at the presser implied Congress.. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CIndyCasella in the critical path for Gitmo closing. Is it really? As I recall President Clinton's EO issued the RFI to upgrade Gitmo from a refugee camp to a military camp and that the entire facility is under DOD management i.e., under the President's control. Can't the President close it? Obviously Congress has interfered with follow on prisoner transfer but it won't do anything first as long as the camp stays open. I found Obama's position yesterday confusing but maybe it's me.

  •  Thank you for a great diary. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CIndyCasella, snoopydawg, aliasalias

    It's filled with important and accurate information. Yes, Obama bears a lot of blame for the Guantanamo catastrophe. You are exactly right that there is a lot he could and should do to end this cruel policy of indefinite detention. As you also say, Congress shares a lot of the blame. We need to educate ourselves and others about the facts, and then pressure Congress and the president to end this travesty.

  •  today's Democracy Now! show had Pardiss Kebriaei (0+ / 0-)

    senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. Her client, Ghaleb al-Bihani, is one of the Guantánamo prisoners currently on hunger strike.

    PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Yeah. Amy, it was an important statement. It was encouraging. It was time for the administration to say something, for President Obama to say something. We’re now three months into a hunger strike at Guantánamo. But President Obama has made very important statements about Guantánamo before, as well, and what we need now is action to go with that important statement.

    There are things that the president can do on his own in his administration starting now
    . He can, number one, appoint someone within the White House with the stature and the backing and the authority to get the job done. He said Guantánamo needs to close. It is a national security liability. It is legally unsupportable. It is morally wrong. It is unjust. The world knows it. President Obama knows it. The American people should know it. It needs to close. So, appoint someone to focus on this and lead the effort to closure, signal to his secretary of defense to start certifying people for transfer under the National Defense Authorization Act, and lift the blanket ban that continues on all repatriations to Yemen—that he imposed. That is clearly within his control. So there are specific things he can do now.
    NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what about the claim that Obama has repeatedly made that it’s Congress that is preventing him from taking some of the steps that you’ve outlined?
    PARDISS KEBRIAEI: I think that’s an excuse. I think cooperation by members of Congress would be important. Dianne Feinstein made an important statement last week calling for review of the cases of the 86 people. Of the 166 who remain, 86 have been approved for transfer by the administration. She called for the review of those cases and efforts to move those people out of Guantánamo. So, there is support within Congress. There are representatives who have said they would not only stand with President Obama, they would be cheering him. But ultimately, the authority rests with the president. He doesn’t need Congress. There is authority within the NDAA for his secretary of defense to certify transfers. What’s needed is political courage and action at this point. The administration transferred dozens of people before the NDAA went into effect. There were transfers happening in 2009 and ’10. The NDAA and Congress got in the way. They have made it more difficult, but they have not made transfers impossible by any stretch.
    (all emphasis mine)

    without the ants the rainforest dies

    by aliasalias on Wed May 01, 2013 at 11:05:58 AM PDT

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