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;
*"... 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 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.