On Wednesday this week, protesters outside the White House in Washington will wage a demonstration ten years to the day after a military prison was opened at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
For a decade, hundreds of men have been held and tortured without charge in one of the biggest breaches of human rights ever conducted by the American government, and also the largest in recent times internationally.
Another anniversary for Gitmo will come later this month, however. In less than two weeks on January 22, Americans will remember the three-year anniversary of US President Barack Obama vowing to shut down the prison — a promise that has still gone unfilled.
It was a campaign promise guaranteed by Obama on the road to the White House and signing an executive order to close Gitmo was one of the first things he did following his January 2009 inauguration. “This is me following through on not just a commitment I made during the campaign, but I think an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard,” Obama said at the time.
Almost three years later, however, the cells at Gitmo are still packed and dozens of men are imprisoned for crimes that they very well may have had nothing to do with.
The president says he is working on it.
“The commitment that the president has to closing Guantanamo Bay is as firm today as it was during the (2008) campaign,” White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted on Monday. But for the many who understood and viewed the Gitmo problem as a serious issue that needed to be addressed by anyone would could bring hope and change to an America crushed under two terms of the George W Bush administration, that commitment is a campaign promise gone abandoned and all but forgotten.
Not only has Obama done nothing further to close down Gitmo, the recent signing of the National Defense Authorization Act allows the US to imprison American citizens in the exact military detainment that the United States subjects suspected terrorists of.
“Our government is not treating people according to the principles that this country was founded on,” Helen Schietinger of Witness Against Torture tells AFP. Her group plans on holding protests in DC and elsewhere across the world on Wednesday in recognition of the anniversary of Guantanamo’s opening.
Although President Obama formerly taught constitutional law and insisted on closing Gitmo on the campaign trail, his failure to do so coupled with his recent additions to the National Defense Authorization Act suggest to many that the administration has come up far too short on its past pleas.
The US government “continues to detain human beings without due process and has essentially thrown the Constitution out the window,” adds Schietinger.
To the White House, it isn’t that simple.
“We are all are aware of the obstacles to getting that done as quickly as the president wanted to get it done … but the president’s commitment hasn’t changed at all,” insists Carney.“We will continue to abide by that commitment and work towards its fulfillment.”
That fulfillment, however, has remained absent throughout the entire administration. Following the executive order signed during the start of his presidency, Obama’s insistence that Gitmo would get shut down within a year was temporarily delayed while the administration investigated the best possible route to do so. Seventeen months after he entered the White House, Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan), said of Obama’s promise, “…the administration is not putting a lot of energy behind their position that I can see.”
While the White House remains unwilling to advance its promises, advocates campaigning against Gitmo continue to do so as they enter their second decade of opposition. On Wednesday, protest will be conducted across the world, including a planned human-chain from the White House in Washington reaching all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Building. In the end, however, unless these campaigns on Wednesday do anything to move the administration towards keeping their promise, they could very well serve as just a flash in the pan of an continuing collapse of a constitutionally–sound America.
In an op-ed published over the weekend in the New York Times, former Gitmo detainee Lakhdar Boumediene acknowledges, “So long as Guantánamo stays open and innocent men remain there, my thoughts will be with those left behind in that place of suffering and injustice.”
Nearly 200 detainees are still held at Guantanamo. Boumediene served seven years there, all without charge.