Within 48 hours of taking office in January 2009, Barack Obama signed an executive order closing the U.S. detention facility at its Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba within one year.
That was then.
More than three years later, thanks in part to Obama’s other executive order, Gitmo has become an indefinite feature of America’s indefinite fight against terrorism, where prisoners are held without charge indefinitely.
The most notable of these detainees is confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who along with four others, were arraigned at a Gitmo military tribunal last week. The actual trial is scheduled to begin in May 2013, but it could start much later or perhaps never. When or if that day comes, it will be difficult to view the proceedings as a serious judicial exercise, regardless of the evidence against KSM. For one thing, the government has admitted to waterboarding him 183 times. When other countries torture prisoners that they’ve been holding indefinitely in order to extract confessions, the U.S. is often quick to condemn them for violating basic human rights and standards of justice, and rightfully so, because it is anathema to centuries of American-style law and order. This is why confessions obtained as a result of force or violence are routinely excluded by judges in American courtrooms. Indeed, KSM has confessed to a litany of crimes under torture that former CIA agent Robert Baer said in some instances he likely did not commit.
Then there is the matter of the verdict. Few if any think that the military commission will return with a verdict that declares KSM something other than “guilty.” And even fewer think that in the infinitesimally unlikely event that that happens, KSM would be released by the U.S. government, making this tribunal little more than a glorified kangaroo court.
Despite the prevailing wisdom that Gitmo holds only guilty parties, this is not the case. One former Bush official has asserted that many Gitmo detainees are innocent, and were swept up by U.S. forces on or near Afghanistan battlefields because soldiers didn’t want to risk letting actual terrorists go. Furthermore, many prisoners have been released without charge, while others remain imprisoned regardless of innocence. The Obama administration, for example, has declared that it will not release Yemeni citizens detained at Gitmo, even if they have have been deemed not to be threats, because the administration says that the Yemeni government lacks the ability to repatriate and reintegrate its citizens into society. The Obama administration has even ignored the ruling of a federal judge to release one Yemeni man held for over ten years.
Yet, what the Yemeni government seemingly doesn’t lack is the ability to engage in a strategic partnership with the U.S., by which it allows the Obama administration to rain down Hellfire missiles from Predator drones on Yemeni territory. Last year, one such missile killed U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in a targeted assassination, and another killed his 16 year-old son — also a U.S. citizen — two weeks later. Thus, President Obama claims the right to kill U.S. citizens without any due process if he and his secret death panel deem them a threat to national security. Almost as unsettling was the hearty praise Obama received from conservatives and liberals alike, who demonstrated a disturbing willingness to trust the government to determine which American citizens are appropriate targets for assassination.
These are not the policies of administration that is protecting freedom, but rather policies that sacrifice it in the hopes of attaining some elusive Total Security. Barack Obama has simply continued and expanded the most egregious anti-liberty measures enacted by the Bush administration upon a frightened public in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Concerning civil liberties, Obama is hardly any different from his predecessor, and in some instances he’s even worse. To say he has failed to protect the Bill of Rights would be to imply that he has been negligent, but the reality is much worse because his administration is actively undermining it.