obama

Barack Obama remains very popular in Britain. Though bound by the balance of power in Congress, the need to tackle a large budget deficit, and excessive political caution by both himself and his party, Obama has led the United States into a new era of social, if not economic, liberalism. Compared to the state the country was in after the disastrous administration of George Bush, the US has advanced hugely over the past five years.

It looks possible that even the thorny issue of gun control might be tackled, albeit not as satisfactorily as West European standards would dictate. But there is one problem that symbolises the failure of Obama to live up to the high expectations that were created of him in 2008: Guantanamo Bay. The prison, with which we are all familiar, is the place in which many of the American war crimes during Bush’s War On Terror took place. It is well known that illegal torture methods were used on inmates who were often in Guantanamo despite having never been tried, and public outrage was such that Obama pledged to close the site by 2010, with the intention of transferring most prisoners to a high security prison in Illinois, where American law (in theory, at least) would apply in full.

Unfortunately, the site remains open today, after about 40 inmates were shipped out, leaving the majority to suffer indefinitely. 52% of the remaining detainees have been cleared for release; the rest are not to be released despite a lack of evidence to prosecute them; and all have heard multiple plans for their transfer. In response to the failure to build on these and the generally appalling conditions that they have been kept under, a hunger strike of at least 40 (and up to 130) people has been taking place. Further to this, there was a fight between guards and inmates in which ‘non-live’ ammunition was fired to restore order. The majority of strikers, however, are now too weak to commit any acts of violence, and are essentially ignored until they are force fed, which itself has been classified as illegal torture since the 1970s.

There is something deeply sinister about a Government which considers the law only worth respecting if it’s not too inconvenient for its foreign policy. In particular, when it is ‘due process’ that is being avoided, the question has to be asked: ‘Is anybody safe?’ None of us are free until all of us are free. The Republicans have rightly maintained a steely silence on the matter, aware that the contradiction between their obsessive libertarianism and legal authoritarianism is difficult to justify- particularly with the more idiosyncratic wing of the Tea Party warning of an imminent Communist coup by President Obama. The people who claim to stand for ‘freedom’ are those who destroyed it when in power. It’s clear that the American public, if they wish to end the stain on their national reputation that is Guantanamo, will not be able to pressure their Government by threatening to take their votes elsewhere. Instead, the civil libertarian and peace movements must become as vocal as they were exactly a decade ago, when the Blair-Bush axis pushed the world towards the War on Terror on primarily unjust grounds.

Barack Obama has been the most forward thinking President his country has seen since Jimmy Carter. There may be a number of domestic policies that will be vetoed by an unsympathetic Republican Party- like Carter, Obama runs the risk of losing the opportunity to fulfil his full potential. Nevertheless, his constructive foreign policy will be core to his legacy, and that will be incomplete until Guantanamo Bay is shut down for good. The President would be doing himself and his country a great disservice by failing to act.

BY: Natasha Jane Howard