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​Indefinite inaction: Obama’s pledge to close Guantánamo Bay

Nile Bowie
Nile Bowie is an independent writer and current affairs commentator based in Singapore. Originally from New York City, he has lived in the Asia-Pacific region for nearly a decade and was previously a columnist with the Malaysian Reserve newspaper, in addition to working actively in non-governmental organisations and creative industries. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.
​Indefinite inaction: Obama’s pledge to close Guantánamo Bay
Amid a hunger strike by detainees at Guantánamo Bay that started last year, President Obama was forced to respond to critical media reports and international criticism by renewing his 2008 campaign pledge to close the notorious detention facility.

Human rights activists and dozens of organizations have pledged to launch a global day of protest in dozens of cities around the world to highlight the inaction of the Obama administration since the president delivered his last major speech on the issue on May 23, 2013. Despite the president’s apparent moral reservations over the on-going torture, force-feeding, and indefinite detention of prisoners in the facility, only 12 men have been released from custody in the last twelve months.

The facility in Guantánamo opened its doors in 2002 under the Bush administration, and was built on a 45-square-mile slice of Cuba that was leased to the United States over a century ago. The facility had an estimated 779 detainees at its peak, and most have been released without charges, while 154 remain in custody, nearly all of whom have never been charged with a crime or given due process.

In 2010, the administration assembled a task force charged with reviewing the cases of Guantánamo detainees. Although the Periodic Review Board assembled by the US government has cleared 77 inmates for release, they all remain in custody. 56 of the men are from Yemen, and the administration is unwilling to release them on the basis of their nationality over fears that the security situation in Yemen remains too unstable.

Some 40 detainees have bravely continued their hunger strike to protest their illegal detention, despite the punishment and excoriating pain of force-feeding, which is condemned by international medical associations and advocacy groups. Independent assessments from NGOs and legal experts tend to be unanimous in their belief the evidence used to implicate Guantánamo detainees is extraordinarily thin, and that the vast majority of those in custody are not extremists.

Despite the pledges and rhetoric from the Obama administration, there have been no substantive changes in the way rights are afforded to detainees, rendition programs continue unimpeded, no agency or person has been held accountable for rights violations, and Guantánamo Bay remains open. Congress has recently rejected a proposal meant to expedite the shutdown of the military prison, and plans a staggering $69 million investment in the facility to construct a new detainee complex for a mere 16 high value prisoners.

A study has recently been released detailing the conduct of American psychologists who collaborated extensively with the CIA and government agencies to develop a broad array of interrogation methods used on detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo Bay.

AFP Photo / Chantal Valery

To bypass the normal ethic standards that health practitioners are obliged to abide by, the US military classified their psychologist counterparts as "combatants," who took part in exceptionally cruel interrogation methods that exposed detainees to beatings and repeated slamming into walls, forced nakedness and exposure to extreme cold, asphyxiation, waterboarding, and force-feeding, among a list of other harrowing practices.

Emad Abdallah Hassan, a 34-year-old Yemeni national, was exposed to these indefensible practices during the past decade he spent in Guantánamo; he is still in custody despite being cleared for release in 2010, and has been on a hunger strike for several years to protest his condition. Hassan has published a disturbing letter describing the daily torture inflicted upon him through force-feeding and the grave violation of professional ethics that doctors undertake by participating in torture or cruel treatment.

“First they force the 110 centimeter tube in me. They cannot do it in the right nostril any more, as that is now firmly closed up. So they have to force it up the left nostril… They used to leave the tube in so that we did not have to undergo this pain, but then a general said they wanted to make our peaceful protest less 'convenient,' so they came up with the less 'convenient' system of pulling the tube out each time,” wrote the detainee.

Ahmed Rabbani, a Pakistani father of three who has been held without charge for more than a decade, was improperly force-fed according to newly published documents, causing him to vomit blood. “On one occasion, the feeding tube turned so it was facing up, rather than down his throat, leading Rabbani to feel like it was ‘pushed up into [his] brain’. On another, he could not breathe as his airways were blocked by the feeding liquid ‘pooling in his throat’,” according to his lawyers.

An independent psychiatrist was allowed to evaluate 45-year-old Shaker Aamer, the last British national in the Guantánamo facility, who was cleared for release over four years ago. Following his imprisonment in late 2001, and his 12 years at Guantánamo, Aamer was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which one would imagine is a fairly common diagnosis for people subjected to such high degrees of stress, abuse, and uncertainty.

The Obama administration has consistently been in support of indefinite detention as a legal principle, and it should be understood that the Guantánamo facility does not exist to prosecute people, but primarily to gain intelligence about various terrorist organizations that can threaten US interests and national security. It is the consensus of many rights groups and scholars that torture and brutal means of interrogation rarely produce reliable intelligence, but rather it forces the person being tortured to give false testimony.

Considering how the vast majority of detainees have been cleared as innocent or released without charges, the interrogation methods of intelligence gathering programs are costly in moral and economic terms, and highly ineffective. Much like the social consequences of other US policies such as drone strikes, these accounts of torture, indefinite detention and disregard for human life serves to create a radicalized opposition to the US among people in Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere.

Despite the administration’s rhetoric and pledges to close Guantánamo, the political will to close the facility and make fundamental reforms that will end torture and indefinite detention as policy is simply not there. The solution is simple: those detainees must be given habeas corpus and unconditionally released if found to be innocent.

In view of the US military’s bureaucratic incompetence in expediting the discharge of detainees that are cleared to be released, and members of Congress push for the expansion of facilities in Guantánamo, one gets the impression that the military prison will remain operational in the post-Obama period.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.