The latest leaks of classified documents, which show that the U.S. government imprisoned hundreds of men at Guantánamo Bay on the most dubious “evidence,” brings to mind the question, Why hasn’t President Obama kept his promise to close the infamous prison that will forever stain America’s honor?
As the UK Guardian, one of the newspapers that disclosed the documents, reported, “The U.S. military dossiers … reveal how, alongside the so-called ‘worst of the worst’, many prisoners were flown to the Guantánamo cages and held captive for years on the flimsiest grounds, or on the basis of lurid confessions extracted by maltreatment…. More than two years after President Obama ordered the closure of the prison, 172 are still held there…. The files depict a system often focused less on containing dangerous terrorists or enemy fighters, than on extracting intelligence.”
Many men were detained on the basis of hearsay after the U.S. government paid bounties for information. Some detainees had traveled to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban in the civil war, then were declared enemies of the United States after its invasion in October 2001. After years in custody hundreds of men whom the Bush administration had branded as the monsters were released, indicating they were no threat at all. For this reason Guantánamo is an international symbol of American criminality.
In March Obama signed an executive order permitting him to hold detainees indefinitely without charge or trial. The administration wishes to keep some prisoners in custody even though the supposed evidence against them would not be admissible in a court or even in a military tribunal, which has far less protection for defendants. Some of that evidence was obtained by methods most would regard as torture.
More than a year after Guantánamo was to be closed it remains open. Why, and why has Obama largely escaped criticism for breaking such an important pledge?