Wikileaks reminder that Obama’s still Guantánamo gaoler-in-chief

As Ireland readies itself to welcome President Obama to these shores next month, those with an interest in upholding international law have been given reason to recall how he has failed the litmus test of Guantánamo.

While the President appears to have forgotten his January 2010 promise to close the internment camp within a year, a new batch of leaked government documents provides a reminder of just how iniquitous the US experiment in unlawful detention has proven.

The new document cache consists of case summaries, produced by intelligence analysts at Guantánamo between 2002 and 2009, that were first leaked to Wikileaks and then to the press.

The picture of Guantánamo that emerges from these new documents – on top of what we already know – is of a place of arbitrary detention, operating from a presumption of guilt not innocence, where torture was used to extract information from some detainees which was then used to taint the innocence of others.

It emerges from the documents that at least 150 of those detained in Guantánamo had no demonstrable connection whatsoever to Al Qaeda, the Taliban or any other armed group.

The leaked material also highlights that adverse testimony from just eight inmates was cited in the files of 255 Guantánamo detainees. One inmate, Mohammed Basardah, alone provided ‘intel’ on 131 detainees. Abu Zubaydeh who was water-boarded at least eighty-three times, subsequently – perhaps unsurprisingly in the circumstances – gave adverse statements on 127 other inmates.

The files reveal that intelligence analysts came to regard most of this testimony as unreliable.

The fact is, Guantánamo has disgraced the US across the world, has produced little or no intelligence of any value, and it has likely radicalised far more people than it has deterred.

Yes, there are no doubt some unpleasant people held in Guantánamo, like Khaled Shaikh Mohammed, who has boasted openly about his role in terrorist attacks.

However, Guantánamo was never the only option for dealing with them. There can be no doubt that the criminal justice system would have done a much better job. The innocent would likely have been processed and released, the guilty tried and convicted years ago if the US had chosen the legal, constitutional path instead.

In 2007, Obama told supporters:

I was a constitutional law professor, which means unlike the current president I actually respect the Constitution.

So, Obama’s defence of the status quo – 172 detainees still held, military commissions rather than fair trials, the prospect of indefinite detention without trial – has been all the more disappointing.

In his defence, he may choose to point to Congress‘ refusal to allow funding for detainees to be brought to the US for trial and its insistence that every detainee release or transfer must be individually approved. Yet, being the president, as Harry Truman’s desk sign reminded him every day, the buck stops with him.

It’s an embarrassment that the US justice system could have become so degraded as to allow this to happen and a further embarrassment that Obama – the constitutional law expert – should now have become the Guantánamo gaoler-in-chief. 

Will anyone in Ireland’s political class have the temerity to remind the President of his international human rights obligations while on Irish soil, or will everyone just be expected to dance at the crossroads of Moneygall?

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