Closing Gitmo is not Enough! We Need to Hold Those Responsible for the War of Terror Accountable!

By Kenneth J. Theisen

 
Closing Gitmo as “part of our broader National Security Strategy”
 
Guantanámo Bay, or Gitmo, has come to represent some of the worst aspects of the Bush Regime. Barack Obama plans to order the closing of the” war OF terror” prison on his first full day in office, according to two unnamed Obama transition officials who briefed reporters. It is expected that Obama will issue an executive order closing the hellhole at Gitmo and suspending the Bush administration's military commissions system for trying detainees held there. Under the Military Commission’s Act (MCA), a kangaroo system of justice was established by the Bush regime that virtually guaranteed that those tried by military tribunals would be convicted. Gitmo currently incarcerates 248 prisoners of the war of terror initiated by the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks. Less than ten percent of these have been charged, including five accused of organizing the attacks on 9/11/01.
 
On January 11th in an interview aired on ABC's "This Week", Obama stated, “I don't want to be ambiguous about this. We are going to close Guantanámo and we are going to make sure that the procedures we set up are ones that abide by our constitution. That is not only the right thing to do but it actually has to be part of our broader national security strategy because we will send a message to the world that we are serious about our values." But he also stated that closing Gitmo, “is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize." Obama is not closing Gitmo because of his humanitarian nature, but rather because it is imperative to the needs of U.S. imperialism. It is part of the “national security strategy,” as Obama admits.
 
Closing Gitmo to advance U.S. imperialist leadership
 
Obama and his incoming administration realize that Gitmo has become a liability to U.S. domination of the world. Richard Holbrooke, a top-ranking former American diplomat and presidential campaign advisor to Hillary Clinton (the incoming Secretary of State) summed up the problem of Gitmo in an article in Foreign Affairs (“The Next President: Mastering a Daunting Agenda,” Sept/Oct. 2008 http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20080901faessay87501/richard-holbrooke/the-next-president.html)
 

 

He wrote, “To restore the United States to its proper world leadership role, two areas of weakness must be repaired: the domestic economy and the United States' reputation in the world…And restoring respect for American values and leadership is essential -- not because it is nice to be popular but because respect is a precondition for legitimate leadership and enduring influence.” In other words, in order for U.S. imperialism to maintain it dominant role in the world it must maintain the illusion of respectability.
 
Holbrooke went on to write, “The president should address both issues as early as possible in order to strengthen his hand as he tackles pressing strategic issues, including the five neighboring countries at the center of the arc of crisis that directly threatens the United States' national security -- Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. A few early actions that lie wholly within his authority can make an immediate impact. The most compelling such actions would be issuing a clear official ban on torture and closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which now holds only 260 prisoners. Because the Bush administration limited itself to punishing only those at the very bottom of the chain of command at Abu Ghraib, the damage to the United States' image has been immense and continuing -- the gift that keeps on giving to the United States' enemies. Presidential directives making clear that the U.S. government does not tolerate or condone torture are necessary in order to separate the new administration from that costly legacy. As for Guantánamo, closing it is complicated, as Bush administration apologists (and many lawyers) say. Well, a lot of things in life are complicated. Guantánamo must not become the next president's albatross, too; closing it, no matter how difficult, is not just desirable but imperative.”
 
Gitmo, and all that it represents, has become an impediment to U.S. hegemony. Throughout the world, just like Abu Ghraib, it represents torture, dehumanization, and the kangaroo justice of U.S. imperialism. It has impaired the ability of U.S. imperialist leaders to obtain the cooperation of its allies in the so-called “war on terror.” Other nations’ leaders fear the repercussions of being associated in the war of terror with a country that claims it upholds the rule of law, while practicing torture and ignoring international law.
 
Other U.S. run hellholes hold thousands while Obama is silent
 
But there will be disappointment in the coming four years for those that hope the Obama administration will halt the injustices of the Bush regime in its war of terror,. It is important to examine what Obama and his transition team state, as well as what they do not say. Obama has not made any mention of closing down the vast system of prisons set up in the war of terror. In Afghanistan and Iraq (and in secret places too) the U.S. has held, and continues to hold, tens of thousands of prisoners captured in the war of terror. In these hellholes; torture, rape, and murder are practiced by U.S. forces and their allies. Most people held in these “prisons” are never even given the kangaroo hearings promised under the MCA.
 
Moving Gitmo to another location?
 
And the closing of Gitmo may not even improve circumstances for those currently held there. What will replace Gitmo has not yet been addressed by Obama. Brooke Anderson, an Obama administration transition spokeswoman, stated, “President-elect Obama has repeatedly said that he believes that the legal framework at Guantánamo has failed to successfully and swiftly prosecute terrorists, and he shares the broad bipartisan belief that Guantánamo should be closed.”  Will those held face a different form of kangaroo justice under Obama? What is meant by successful and swift prosecution?
 
News reports state that Obama transition officials are focused on efforts to transfer many of the Gitmo detainees to other countries. Will this be a form of rendition where the U.S. outsources its torture? Will Obama stop indefinite detention? (Many of the Gitmo detainees have been held for nearly seven years without charges, including some who were children when they were initially confined there.) Will the Obama administration in effect just create a new Guantanámo in a different location?
 
According to Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, “The devil is in the details. Just like we need specifics on an economic recovery package, we need specifics on a ‘justice recovery package.’“ Specifics have not been provided by Obama or his transition team.
 
Since Gitmo was established in 2002 it has held nearly 800 men. The vast majority, after enduring inhumane conditions often for many years, have been released from Gitmo without charges ever being filed against them. (The general public is not aware of this, as they would be outraged at so many innocent men being held after being told that Gitmo holds the “worst of the worst terrorists.”) Some have been transferred to prisons in other countries. Some have died, including a number driven to suicide. Those remaining are in three categories: detainees suspected of having committed crimes against the U.S.; detainees not suspected of any criminal activity; and detainees suspected of criminal activity in third countries.
 
What justification can there be for holding detainees not suspected on any crime? Will Obama release these people on January 21st? He has not said anything about them. And what of detainees suspected of criminal activity in third countries. What right does the U.S. have to hold them or subject them to U.S. “justice?” 
 
And can the Obama administration conduct “successful” prosecutions of those accused of committing crimes against the U.S.? Can the U.S. imperialists withstand the inevitable evidence of systemic torture and abuse that will be revealed at the trials of these men? Will that not further harm U.S. imperialist interests? This is the dilemma faced by Obama and the reason “details” have not been forthcoming by his spokespeople.
 
Holding U.S. war criminals responsible
 
Obama has made it clear that he is eager to be the Commander-in-Chief in the war of terrorism. That is why he has called for escalating the war in Afghanistan, continuing the war in Iraq, and backed Israeli actions in Gaza. He is closing Gitmo in order to better conduct the war of terrorism and to achieve the goals of U.S. imperialism, but he also realizes that the closure creates additional problems for his administration and how they conduct the war of terror. The U.S. will continue to take prisoners in this war. What will an Obama administration do with them? Will it keep them imprisoned closer to the battlefields in Iraq, and Afghanistan? What about prisoners taken in other countries such as Pakistan? 
 
What will Obama do about those that should become prisoners? What will Obama do to hold those responsible for abuse, torture, murders, and rapes in these hellholes that have been run the last seven years by the Bush regime? Will they be tried and convicted of their war crimes and crimes against humanity? Will Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, John Yoo, David Addington, and all the other criminals in the Bush regime face justice under the Obama administration? I think Obama’s silence on this speaks for itself.
 
As Obama becomes the C-in-C on January 20th he will take over the war of terror and its vast prison gulag. While he will close Gitmo eventually, he will still maintain the prisons run around the world by the Department of War. We need to hold him not only accountable for the detainees in Gitmo, but the thousands of others held by the Pentagon and its allies. We also need to demand that thousands be released; that they be compensated for their abuse; and that those responsible for the U.S. war of terror be prosecuted. But this will not happen if left to Obama, the Congress, or the courts. Only a mass movement of the people will force real accountability. Anything less will allow the Bush regime policies in the war of terror to continue under a younger and smoother talking Commander-in-Chief.