“Pragmatism Over Ideology”: Obama’s Failure to Close Guantánamo, and His Love of Drones

10.6.12

Last week, a major article in the New York Times painted a grim portrait of how President Obama has taken over from George W. Bush as the “commander in chief” of a “war on terror” that seems to have no end, and that not only appears to be counter-productive, but also, at heart, illegal.

Understandably, critics have been alarmed by the article’s revelations about a President who holds regular meetings to decide who should be on a “kill list” for drone strikes — in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia — and who insists on approving the targets of drone raids, which is his primary method of dealing with the perceived terrorist threat, by “poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre ‘baseball cards’ of an unconventional war.”

As well as claiming the right to kill people (including US citizens) in drone attacks that seem very clearly to do away with notions of national sovereignty — and which therefore play into George W. Bush’s dreadful notion of the entire world as an endless battlefield — the Times article also noted that President Obama has also “embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties,” which “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”

Although both the drone attacks and the massaged figures can clearly be regarded as illegal, the only voices raised in protest in the Times article were those of Dennis C. Blair, the Director of National Intelligence (until he was fired in May 2010), Cameron P. Munter, the US ambassador to Pakistan, and, to a lesser degree, Hillary Clinton.

Dennis Blair complained that “discussions inside the White House of long-term strategy against Al-Qaeda were sidelined by the intense focus on strikes,” and told the Times, “The steady refrain in the White House was, ‘This is the only game in town’ — reminded me of body counts in Vietnam.” A colleague of Cameron Munter said that the ambassador “has complained to colleagues that the CIA’s strikes drive American policy there, saying ‘he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people.’” Hillary Clinton, apparently, “strongly supported the strikes,” but “complained to colleagues about the drones-only approach at Situation Room meetings, in which discussion would focus exclusively on the pros, cons and timing of particular strikes.” She also told the President at their weekly lunch meetings that “there should be more attention paid to the root causes of radicalization,” to which the President apparently agreed, although he has done little to show it.

I also noted that, although much was made in the article of how the failed attack by the would-be underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, on a plane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, had marked a turning point for Obama — so that Michael E. Leiter, who was then the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said, “After that, as president, it seemed like he felt in his gut the threat to the United States” — Obama had actually undertaken his first drone strike in Yemen on December 17, 2009, eight days before Abdulmutallab’s failed bombing, which, as the Times noted, “killed not only its intended target, but also two neighboring families, and left behind a trail of cluster bombs that subsequently killed more innocents.” Afterwards, “Videos of children’s bodies and angry tribesmen holding up American missile parts flooded You Tube, fueling a ferocious backlash that Yemeni officials said bolstered Al-Qaeda.”

That, it seems to me, demonstrates without a shadow of a doubt that the conflict between the US and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula began not with the Abdulmutallab attack, but with Obama’s own disastrous attack on Yemen the week before.

As the article also revealed, however, even before he became President, Barack Obama had already opened up a gap between the rhetoric that he offered to would-be voters and his own beliefs. According to the Times, as early as March 2008, the national security team on his campaign had advised “Pragmatism over ideology” in a memo, and this was described as advice that “only reinforced the president’s instincts.”

When it came to Guantánamo, this gulf was pronounced from the very beginning, according to the Times article, in which it was noted that, before his inauguration, Obama’s advisers “had warned him against taking a categorical position on what would be done with Guantánamo detainees.” Conflict behind the scenes has previously been acknowledged regarding the decision to issue executive orders promising to close Guantánamo within a year, banning torture, and closing all CIA “black sites,” which Obama issued on his second day on office. However, the Times article suggested that, from the beginning, the President had been playing with the Guantánamo issue — or, as it was described in the Times, “The deft insertion of some wiggle words in the president’s order showed that the advice [against taking a categorical position on the disposition of the Guantánamo prisoners] was followed.”

In an analysis of the “wiggle words,” the Times noted that, although the executive order relating to Guantánamo stated that some of the prisoners “would be transferred to prisons in other countries, or released,” another statement, that some “would be prosecuted — if ‘feasible’ — in criminal courts,” did not specifically mention the military commission trial system, which, therefore, was “not ruled out,” even though Obama had criticized the military commissions for many years.

Also troubling was the mention of prisoners “who could not be transferred or tried but were judged too dangerous for release.” As the Times noted, the executive order stated that their “disposition” would be handled by “lawful means, consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice,” but did not explicitly mention that this was actually an endorsement of indefinite detention.

Also still on board was “extraordinary rendition” — disappearing suspects to other countries, as had happened early in Bush’s “war on terror,” before the CIA became mired in its own messy business of running its own secret prisons. As the Times explained, the day before the executive orders were issued, John A. Rizzo, the CIA’s acting General Counsel, “called the White House in a panic,” because the order prohibiting the use of “black sites” would take the CIA “out of the rendition business.” Rizzo told White House Counsel Greg Craig that the CIA “sometimes held such suspects for a day or two while awaiting a flight,” and that the order “appeared to outlaw that.”

Craig reportedly “assured him that the new president had no intention of ending rendition — only its abuse, which could lead to American complicity in torture abroad.” As a result, “a new definition of ‘detention facility’ was inserted” into the executive order, “excluding places used to hold people ‘on a short-term, transitory basis.’”

As the Times concluded, echoing the administration’s way of thinking, “Problem solved — and no messy public explanation damped Mr. Obama’s celebration.” A similar tone — one that suggested that the administration had outsmarted its critics — permeated the claim that, although “[a] few sharp-eyed observers inside and outside the government understood what the public did not,” the President had somehow won some sort of significant victory, even though what he had done was to make his promise to close Guantánamo unfulfillable, and had also cleared the way for the reintroduction of military commissions, as well as also endorsing the continued use of “extraordinary rendition” and indefinite detention at Guantánamo. The latter course of action was eventually codified in another executive order issued in March 2011, authorizing the indefinite detention of 48 of the remaining prisoners at Guantánamo.

As the Times article put it, “Without showing his hand, Mr. Obama had preserved three major policies — rendition, military commissions and indefinite detention — that have been targets of human rights groups since the 2001 terrorist attacks.”

This phrasing was insulting to those “human rights groups” and other concerned parties who have been campaigning against indefinite detention, “extraordinary rendition,” and military commissions not for soft reasons, but because domestic and international laws and treaties — including the Great Writ of habeas corpus, the Geneva Conventions, and the UN Convention Against Torture — are not options to be cast aside, but rules and laws designed to prevent barbarism and tyranny, whether presided over by George W. Bush or Barack Obama.

The inclusion of the “wiggle words” in the executive orders appears to provide a previously unknown explanation for why President Obama failed to close Guantánamo, but in fact is does not tell the whole story, which involves incompetence and cowardice as much as cynicism.

As the Times article also explained, in May 2009, in a major speech about national security at the National Archives, President Obama “mentioned Guantánamo 28 times, repeating his campaign pledge to close the prison.” However, the article claimed that “it was too late, and his defensive tone suggested that Mr. Obama knew it.” Although President Bush had ended up supporting the closure of Guantánamo, as had John McCain as the Republican Presidential candidate, “Republicans in Congress had reversed course and discovered they could use the issue to portray Mr. Obama as soft on terrorism.”

According to the Times, while he was leaving the National Archives, President Obama turned to his national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, and “admitted that he had never devised a plan to persuade Congress to shut down the prison,” adding, “We’re never going to make that mistake again.” This demonstrates incompetence rather than cynicism, reinforced in Gen. Jones’s comments that the President and his team had “assumed that closing the prison was ‘a no-brainer — the United States will look good around the world,’” although “nobody asked, ‘OK, let’s assume it’s a good idea, how are you going to do this?’”

Another administration official, who had “watched him closely,” complained that the President gave the impression of having “a sense that if he sketches a vision, it will happen — without his really having thought through the mechanism by which it will happen,” an observation that takes incompetence to a mystical level.

Obama also demonstrated cowardice — what the Times called a “distaste for legislative backslapping and arm-twisting,” and, as an example, it was noted that, although both Hillary Clinton and Eric Holder “had warned that the plan to close the Guantánamo prison was in peril,” and had “volunteered to fight for it on Capitol Hill,” officials confirmed that, “with Mr. Obama’s backing, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, blocked them, saying health care reform had to go first.” In addition, when Greg Craig was close to finalizing a plan to bring two cleared prisoners who could not be repatriated to live in the US (the Uighurs, oppressed Muslims from China), Obama dropped the plan when Republicans led by Representative Frank R. Wolf found out about it, and started complaining.

The administration official who was the most critical of Obama delivered an especially savage denunciation of the President’s failures, when he said that this particular show of weakness “doomed the effort to close Guantánamo,” adding, “Lyndon Johnson would have steamrolled the guy.”

In conclusion, I remain as shocked as many other commentators that the Times article revealed so explicitly Obama’s willingness to discuss his passion for extrajudicial drone assassinations, but I also believe that the revelations about his cynicism, incompetence and weakness when it comes to Guantánamo deserve further scrutiny and outrage.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

40 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Mary Shepard wrote:

    One thing that defies logic, and certainly defied it in the “targeted assassination” of Osama bin Laden – why is it preferable to murder people instead of detaining them for questioning (albeit without torture)? Is the answer to the”dilemma” about “enhanced interrogations” simply to murder suspected terrorists instead of detaining them? Is this somehow morally more acceptable?

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the perceptive comments, Mary. The killing of bin Laden certainly seemed to confirm that killing is the only option regarded as sufficiently “robust” these days, with all the outdated Wild West baggage that carries with it. It also, of course, played hugely into the hands of those who see conspiracies – either that it wasn’t bin Laden, or that he was a CIA agent, or that he couldn’t be seized alive because, say, he’d reveal that 9/11 was an inside job. Etcetera.
    The impression I get is that America hasn’t really figured out how to take a third course of action other than Bush’s arbitrary detention (still in operation at Guantanamo)and Obama’s killing (via drones). Only occasionally do we see other courses of action, like in July 2011, when Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali, was brought to the US to face a civilian trial. That’s the course of action I’d like t have seen in bin Laden’s case, of course, but even in Warsame’s case there were horrendous confusions, because he was only brought to the US after being held on a ship and interrogated for two months – a course of action straight out of George W. Bush’s modus operandi, and just as worrying.
    What a depressing mess it all is!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Elena Marie Bridges wrote:

    thank you Andy for your work.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Hawa Bint Yusuf wrote:

    Brilliant work!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Lucia Sol wrote:

    shared

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Elena, Hawa and Lucia. Very good to hear from you, and thank you for your supportive words!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    My friend cosmicsurfer wrote:

    Thanks for the write up. I, for one, don’t look at Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo as simply a result of Republican obstructionism. I truly believe there is much more to the story than we have been told. If he had closed Gitmo and pushed for in country civilian justice for those charged with 9/11 planning and other “terrorist acts”, he would not be able to do what he is doing now.

    I believe Obama honestly believed he was to close Gitmo but someone got to him once he was in office. I suspect The Congressional response is not the only reason for the failure to close and I wonder about his refusal to prosecute or investigate Bush in light of the latest revelations about Obama and NDAA and the” Kill List” -If he investigated Bush, would he be able to justify doing the same behavior?

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, cosmicsurfer. Somehow, you manage to touch on most of the key points – how much were Republicans blamed for something Obama also wanted? i.e. not actually closing Guantanamo, and how much is the decision not to prosecute Bush or his cronies tied in to Obama’s own decision to embark on morally and legally dubious policies?
    The answer, I believe, is that pragmatism led to hideous compromises over Guantanamo – the designation of 48 men for indefinite detention, for example. And fear has also played a major point – in the wake of the failed Abdulmutallab plane bomb, for example, Yemenis became people to fear, and therefore no Yemenis could be freed from Guantanamo.
    I also think that Obama and his administration have actually been infected by the persistent fearmongering that Bush put in place, and that Obama is a victim of America’s tendency towards a myopic, self-centered world view to an alarming degree. That thought just occurred to me, but it seems undeniable, especially because everything about Obama’s family background, and his vulnerable position as the first black President would encourage hyper-patritoitic and nationalist tendencies, which are always damaging for America, which persistently needs Presidents who are genuinely interested in how other countries operate and how America is perceived outside its own borders.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote:

    Ah yes, I remember that Cheneyesque word, “robust.” The US deliberately preserved and fed the, shall we say, ambiguity of the question of who was responsible for 9/11. I wish more people would understand the tremendous power rumors and conspiracy theories have, and that they function in a way similar to propaganda. The US is choking on its own fear, and is politically motivated to maintain a “strong policy” on terrorism during an election year even though not a single American has been killed in a terrorist attack in several years. I think there is no desire whatsoever to pursue justice for detainees simply because the US cannot stand the thought of releasing people who are found to be innocent. This shows that the US has no faith in its own system of justice. The hypocrisy of believing it’s OK to release an accused child molester for lack of evidence but not being willing to do so in the case of a foreigner accused of something as vague or innocuous as cooking breakfast for an alleged al Qaeda member is at the crux of it. To be fair, there should be no difference in the treatment of someone accused of a criminal act and someone who is supposed to be a terrorist. I also do not believe it should be legal for the government to refuse to allow a detainee to have access to all evidence against him. They have just as much right to use every means to fight for their freedoms as anyone else.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Agreed, Mary, but you touch on the heart of the problem. The very humanity of these men was removed by President Bush, when he declared them to be “enemy combatants” to whom the Geneva Conventions didn’t apply, and although the Supreme Court recognized their right to habeas corpus in June 2004, and affirmed the applicability of common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions to all prisoners in June 2006, it was too late to undo the damage. These men remain tarred as terrorists, even though no evidence has been required to be produced, and they remain exceptions to the normal rules, even to this day. Not one of them, for example, has ever had a family visit, and, even assuming their relatives could pay to visit (which some could), it would never ever be allowed.
    So a Guantanamo prisoner who, to use your example, was “accused of something as vague or innocuous as cooking breakfast for an alleged al Qaeda member” – or, to use another, who says he was in Afghanistan for humanitarian aid reasons, but cannot prove that allegations that he was involved with the Taliban in a military context are false – gets no family visit and no trial, whereas a mass murderer on the US mainland gets a trial, and, after conviction, family visits. This is so fundamentally wrong that the injustice should burn like a constant flame, and keep Americans awake at night, but no. Carving out exceptions for some prisoners – depriving them of their rights as human beings – has been official US policy since just after 9/11, and remains so to this day, however much officials, up to and including the President, try to dress it up otherwise.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui JS wrote:

    The part of the NYT article that suggests Obama thought it was ok to just do a little cosmetics on rendition/CIA torture programs, suggests to me that he was cynical rather than incompetent. He had a window to end torture. He didn’t. People continued to be tortured in Iraqi camps (ACLU FOIA) docs with very little interruption in the pattern except it may have gotten worse on the eve of the elections, and after that it was back to business same as Bush. And maybe or maybe not that is being phased out for drones. But as people know prisons are still open.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Mui. You may be right. Unfortunately, whatever the exact measurements of cynicism, incompetence and political cowardice are, the end result is the same. I can’t see at present how we get out of this permanently hysterical situation whereby the US government, the Pentagon, the intelligence agencies and the war and intelligence lobbyists constantly ramp up a threat that, although not insignificant, isn’t actually that great.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote, in response to 10, above:

    That, also, is Cheneyesque – just change the language and you change everything. The cynicism of claiming that all male bystanders killed in drone strikes are militants is breathtaking, especially when we recall that Obama killed a 16 year old boy – a child. What this effectively does is close any investigation into just who is getting killed, upping the stats for Obama’s “confirmed kills” and excusing the murder of the innocent. As for those who were detained as in your example, Andy, of someone who went to Afghanistan for humanitarian reasons, how do they prove it in such a chaotic place? Who even gives them an opportunity to prove anything, if this person doesn’t even know why he was detained in the first place, or what is the evidence against him?

    The question still sits there like an elephant in the room – why is the White House so adamant in ignoring cause and effect, that US foreign policy is the driving force behind terrorism? This has to be deliberate, in my opinion.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    It may be deliberate, Mary, or it may be that those perceiving a threat are actually incapable of thinking why that’s the case. “They hate us for our freedoms” was a laughable Bush quote – except for those who believed it.
    The cynicism of the drone death accounting process is extraordinary, and it’s probably the single most important fact to emerge from this article that I will be compelled to hold against Obama forever, unless he renounces it. There is, however, something similar to the mentality required to keep holding people at Guantanamo – an underlying suspicion of Muslims in any location declared a war zone by the US, and a belief, based on the lawlessness introduced by Bush, that, as a result, it is justifiable to either kill them or capture them and hold them in arbitrary detention, very possibly for the rest of their lives. Where are the voices calling not even for adherence to existing laws, but merely for a sense of proportion? It doesn’t take more than a moment’s thought to realize that if a regime that feared America started assassinating Americans or arbitrarily detaining them for the rest of their lives, the uproar would be immense – as it should be. Not to see this hypocrisy is perhaps the ultimate hubristic self-deception of America, its leaders, and the majority of its people, and their damned obsession with American exceptionalism.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote, in response to 12, above:

    Indeed – it is as though the most powerful country in the world is being held hostage by a few hundred ragged men living in caves in Afghanistan.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Charlie Pottins wrote:

    America has a history of prisoners who never make it to trial, it saves expense, and more important, embarassment.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote:

    Yes but at least those prisoners experienced a semblance of due process. They were formally charged with a crime and were given protection under the laws. Not so for the detainees at Gitmo.

  18. JAN (Cosmic Surfer) says...

    My husband just brought up the idea, again, of the US national Karsakov’s syndrome. The idea that if the people actually look at the truth of us, we find it so intolerable that we, as a nation, devolve into a divisive focus on non-issues to act out the anger and the dis-ease of our being. The refusal to look back at the evil we do and refuse to stop and the President acts it out in the most absurd way. We as a nation are war criminals in full denial of our criminality (by the way, it isn’t just the US but the UK, Russia, Georgia, Canada, Mexico, China)

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jan. And thanks also for including other countries with the same problem – although I’m sure it could be a much longer list! Clinging to nationalism, religion and race are tried and tested methods for people to avoid having to examine any difficult questions about who they are,and how the countries they live in got to be the way they are.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote, in response to 14 above:

    I think it could be either, or both. We can see how cynicism is promoting or aiding the hideous tragedy of Syria; some people believe Assad is the victim of a conspiracy against him by Israel and the US who wish to use Syria to gain control of the middle east (I find this ludicrous for obvious reasons which I won’t get into here). Conspiracy theories blind us to the truth, which is why they’re effective propaganda tools. Anti-Muslim sentiment certainly makes it easier to allow the detention of persons suspected of terrorism; it also makes it easier to deny the humanity of one group of persons as a way to scapegoat them for political reasons similar to what Hitler did to the Jews before World War II. The whole world has been declared the war zone as it pertains to the war on terror, which means the world’s Muslims are always suspects. Bush and Cheney introduced the culture of lawlessness, via John Yoo and others, enabling laws to be disregarded, reinterpreted, manipulated or declared quaint, all for political ends. You’re right – what it may take for America to recognize itself honestly is to have the tables turned. But what would work better in the long run is to dispense with the exceptionalism that, from the cradle to the grave, is paramount in the consciousness of most Americans. Does any other country require its children to salute the flag every morning at school? Does any other country teach them that Americans are the best, the smartest, the most moral, and the most free?

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui JS wrote:

    I can’t help thinking intent is pretty important, Andy, b/c if intent were different the results would be different, IMHO. And it’s good to know what to expect and try and figure out how to deal with it, e.g. tell potential Obama voter you know if they want to read 1 article that shows what a scumbag the man is, they should read the NYT Kill list article.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Jennah Solace wrote:

    I wonder if the CIA has invented some kind of drug that subdues presidents into submission – lol! Obama just seems to be such a different man from the one who campaigned all those years ago – on the basis of ‘hope and change’. Now he is more like a robot devoid of any emotion or passion or vision. It is not only disappointing – it is devastating for the world. We have not seen progress, we’ve only witnessed more destruction to the economy, environment, diplomatic relations — no end to war. The wars are more vicious than ever — and sneakier too. What a let down! Power is a strong sedative and temptation leading the majority of those in its capture, to corruption.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote:

    You’ll be stuck with choosing the lesser of the two evils this November. I’m an expat and I’ve decided not to vote, for the first time in my life.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again, Mary and Mui, and thanks, Jennah. I agree with you about the power of the cynical take on things, Mui, and I would certainly advise people to read the NYT article. However, I’m not sure how much I think Obama is personally in charge of micro-managing every aspect of his own presidency; hence my belief that incompetence and political cowardice also play a major part. On Guantanamo, for example, the tension for Obama and his advisors was that in one way they wanted to close it, but in another way they failed to work out how to do so (as the article also explained), and were also terrified (as they still are) of releasing anyone who might then become a “recidivist.” This was problematical, because it takes courage to maintain that closing Guantanamo is more important than releasing a few people holding a grudge for their long years of torment.
    I do believe, however, that for Obama Guantanamo is essentially a legacy issue, and not an ongoing example of 21st century US detention policies. If it was, he would have sent new people there. However, because of his failure to close it, and his insistence that some of the prisoners put there by Bush will have to be detained indefinitely, he continues to play into the hands of those who do want to see its use expanded.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui JS wrote:

    I don’t believe it Andy. Over the yrs various politicians have hinted at how Obama’s feints at closing Gitmo are bogus, republicans especially. You know he could have written an Executive Order to close the whole damn place, and Clinton and Holder would have carried out orders, as they are said to have asked to do in this and other articles. None of this can be blamed on rahm emmanuel either who was supposedly Obama’s right hand guy and told him to drop it. Obama’s a liar. He never had a plan b/c it wasn’t on his list. I’d prefer to think he was Stepford president, like Jennah describes or a Zombie in a high place. But he’s had some particularly pernicious mentors, including Lieberman and we’ve seen the tactics of those guys, especially here in CT. They can lie their asses off, and put a sanctimonious smile on it. It’s not about courage. He has ridden the party to the right in almost every way possible and this NYT Kill List article is just another prime exemplar.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, but it’s weak and not malevolent to be faced with assessments of the prisoners, and then to blanch at releasing some of them because of what they might do if released. I’m not trying to defend Obama, because he was indecisive in his first 100 days, when he should have released dozens of prisoners, including Yemenis, and he quickly adopted a position that wasn’t fundamentally different from that of George W. Bush. However, I maintain that he is mishandling a legacy, rather than actively agitating for Guantanamo as an active part of his detention policies, because otherwise he would have taken any of the many options he has been presented with to add new prisoners to the existing population, and he hasn’t done that.

  27. the talking dog says...

    Hi Andy! Glad to see you’re keeping up the good fight. I tend to think that the side of right will win (on these issues, anyway) in the near or at least not too far off future, not because we will have ultimately created a public maelstrom of opposition to the outrages, but because the very expense of America’s conduct will bankrupt it, and then collapse it. Always ironic that we stole the USSR playbook, right down to “invade Afghanistan,” without bothering to read the last chapter. But I always was kind of an optimist. Still, that’s more of an “intermediate” or “mid-long” term answer.

    The short term answer is, of course, that prior to the election, we’re going to see “Tough Guy” Obama– the hits (quite literally) are going to keep on coming– nice to see that we’ve now elevated our flying robot murder weapons to go after al Qaeda number TWOs, as opposed to the traditional al Qaeda number THREES (back before the successful hit on OBL moved everyone up one rank).

    Alrightie then… abusing GTMO’s remaining eight score or so is a political no-brainer: the American public LOVES the idea– and would hate nothing more than to see innocent men released. So– not to worry– they won’t be (unless a few more die, of course; we’re very respectful that way.) It’s nothing personal– it pretty much sums up much of our nation’s own internal penal system, now by far the largest and most extensive in human history– in both absolute and per capita terms). Except at GTMO, only two or three occupants have been “convicted” of anything, and it costs something like $700,000 per prisoner to keep them (plus around 14 guards per prisoner)– but this highlights a key American trend, to wit, prisons are one of the few “growth bright spots”– at least in terms of employment (as well as “investment opportunities.”) A lot of this reflects the idiocy of counting such things as prisons in GDP– as if expenses were an economic “good.” But H.L. Mencken suggested that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

    The other broad American (and worldwide) trend, of course, is to replace human beings with automation. Hence, the beauty of the drones replacing boots on the grounds. Obviously, fewer politically damaging troop casualties as well– but their medical care has been amazingly expensive– best to minimize that, and replace it with the flying robots. And– in the same way we miscount GDP expenses as affirmative goods, we miscount murdered civilian “collateral damage” as “insurgents” or “terrorists” or whatever the current term is. The “kill lists”– well, what could possibly make the President look tougher than this?

    The reality that both trends– abusing the helpless previously captured, and abusing (if not murdering) wide swathes of civilian populations are signs not of strength but of egregious weakness– will be missed by the American people, especially going into the “election” (as if either Obama or Romney would deviate a jot from Bush’s policies– even if Obama had the cynicism to run against Bush on GTMO, rendition, torture, etc., and now STILL run “against Bush” while adopting his policies!!!), is just something else we’ll all have to acknowledge. Still, my sinking feeling we’re in something of an end-game… remains.

  28. Pragmatism Over Ideology: Obama’s Failure to Close Guantánamo, and His Love of Drones « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] Andy Worthington Featured Writer Dandelion Salad http://www.andyworthington.co.uk 10 June [...]

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, TD, and thanks for your always relevant take on the slow collapse of the United States of America – as part of which, of course, we have the hugely expensive collateral damage of the prisoners imprisoned at Guantanamo, and the enthusiasm for endless war, now manifested in President Obama’s enormous enthusiasm for drones. Reading what you wrote just nudged me to consider – not that I should have needed any prompting – that, of course, drones are particularly wonderful because they don’t involve the risk of any American being killed while murdering people.
    So bring on the US bankruptcy that will bring the warmongering, exterminating and imprisoning empire to an end!

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote, in response to 25 and 26, above:

    A lot of what Obama has done or not done during his presidency is a result of weakness, including his backing down and kowtowing to Netanyahu over illegal settlements in the West Bank. He promised that the system of military tribunals also would be discontinued but he has kept it in place. He said he wouldn’t sign the NDAA but changed his mind. He said his presidency would be the most transparent in history. We all know what happened with that. He claims the US no longer tortures, but I haven’t seen anything to confirm that, and he’s kept in place the practice of rendition. He’s so afraid that he’s going to lose control of things that he’s moving backward.

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Woodward wrote:

    Idiot – boy Bush on steroids.

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui JS wrote:

    You’re assuming that’s what happened, Andy, and I don’t believe that’s what happened. He’s not weak. He really is a bad nasty politician.
    Remember he has highly capable people. I don’t think he was mishandling. He was looking for an excuse. Its sad but true. I know his type of politician. I know that’s heard to understand b/c it goes beyond what we normal people think of normal in terms of paramters. But if anything he’s a hands on guy when it comes to war crimes.
    Also remember that opposition doesn’t provide explanations or excuses for politicians. Its better to bargain higher.

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    Jennah Solace wrote:

    No offence Andy, but you are sounding awfully diplomatic! (lol) Are you planning to run for office? Aren’t we nearly always placated to, told a pack of lies, by people who dream to hold positions of power. And then what happens when such a person succeeds? They get in the position with an entire agenda that they carefully (intentionally) left out. If they told the truth to us — we wouldn’t vote for them.

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote:

    There are no “good” and “bad” politicians. The nature of the job requires them to be opportunists. Also, i don’t know if you’re Americans or not, but you have to realize that although both Bush and Obama have taken on more executive power, they are not dictators or kings. There are only so many unilateral moves they can make. Generally, policy is set by the Cabinet along with the president, and most everything else is done by legislation. The unprecedented “executive powers” are what Obama is using in the matter of drone strikes, but the NDAA, for example, is a piece of legislation brought to him for signature (and which he signed even though he promised he wouldn’t). Jennah, I don’t think Andy is trying to sound diplomatic, but he is being realistic. People who care what’s going on make it a point to learn how the system works, and what is unfortunate is that most people don’t know; they simply assume they know.

    There was plenty of truth floating around out there on Obama in 2008 – I remember because I grappled with it before casting my vote. He spoke freely even then about drone strikes on Pakistan, among other things. There were a lot of things about him that didn’t add up. But voters tend to be easily fogged by promises of “change,” and frightened by the possibility of a bimbo from Alaska eventually ending up in the White House.

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Jennah Solace wrote:

    Mary, I really appreciate that you are coming to Andy’s defense. :) No, I don’t live in the States, but I grew up next to it (in Canada) and I have spent a great deal of time there. I do think that the US managed to open Guantanamo – therefore they (the Government, currently headed by Obama) should be able to close it. Take a listen to this…
    “Obama Pushes To Close Guantanamo Bay Prison”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foOMSbX_oJs

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    Jennah Solace wrote:

    Here’s another good one – this explains the climate in the States about the ‘war on terror’ and perhaps is closer to truth about why the torture prison has never been closed…
    “Obama to miss Guantanamo closure deadline – 19 Nov 09″
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xr0lhq_obama-to-miss-guantanamo-closure-deadline-19-nov-09_tv
    — The above speech deals with this ideology very clearly. Unfortunately, people often tend to cling to their beliefs and fears, and politicians play to them in order to further their own agendas. I am not sure really what interests it does serve, creating it or keeping it open, because I view the world from another perspective – than that of the fear-mongers. I think we should do unto others as we wish to have done unto us. 9/11 was tragic. But did it really get solved by the ‘war on terror’ — the Iraq war — the Afghan war — the drones falling on Pakistan and Yemen. Is the world a better place? Did torturing detainees help the cause of the US? Did changing stances help Obama? Isn’t his own inability to follow through only proving his real intentions were not to do so, or that he gave into political pressure, or that he never had the balls. How else can we judge a man except by his words and deeds? Just a thought.

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Woodward wrote:

    Wish I could find the Leibniz quote, in which he philosophizes that politics is the highest of sciences, as it is the one to bring humanity from the gutter toward the heavens.

    We are supposed to have checks and balances in the US, via the three branches of our government: Supreme Court, president, and congress/senate. The SC showed its colors by appointing Bush the president, after the first contested election.

    Most of Capitol Hill has been bought out by lobbyists (not merely AIPAC, but of health insurers, and the ‘Chamber of Commerce,’ one of the biggest lobbying groups in the US, though many of us don’t know that).

    Co-presidents Bush & Cheneyac almost went fuhrerprinzip.

    Obomba has.

  38. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote:

    Grrrrr I wrote out a long response and hit the wrong key, and poof…. I simply refer people to Naomi Wolf and her excellent writing on America’s shift towards Fascism.

  39. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again, Mary, Mui and Jennah – and also Mary Woodward,
    I’m very glad this has provoked such a lively discussion. I still believe, Mui, that it’s a complicated story, involving cynical sleights of hand to enable a continuation of some Bush-era policies, but also incompetence and cowardice when it comes to Guantanamo.
    And as for my diplomacy, Jennah – it is, I suppose, but it’s because I’m working towards finding ways to contribute to the closure of Guantanamo, through exposing the lies used to detain the men still held there, and to find ways to influence those in positions of power to realize why they still need to work towards closing Guantanamo, and what they need to know.

  40. Las Injusticias de Estados Unidos: Los torturados, los rendidos*, los desaparecidos | Moncadista says...

    [...] funcionarios de Bush (incluyendo al propio ex-presidente) pasean libres, y el presidente Obama tiene su propia “lista de asesinatos” y programa de aviones no tripulados, que algún día será visto tan monstruoso e ilegal como el programa de rendición y tortura de [...]

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Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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