We are reminded again: Torture is torture. Period.

The U.S. Senate’s torture report is out, and that was a good day for America. But it underlined  once again that America “lost its way”during those dark years after 9/11, as Eric Lichtau wrote in his book Bush’s Law – The Remaking of American Justice.

“This is not how Americans should behave. Ever,” says today’s main editorial in the Washington Post.

So, to talk about whether these “enhanced interrogation techniques” worked or not is completely irrelevant.

“Torture is wrong, whether or not it has ever ‘worked,'”  the Post adds. Exactly.

“Only fools” discuss whether illegal actions “work,” wrote Slate Magazine’s legal commentator Dahlia Lithwick some time ago. Exactly, again.

But, as Lithwick also wrote, they “got away with it:” Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, CIA Director George Tenet and his staff member Jose Rodriguez, who destroyed video tapes of the torture sessions.

Now, what? Probably nothing, unfortunately.

Congress, controlled by the Republicans after the new year, will not touch this. And President Obama, who started out so well and in his first weeks as president in 2009 shut down CIA’s secret prisons, prohibited the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and he promised to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, also said no to all investigations, no prosecutions and no indictments, no truth and reconciliation commission like in South Africa after apartheid, no to a commission report like the one after 9/11. Nothing.

Was he wishing it would all go away? It hasn’t. The prison in Guantanamo Bay is still open and now the torture debate is back with a vengeance.

It was a “horrible decision” by Obama to close the books on this chapter of of our history, writes the New York Times today, describing the whole report as a “portrait of depravity that is hard to comprehend and even harder to stomach.” And, it “raises again, with renewed power, the question of why no one has ever been held accountable for these crimes.”

Exactly, yet again.


It’s high time to close Guantanamo Bay

The terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay is still open, in spite of what president Obama has declared and in spite of the many demands to close it.

As recently as last week, President Obama said that he continues to believe that Guantanamo should be closed.

“I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive.  It is inefficient.  It hurts us in terms of our international standing.  It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts.  It is a recruitment tool for extremists… And I’m going to reengage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interest of the American people.  And it’s not sustainable.”  

Karen Greenberg, head of the Center on National Security at Fordham University Law School, is an expert on the Guantanamo prison. In an interview with me for my book America — Land of Dreams she said that Obama might have succeeded in closing Guantanamo immediately after he won the election in 2008, but he didn’t act fast enough, and he failed. And because Guantanamo is still open, we still have a system of “indefinite detention” and that, for me, she said, is “unacceptable.”

An article by Greenberg in the Washington Post last Sunday, called “Five Myths about Guantanamo Bay,” lays out the situation at Guantanamo today for the remaining 166 prisoners, of whom 100 are hunger-striking. Four of them have been hospitalized and 23 are force-fed.  Read it!

It’s high time to close Guantanamo.

Obama sharply criticized on Guantanamo

The Obama administration’s announcement this week, that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the best known prisoner at the Guantanamo prison, and four other prisoners, will be tried before military tribunals later this year, has not been widely discussed in America. Maybe it’s because so much else is going on: budget negotiations, Libya, Japan?

In early March, it was announced that Guantanamo will not be closed, despite Obama’s explicit promise, and on Monday, Attorney General Holder announced that five of the 172 detainees at Guantanamo will face a military tribunal, and not a civilian court as previously planned.

Both decisions are rooted in political realities after Congress rejected all attempt to close the prison and move the detainees to prisons in the United States, and to initiative civilian trials against the leading terror suspects. Yet, leading commentators are deeply critical:

The decision is “cowardly, stupid, and tragically wrong,” writes Dahlia Lithwick at Slate and calls it a “capitulation”.  Amy Davidson’s blog in the New Yorker, entitled “Fear, Shame, and Guantanamo Bay,” criticizes the Obama administration for not fighting enough for the important and fundamental legal issues involved.

I encourage reading these important comments!

Broken promise — Guantanamo to stay open

That politicians all over the world break their campaign promises is nothing new. This week, it was President Obama’s turn when he broke his election promise from the 2008 campaign to close Guantanamo prison in Cuba.
Judging from his new guidelines, announced on Monday, on how the remaining 172 prisoners are to be treated, it is clear that Obama has failed in his goal to close Guantanamo, which President Bush opened for suspected terrorists shortly after 9/11. The President’s decision stems from the political realities that Obama has failed to overcome. It is striking to many how closely the new guidelines resemble those advocated by Bush when he was president, a fact that explains the satisfaction displayed by the Republicans after the announcement. But what else could Obama do when Congress has said no to any transfer of Guantanamo detainees to prisons on the U.S. mainland and to the civil trials against senior terror suspects in cities like New York.
Similarly, it has proved extremely difficult to send back the prisoners considered to be less dangerous, or even innocent, to their home countries or to a third country. Many countries have explicitly said no. Still, since Obama became president, the number of detainees has fallen from 242 to today’s 172nd.  The released have been moved to 24 different destinations.
White House sources, according to press reports here, say that Obama still maintains his goal to close Guantanamo, but this week’s statement constitute a de facto failure in that effort.  Guantanamo will stay open, for the foreseeable future.
The new guidelines mean that some 50 of the 172, who are still deemed to pose a security threat, will continue to be detained indefinitely and without trial. This has been sharply criticized by human rights groups. However, their cases will be reviewed more regularly than before. Others will be tried by military tribunals, which now once again will take place after a two-year intermission ordered by Obama.
Since 9/11, nearly 800 prisoners have been sent to Guantanamo. The prison was for a long time a central issue in the American political debate. But today is different. Judging by the modest media attention and the low-key reactions to Obama’s announcement, there are more important issues than Guantanamo to debate in America today.