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1 July 2013
GUANTANOBAMA VISITS AFRICA
US President “Guantanobama” is in Africa. Great stuff.
His tour, from 26 June to 3 July, takes in Senegal, South Africa and, lastly, Tanzania where he is today.
A highlight of the trip was his visit yesterday 30 June 2013 to the former prison on Robben Island off Cape Town, South Africa, where Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president from 1994 to 1999, was jailed for 18 years under South Africa’s previous white-supremacist apartheid regime.
In the prison’s guest book, the US President wrote: “On behalf of our family, we’re deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield. The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit.”
Meanwhile, back in Guantánamo Bay, the Cuban enclave occupied since 1903 by the United States and currently serving as a concentration camp for Muslim detainees, the United States Government headed by Barack Obama is holding 166 prisoners in indefinite detention without trial.
Most of the prisoners are from Yemen, where the US has been engaged in a “programme” of personal assassination using drones, and from Afghanistan, a country which the US military has occupied since 2001.
A total of around 800 prisoners are reported to have passed through Guantánamo since it opened in 2002.
More than 100 of the current detainees have been on hunger strike since early February this year in protest against the failure to end their detention without charge. Many have been held for more than a decade. Forty-four of the hunger-strikers are being force-fed through nasal tubes.
In 2004 the International Committee of the Red Cross – referring to the beating of detainees, their prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures and other humiliating treatment – condemned conditions at Guantánamo as torture. Other reports have criticised sleep deprivation, prolonged constraint in intolerable postures, prolonged hooding and forced injections as well as sexual, psychological and cultural abuse.
The so-called western democracies, led by the United States, never tire of flaunting their absolute commitment to freedom based on the rule of law. This includes the right to a fair trial for defendants, who are deemed innocent until proved guilty on the basis of evidence presented in a court of law. In countries such as the United States, whose government and laws owe much to the development over centuries of the English constitution, arbitrary detention without trial is theoretically anathema. This principle was first formally codified in English law at Runnymede in 1215 when, at the behest of his barons, “Bad” King John reluctantly signed Magna Carta, the fundamental charter of English liberties. According to Clause 39 of Magna Carta, “No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.” Clause 40 adds: “To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay, right or justice.”
All this is well-known to Barack Obama, who studied at Harvard University Law School and subsequently taught constitutional law at Chicago University Law School. He also practised as a lawyer. It is perhaps reasonable to assume that the guy knows a thing or two about the law.
Which makes the US Government’s decade-long detention of prisoners without trial at Guantánamo all the more heinous.
Obama intimated recently that Guantánamo “is not who we are” – “we” being the American people. Right on. Fine words.
In 2009, at the start of his first term as US President, Obama vowed to close Guantánano within a year.
It is now 2013. The gulag is still open for business.
Sure, the President can cite opposition in Congress to the closure of Guantánamo.
However, as President and Commander-in-Chief of the United States, Barack Obama is the most powerful politician on the planet. The buck stops with him. After all, this is the President who ran his successful 2008 presidential election campaign under the slogan “Yes, we can”.
This President can certainly talk the talk.
Witness his comments at Robben Island.
His speech-writers are magnificent.
The more important question, however, is whether he can walk the walk.
And, unfortunately, the answer has long been blindingly clear.
No, he can’t.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
5.Ladder (21 June 2012)
6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.