On the campaign trail, Barack Obama repeatedly and specifically promised that “as President, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions.” While acknowledging the improprieties of detainee treatment under his predecessors, he asserted that “America doesn’t torture.” While these pledges were largely welcomed by a public wearied of the policies of the Bush administration, two years into the Obama presidency, Guantanamo and CIA “black sites” remain open.
Detainees are still constantly held without legal privileges guaranteed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Geneva Convention, and the military and CIA act with disregard for international law. Legislation purported to end state-sanctioned torture is filled with loopholes that render it meaningless, and the abominable practice of “extraordinary rendition” continues with impunity.
In an effort to appease his liberal base, in 2009 Obama issued an executive order banning the use of torture by the US military. Unconscionably, the order included a “classified loophole” permitting CIA use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”: waterboarding, sensory deprivation, the withholding of food and water, and other methods previously prosecuted by the United States and other countries as war crimes.
The supposed torture ban includes loopholes allowing the use of torture against those detained in counter-terrorist operations, as opposed to “armed conflicts”, and permits CIA detention centers “used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis” to operate indefinitely. Furthermore, the ban does not apply to privately contracted mercenaries, who have regularly been brought in to conduct interrogations formerly under the jurisdiction of the military. If Obama and the Democrats were truly interested in ending torture, rather than in playing political football with the bloodthirsty ultra-right wing, then they would have simply and unequivocally outlawed torture and extraordinary rendition while closing Guantanamo and the secret CIA detention centers that enable the application of torture.
Extraordinary rendition – the kidnapping of terror suspects outside the United States in order to skirt legal restrictions-- has not only quietly continued under Obama, but has been condoned by his administration. Secret CIA detention centers – “black sites” – have drawn criticism for violating the United Nations Convention Against Torture, yet an Obama legal advisor confided to the LA Times that while rendition “is controversial in some circles and kicked up a big storm in Europe...if done within certain parameters, it is an acceptable practice.”
As with Guantanamo Bay detainees, targets of rendition have been released without charge, cleared of any terrorist association, only after being subjected to torture. German citizen Khaled Masri was taken from Macedonia to a black site in Afghanistan, and held for five months before the CIA realized it had made a mistake; in Guantanamo, dozens of detainees were eventually released without charge, victims of faulty intelligence or mistaken identity, physically and psychologically damaged by torture. Instances of erroneous detainment and torture are too numerous to list here, but are well-documented by even mainstream media.
After announcing its intention of closing the US Navy’s prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Obama administration retreated at the first sign of political opposition. As an ugly reminder of torture and failed wars, the majority of Americans support the closing of Guantanamo, a fact which Obama exploited in the 2008 election. Rather than closing Guantanamo as promised, the administration has instead proceeded with the military trials of Guantanamo detainees, reneging on campaign promises of rejecting the Military Commissions Act.
Following the revelation of the Osama bin Laden assassination, torture advocates boldly acclaimed the efficacy of torture in the gathering of intelligence and keeping Americans safe, nevermind that waterboarding had absolutely nothing to do with the pinpointing of bin Laden’s location. Despite resounding evidence to the contrary-- that torture provides false intelligence, and only further antagonizes the international Muslim community to anti-American fundamentalism – Democratic leaders allowed this lie to spread through the media and the public consciousness, perhaps to vindicate their own pro-torture stance.
Despite widespread pro-torture propaganda, public opinion, especially among Obama support-
ers, continues to reject the use of torture. Unfortunately, within the current two party capitalist
system, neither Republicans nor Democrats are willing to plainly reject torture practices, let alone to act decisively in outlawing its use.