Leading article: A prison that stains US moral authority

Share
Related Topics

The barbed wire fences of Guantanamo's infamous Camp X-Ray have been reclaimed by tropical vegetation and the detainees have been released from their steel shackles. But, as our series of special reports this week highlights, there are still 176 men held in custody in open defiance of the rule of law at the US naval base in Cuba where they have little hope of release. Their continuing detention, eight months after Barack Obama's self-imposed deadline for closing the camps, is an ongoing affront to international law and critically weakens America's moral authority.

That authority was further undermined this week when the US administration resumed the hearings of the discredited military commissions which ensure American soldiers, sailors and airmen sit in judgment on those accused of war crimes against America. The first case to be tried under the new commissions is that of child soldier Omar Khadr, who was 15 years old when he was accused of throwing a grenade which killed a US serviceman in Afghanistan in 2002. Mr Khadr's trial has been condemned by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who stress that it is America which has led the world in recognising that children caught in war zones in Africa must be treated as victims and not combatants.

The Khadr case serves only to confirm the alternative legal universe in which Guantanamo exists. Long after its founding fathers were ejected from office, the prison camp continues to defy both the will of a president and the condemnation of the world. President Obama appears powerless as he watches his administration being sucked into a legal black hole. He has done nothing to stop government lawyers continuing to defend America's right to imprison men for eight years without charge or trial by arguing that the US remains in a state of war with al-Qa'ida and the Taliban.

The Pentagon has said that it does not have to grant enemy combatants the right to a lawyer or access to the courts to challenge their detention. That argument was struck down by the US Supreme Court. The Obama administration now says that, while it accepts that the Geneva Conventions apply to Taliban detainees, it does not believe they are entitled to Prisoner of War status and the protections that go with it.

There is no doubt that President Obama's intention to deal with Guantanamo Bay is honestly held. Before his inauguration he said its closure would send a message to the world that America was serious about its values. But the greatest obstacle to closing the seven prison camps is not the perceived threat posed by the 176 detainees who live a relatively peaceful existence in a communal environment on the edge of the waters of the Caribbean. The greatest obstacle is the destructive politics surrounding any Guantanamo deal.

When the White House tried to implement a transfer policy by building a new prison near Chicago in Illinois, the Obama administration ran into fierce local and national opposition. First the people of Illinois raised objections, and then Congress postured to block any plan that involved the movement of prisoners to camps on American soil. The truth is that President Obama has run out of ideas and the White House has quietly given up the idea of closing Guantanamo.

Any international solution also looks doomed to fail. Mr Obama has discovered that on this issue there is little interest in saving America from its biggest human rights problem. The desperate search to find homes for the majority of detainees who have been cleared for release has run into the buffers. There is also scant prospect of even putting on trial the so-called high-value detainees held in isolation at the camp. Unless Barack Obama stands up to both Congress and US nay-sayers, Guantanamo Bay and its military commissions will remain an appalling stain on the reputation of his administration and those that follow.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

I saw the immigration lies a mile off - and now nobody can deny it

Nigel Farage
The Uber app allows passengers to hail a taxi with a smartphone  

Who wouldn’t like a sharing economy? Well, me, for one

Mary Dejevsky
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game