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​Obama, Gitmo, and ‘American exceptionalism’

Eric Draitser is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City and the founder of StopImperialism.com.

Published time: June 13, 2014 13:11
Guantanamo Bay.(AFP Photo / Mladen Antonov)

Yet another scandal has engulfed the Obama administration, as the President has come under fire for his prisoner swap that secured the release of the only US POW remaining in Taliban custody.

However, the real scandal is not whether Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is a hero or a traitor, but rather the fact that the US – purportedly the “land of the free” – detains prisoners indefinitely, denying them any legal process.

In fact, under President Obama (a constitutional scholar), the practice of indefinite detention without trial or legal counsel, has been codified into US law. Perhaps this is what Obama means when he waxes poetic about “American exceptionalism” – the exception to the rule of law, the exception to international law, the exception to human rights?

The story behind the story

While media pundits, security “experts,” and politicians engage in the typical finger-pointing and political jockeying around the Bergdahl scandal, there is one critical point entirely left out of the US and Western media narrative: that Washington continues to hold, illegally and without charge, many prisoners from the so-called “War on Terror” in its gulag at Guantanamo Bay. Such grave abuses of human rights, which have been enshrined as US policy, are far more destructive and scandalous than any backroom deal made by President Obama.

The ongoing detention of Saudi citizen and permanent UK resident Shaker Aamer is perhaps the most obvious example of the criminality and inhumanity of the US and the Obama administration. The UK-based human rights organization Reprieve, which works for the release of all prisoners held beyond the rule of law in the “War on Terror,” has been actively working to secure the release of Aamer, along with all other prisoners held at Guantanamo. As the organization’s website notes, “Shaker has long been cleared for release by the United States. He has never been charged by the United States with a crime and has never received a trial. However, he has been repeatedly abused and subjected to extended isolation in Guantánamo Bay.”

Indeed, it would seem that, despite Obama’s background in Constitutional Law, and his professed belief in the international rule of law, his administration is engaging in obvious violations of Mr. Aamer’s human rights, along with those of the other Guantanamo gulag inmates. Specifically, his detention violates a number of articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):

  • Article 5 - “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.”
  • Article 6 - “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.”
  • Article 7 - “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.”
  • Article 10 - “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.”

Certainly, a legal scholar should understand the degree to which such conduct is universally recognized as illegal and a violation of human rights. And yet, Obama and his administration seem entirely content to continue the Bush-era practice of indefinite detention at Guantanamo.

Indeed, Aamer is undoubtedly a victim of grave human rights abuses and torture which have taken a significant toll on both his physical and mental health. Earlier this year, Dr. Emily Keram, an internationally renowned expert in psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, and neurology, assessed Mr. Aamer and submitted her report to his legal representatives. Dr. Keram noted:

“[Mr. Aamer suffers from] psychiatric symptoms related to his current confinement...which also gravely diminish his mental health... the length, uncertainty, and stress of Mr. Aamer's confinement has caused significant disruptions in his...ability to function. He is profoundly aware of what he has lost... Mr Aamer requires psychiatric treatment, as well as reintegration into his family and society and minimization of his re-exposure to trauma and reminders of trauma... [he suffers from physical ailments including severe edema which] if left untreated, may reflect an underlying, life-threatening organ or vascular dysfunction.”

Aamer has endured more than twelve years in Guantanamo, without trial, under conditions of torture. According to Mr. Aamer, “You cannot walk even half a meter without being chained. Is that a human being? That’s the treatment of an animal.” Despite repeated calls from international human rights crusaders, the Obama administration has stonewalled all demands and requests that Aamer be freed. What exactly does this tell us about the current occupant of the White House?

US President Barack Obama.(AFP Photo / Mandel Ngan)

Obama’s lies

In his recent speech at West Point military academy, President Obama said, “What makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.” Such a statement, aside from its humorously ironic sentiment, is indicative of the attitudes of US leaders and policy-makers towards the world, and their conception of their place within it. Obama here argues that, despite being a serial violator of international law and human rights, the United States is always justified in its actions so long as it claims those actions “affirm international norms and the rule of law.”

Undoubtedly, a clear-thinking individual would do a double-take at such a statement. Indeed, Obama (and his supporters) are engaged in what the great novelist George Orwell termed “doublethink” – the act of holding two contradictory positions and believing them both to be true at the same time. On the one hand, Obama seems to acknowledge the existence of “international norms and the rule of law,” while simultaneously denying those same principles by saying that America is exceptional in regards to them. That is to say, the US is the arbiter of what is lawful and unlawful, and if the US takes certain unlawful actions, they immediately become lawful by virtue of the “exceptional power” enacting them to “affirm” those same principles. If such thinking seems utterly insane to you, then you are not alone.

Obama has stated on numerous occasions that he believes “with every fiber of his being” in America’s “exceptionalism.” It seems then that Obama also believes he can “except” himself from his own promises regarding Guantanamo. During his first presidential campaign in 2007-2008, Obama promised to close down the gulag at Guantanamo. Now, nearly seven years later, Obama still vows to “continue to push to close Gitmo because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders.” So, Americans are supposed to believe that the President, with a hostile Congress, will achieve in the next two years that which he has not even bothered to try in the previous seven? To believe such nonsense is to engage in stunningly willful ignorance, like the proverbial ostrich burying his head in the sand.

Something else about Obama’s statement that deserves attention: his specific reference to the impermissibility of indefinite detention. Of course, Obama and his speechwriters carefully made sure to include the phrase “beyond our borders” as a qualifier, knowing that it is the Obama administration that has codified and enshrined in law the fascistic “National Defense Authorization Act,” a law which allows the President to order the indefinite detention of US citizens suspected of involvement in terrorism. So, the President who talks of the “rule of law” and “international norms” has little to no interest in those principles when it comes to US citizens. Hypocrisy is not a strong enough word.

While politicians position themselves in support of, or opposition to, Obama and this Bergdahl scandal, the world watches and shakes its head. Having always portrayed itself as the beacon of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law, the United States has come to symbolize war, oppression, and exploitation for much of the world. Indeed, the decades since the end of the Cold War saw an unprecedented growth of militarism and warmongering from Washington, as the empire asserted itself anywhere it pleased.

Today, as a multi-polar global order is emerging, the blatant imperialism and lies of Washington are brought into stark relief. The liars stand naked before the world. And indeed, the world is finally beginning to see that the emperor truly has no clothes.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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