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Obama: Speaking with a forked tongue about Gitmo

Whatever Obama might say about Gitmo, the unquestioned fact is that it is appalling that it continues to exist and a travesty that there are still innocent people incarcerated there - and to make matters worse, subjected to utterly disgraceful treatment.     Is it any wonder that the message, loud and clear, conveyed about Gitmo acts as incitement to many and shows, all too clearly, that Obama, and the USA, speak with a forked tongue when they say they require other countries to adhere to democratic principles and the rule of law.

"Late Wednesday afternoon, less than 24 hours before President Obama made his big national security speech — in which he said, for the umpteenth time, that the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, should be closed — a group of American lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees filed an emergency motion with the Federal District Court in the District of Columbia. The motion asked the court to order the removal of “unjustified burdens” that the military command at Guantánamo has placed on the detainees, making it nearly impossible for them to meet with their lawyers.

Let me tell you about these new burdens, which were imposed in recent months, around the same time that the detainees’ desperate hunger strike was gaining momentum. Lawyers used to be able to easily get ahold of their clients on the telephone, or could visit them in Camp 5 or Camp 6, where the “no value” detainees have been confined for years. (The smaller group of genuine terrorists is held in separate quarters.)

Not anymore. Today, if a lawyer asks to speak with his or her client, a meeting — and even a phone call — must take place at another location. And before they are moved to the location, the detainees are searched for “contraband.” According to the legal filings, the search includes touching the genitals and the anus of the detainees — which, as the military well knows, violates the detainees’ Muslim faith and will cause them to refuse the meeting. If the detainee does decide to go forward with the meeting, he is then shackled hand and foot, and chained to the floor of a van, in a purposely painful, bent-over position.

The detainees are all in solitary confinement. They are shackled when they are taken to the shower. They cannot speak to their families unless they submit to that same repugnant body search. In other words, an already inhumane situation has become even worse on the watch of the president who claims to want to shut down the prison.

In his speech on Thursday, Obama hit all the right notes. He talked about how holding detainees for an indefinite period without charging them with any crime has made the prison “a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.” He noted that it has hurt us with our allies. He even mentioned how absurdly expensive the prison is — nearly $1 million per prisoner per year. “Is this who we are?” he asked.

“History,” he concluded, “will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism.” He’s right about that. But he will hardly be immune from that judgment.

In his speech, Obama blamed the failure to close Guantánamo — which, please recall, was one of his most strident campaign promises five years ago — on laws passed by Congress. And, yes, after the failed terrorist attempt to blow up a flight headed to Detroit four years ago, Congress did pass laws making it more difficult to transfer detainees out of Guantánamo.

But Congress didn’t make it impossible. The president could have jumped through the hoops Congress now requires and continued moving prisoners out of Guantánamo. But he didn’t. Instead, he froze all transfers, including 56 men from Yemen who had been “cleared” for transfer by a national security commission that Obama himself established. The government, the commission essentially said, has no national security interest in holding these men. Yet Obama continued to let them rot in that Cuban hell. And you wonder why they are on a hunger strike?

Or, for that matter, why the military command at Guantánamo has no compunction about instituting punishing new “burdens” on the detainees even as their commander in chief decries what goes on there? (For the record, a military spokesman denies that the heightened searches include genital and anal touching.) Indeed, the current commander of the prison, Rear Adm. John W. Smith Jr., was just named to a cushy new post at the National Defense University. Thumbing one’s nose at Obama, as virtually everyone in Washington has learned by now, has no consequences.

It is my belief, shared by many lawyers who have followed the legal battles over Guantánamo, that the president could have shut down the prison if he had really been determined to do so. One reason innocent detainees can’t get out is that the courts have essentially ruled that a president has an absolute right to imprison anyone he wants during a time of war — with no second-guessing from either of the other two branches of government. By the same legal logic, a president can also free any prisoner in a time of war. Had the president taken that stance, there would undoubtedly have been a court fight. But so what? Aren’t some things worth fighting for?

Whenever he talks about Guantánamo, the president gives the impression that that’s what he believes. The shame — his shame — is that, for all his soaring rhetoric, he has yet to show that he is willing to act on that belief."

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