Six days in and Barack Obama is already looking to overturn Bush’s most controversial policies. The issue of the extrajudicial status of Guantanamo Bay’s detention facility, otherwise known as “Gitmo”, as well as the practice of “stress and duress” interrogations, have been the United States’ main obstacle to comprehensive, smooth diplomatic relations in the last eight years. Bush had little regard for international law, and believed his administration was above and beyond the rules prevailing in other western countries. The forty-fourth President, fortunately, is thinking differently. However, a closer look at those two specific thorns in the country’s side will reveal that wiping Bush’s slate clean is proving to be a little more of a hassle than previously expected. It appears the spectre of W will float for some time over JFK’s desk in the Oval Office.

© Brennan Linsley for AP

© Brennan Linsley for AP

The über controversial extra-territorial detention facility had become the emblematic symbol of the Bush Administration. It was just as symbolic that Obama’s first move was to put it behind him. Less emblematic but just as noteworthy is Karl Rove’s 2009 Nostalgia Tour: the former Bush advisor, father of all spin doctors, is recalling with unconceited homesickness his days at the White House. The Mad Man of Washington DC is on a mission to rehabilitate his idol, claiming that in times of hardship, young Bushter made all the right decisions. Such was the topic of his speech at the University of Miami thursday night. Strongly critizicing Obama for his decision to give the Gitmo detainees a fair trial and judging the wardens and CIA officers for practice of torture, Rove defended the ambiguous and polemic term of “enemy combatants”: “You bet we squeeze them for information. If we hadn’t, those same terrorists could have executed their plans to kill, and [people] would be asking why Bush didn’t protect American soldiers’ lives.” This is exactly the rhetoric that makes Barack Obama sounds so refreshing to the majority of the American people. Despite his complete lack of acknowledgement, Rove stayed true to his original mandate and managed to convince the audience, which later confessed they believed Bush hadn’t been given a “fair wrap”.

Speaking of fair wrap, it went down to Allison Kilkenny to effectively coin the issue surrounding the Guantanamo Bay debate: it’s about choosing between safety and ideals. On one hand, the jurisdiction is contrary to international law, and has been at the heart of several human rights violations that had irked and enraged major human rights advocates since its opening in 2002. Barack Obama insisted on the legitimacy and legality that the country had to uphold in order to restore its place among the international community, claiming the values of freedom and justice that had paved the founding fathers’ way.  On the other hand, images of 9/11 haven’t receded in the public opinion’s mind, and the allegedly imminent threat of terrorism is still floating over people’s heads. Rove’s campaign of fear is not over yet. Should these detainees be transferred to ‘regular’ prisons, in which they would be assimilated to other common law prisoners? Should they be the subject to extradiction to their native countries? The question remains – are they guilty, and what are they exactly guilty of? Will Barack Obama be as bold as modifying the current application of the law to give a decent, appropriate, relevent and legal meaning to what used to be ‘enemy combatants’? Most importantly, it is necessary to anticipate the possible uproar caused by the release of those prisoners – and of their minds and mouths. Upon trial, the use of torture might surface in more ways than possible. If justice doesn’t do those men justice, they might do it themselves.

Kilkenny continues to point out the beating heart of the controversy, adding: “The mainstream press never considers the danger that imprisoning innocents in fact creates new terrorists out of men that would have otherwise gladly lived out their days as farmers, or politicians, or police officers in Iraq’s rebuilding society.”  Closing Gitmo is one thing; but is there a life after Guantanamo? Is there a safety net for both Americans and former detainees to find a place in a legal society? The only way to ensure it – to the extent of realistic means – is to make sure justice prevails. Far from claiming that all Gitmo detainees are pure, innocent victims of a derailing system, but also not as gullible to assume all of them confessed to their crimes in perfect lucidity and willingness, only a fair trial could decide of the lives of those men that have already seen too much and lived through what most of us would probably refuse to imagine. Because of Guantanamo Bay’s specific and unique status, giving the United States jurisdiction over what and who is usually out of their reach, some more extraordinary measures will have to be taken in order to make those citizens available to American courts.

There are way too many question marks, and signing off the paper only created some more. The story of Guantanamo Bay is far from over.

Advertisements