Capt Obama: all at sea over Guantánamo and the new Middle East

This tweet from The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg (@carolrosenberg) caught my eye recently:

Deputy prison camps commander on #Guantanamo captives' reaction when Hosni Mubarak stepped down in Egypt: "It was the talk of the town."

Yes, two worlds collide …

Ignoring the Bush-like folksiness of the camp deputy commander’s actual phrase (since when were the cells in a high-security US military detention centre ever a town?), it’s still a striking observation.  

The irony is obvious enough. There they are, 172 detainees held behind Guantánamo’s razor wire, hearing about protestors demanding their basic rights half way across the world. They might also have heard that US president Barack Obama has been saying the US would “lend moral support” to people in the Middle East and North Africa who are “seeking a better life for themselves”, and that “people should be more able to express their opinions and their grievances”.

Hmm. Bitterly ironic words, perhaps, if you’re someone held without charge or trial at Guantánamo. Someone like the former UK resident Shaker Aamer who, astonishingly enough, is now entering into his tenth year at the camp. Bitter indeed. Please support Amnesty’s campaign for him to be immediately released to his family in the UK if he is not allowed a fair trial. And given that they’ve held him for approaching a decade it really doesn’t look like he’s going to get that trial … 

Meanwhile, check out Guantánamo expert Andy Worthington’s film about the notorious detention centre which he’s touring around UK universities. It’s showing (for free) in Durham on Friday, Edinburgh on Saturday and Cambridge next Wednesday. More dates in March. (It’s like a rock band’s tour, but without the roadies or the cans of Stella backstage …).

Returning to the protests convulsing the Middle East,  its been interesting to read some of the commentaries on the US government’s often extremely awkward repositioning as, country by country, protests have broken out. Analysts have noticed the way the administration appeared to tack across to support the Egyptian protestors as Mubarak’s position weakened. Meanwhile, observers note the US’s strategic alignment with the autocratic rulers of Bahrain, a Gulf state ally and home to the US’s Fifth Fleet, and protests in Manama are already being seen as a tricky test of the White House's true support for democracy and human rights in the region. 

If I may be allowed to drop anchor into a little sea of metaphors here, I reckon the US is in choppy waters when it comes to some of its geo-political navigation. The ship, so to speak, is facing both ways.  

It needs a new course. If, for example, it were to sort out the human rights mess it’s made in one of its naval bases (Guantánamo), the US would actually be in a better position to meet the headwinds of the Middle East’s new protest movements. But is Capt Obama getting the message?

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