Four more years: of Guantánamo, drones and the death penalty …

… was not the campaign slogan that Barack Obama’s campaign team used during their man’s successful run for a second term.

But, maybe it should have been.

Because, are there really grounds for optimism that the human rights trajectory set by the White House over the last four years is about to change? Have you even heard a promise that this is about to happen? Is there, to coin a phrase, even the slightest prospect of some human rights change you can believe in concerning the USA?

Hmm. Sorry to strike a negative note here, but the last four years have been a crushing disappointment for those who thought the Bush-Obama handover was about to herald a new dawn for human rights in the USA. It just ain’t been so …

Amnesty’s Kate Allen laid out a few of the reasons why yesterday, while this Amnesty USA 12 for 2012 briefing is a reminder of how much more the second-term President Obama needs to do to redeem even some of the hopes that people had (or still have) invested in him. For more along these lines, see also Owen Jones’ (non-cheerleading) article on the Indie site from yesterday.

In his victory speech in Chicago earlier this morning there was a nice turn of phrase in Obama’s “Whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you. I have learned from you. And you've made me a better president”. But as well as the focus groups and the other soundings he and his administration take, is the president also listening to the counsel of human rights organisations over his country’s wayward behaviour?

This time next week, when the razzamatazz and election euphoria (for some) is already a distant memory, it’s perfectly likely that there will be more of those (under-reported) incidents where several never-to-be-named “militants” have been summarily killed by a US drone strike in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia. There are very likely to be further executions in the USA’s never-ending appointment-with-death judicial system (see the roster of forthcoming executions). And of course, 167 detainees will still be marooned at Guantánamo, most without charge or trial (and 48 of them without any prospect of ever getting a trial).

The USA has also been a key blocker of efforts to achieve an international treaty to regulate the arms trade industry (quite topical with David Cameron flogging Typhoon jets to … ahem, countries that flog people as judicial punishment), while the US’s lack of even-handedness toward the Middle East and North Africa make it an unreliable (to put it mildly) champion of those in the region who have risked their lives for greater freedom and dignity.

What chance change? The Spectator blogger Alex Massie says that 2012 was a “perspiration” victory, not the “change” election of 2008, while the New York Times’ Ross Douthat reads the double Obama win as a moment of political “realignment” in the US. Make of that what you will. Either way it’s term number two, but hopefully not four more years of the same.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
View latest posts
2 comments

Hey,
i have a question and maybe you know the answer.
The US is a presidential system and the power of the president is restricted by the congress. Especially when it comes to the legislative process. Is it possible for the president to close Guantánamo or dont send drones to other countries without the congress? Because I know the US president needs the majority in the congress to be so powerful everyone thinks he is. Without the majority of his party his hands are tied. Thats why I'm asking. Everyone blames Obama for that circumstances. But isnt it the congress who decides this issues?
Thanks for your answer in advance.
Bye, Jule

JulP83 5 years ago

Hi JulP83.

It’s true that there are serious limits to the US president’s powers.

On the one hand President Obama has the ability and authority to issue an executive order halting the use of drones and shutting down operations in Guantánamo.

However, I acknowledge that these might only have only a limited effect with the Administration lacking financial room for manoeuvre (this being the purview of Congress).

In addition, it is also true that President Obama does not have solid support within his own party in either the Senate or the House of Representatives, so the political calculus of issuing executive orders would probably require some concerted political effort from the White House.

However, that said, it seems abundantly clear that Obama has shown almost no political will on these matters for the last three years or so.

Cheers, N.

NiluccioStaff 5 years ago