I went to an Obama celebration party and all I got was this lousy t-shirt
I understand there was also quite a bit on planning for the presidential pooch, but Barack Obama’s big US television interview commitment to close Guantánamo, end torture and “regain America's moral stature in the world" has definitely sent a welcome message whizzing around the world.
As it was his first TV interview since winning the election, I’d certainly say it’s encouraging.
But let’s not get carried away. All of this is far easier said than done – practically, legally and politically. For one thing, talking in sweeping terms now (as, to be fair, any politician in Obama’s position probably would) is different to dealing with the detail of thorny issues nearer the time.
For example, as Sky News’ Tim Marshall points out in his blog, when it comes to GITMO detainees like Khaled Sheik Mohammed, the US administration is unlikely to allow a fair trial if it means that details of his prolonged secret detention and waterboarding are going to be made public.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the detainee spectrum, there are prisoners that the US says it wants to release but is unwilling to see allowed into the US. So, for example, there are 17 ethnic Uighurs from China who are “cleared for release” that the US will not allow into the US – despite a federal court ruling that they must as they face possible torture or execution if sent to China. (See my post on this disgraceful situation from a few weeks ago).
Meanwhile, Amnesty has urged EU countries – including the UK – to help by taking some of the at-risk-if-sent-back detainees to help end the indeterminate plight of about 50 such GITMO prisoners.
So, sofa interviews are one thing, tricky reality another. From day one of the Obama era I think it’s been sensible for human rights organisations to stay calm and to continue to make our case without getting carried away (see an earlier post in this vein – I say “No to Obamamania!”)
The USA is, for example, currently the fifth biggest user of the death penalty in the world. As well as GITMO closing, then, we need to hear Obama committing to ending federal executions as well. (Meanwhile, check out a current action to try to stop a spate of Texas executions in the next few days).
It should be (at least) a two-pronged Obama message: “Close Guantánamo (and stop federal executions)”. Actually, I think we should have t-shirts …
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