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Obamas first year: soaring rhetoric v. dashed hopes

What were you doing exactly one year ago? Can’t remember? Well, chances are that at some time during 20 January 2009 you glanced at the TV news about Barack Obama being inaugurated as 44th president of the USA.

(You didn’t! Well, OK, but do try to keep up with current affairs, please.)

So, a year ago today I blogged – somewhat sceptically – about what “Barack, not Bush” might mean. Ever the (very) cautious optimistic, I sort of talked myself into hoping that we might see some real improvements, at least on Guantánamo which Obama had repeatedly invoked on the campaign trail as something that needed dealing with. And, lo and behold, his second full day in the job brought that famous promise to close Guantánamo within a year. NOW you’re cooking

… except, the following 363 days of Obama’s first year in the White House has been one of mounting disillusionment. See Amnesty’s Kate Allen’s Eagle Eye appraisal of what has sometimes felt like a long decline from that high watermark of 22 January. (Also, on Guantánamo specifically, see this detailed post from the prolific Andy Worthington).

The horror of Haiti and the senatorial loss of Massachusetts are the dominant themes on Obama’s one-year anniversary today, but we also need to keep a steady focus on where Obama’s post-Bush agenda on terrorism, security and human rights is taking us.

Yesterday’s stunning claims in Harper’s magazine that three Guantánamo prisoners who supposedly committed suicide at the camp in 2006 may have been tortured to death, is a chilling reminder of how much more we need to uncover about what Obama himself memorably called a “dark chapter” in the USA’s history.

My worry is that while Obama (sometimes) talks the talk he doesn’t walk the walk on human rights. Going forward, he needs to ditch the rhetoric on rights (funnily enough I think a lot of his heavily-praised speechifying is curiously passionless and matter of fact if you listen closely, but hey, maybe that’s just me …) and get down to business.

Namely: see that GITMO is emptied of prisoners in the next few months; ensure that everyone there is allowed a proper trial or safely released; and set up an independent commission of inquiry into all “war on terror” human rights violations (no more of that nonsense about “not looking back”).

I’ll leave you with this Obama-esque thought. A year is a long time in the land of hope. Let us this day proclaim an end to false promises and set in motion the work of change. My fellow bloggers, let human rights reign in this great blogosphere of ours….


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.
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