Oh Guantánamo, up yours!

The Steve Bell cartoon in the Guardian today depicts President Obama in an orange jumpsuit being dragged off by Guantánamo guards to an uncertain fate …

Indefinite detention? Interrogation?  Torture?

Powerful, arresting stuff. The idea, presumably, being that the president is himself a sort of captive of the US security apparatus. The joke (I think!) is that he himself is a sort of prisoner of the system – perhaps because of Congress' refusal to allow funding for detainees to be brought to the US for trial and its insistence that every detainee release or transfer must be individually approved.  

(Or maybe it’s a different joke … it's all about the ambiguity in cartoons like this. It’s exact meaning's unclear. It’s suggesting a general malaise as much as anything else).

But actually, Obama is the president and if he’d wanted to live up to his electoral promise to close Guantánamo within a year of taking office (ie January 2010) he presumably would have done so. Certainly his defence of the status quo – 172 detainees still held, military commissions rather than fair trials, the prospect of indefinite detention without trial – has been a grievous disappointment.

When Obama visits the UK next month William Hague is reportedly going to raise the plight of the only former UK resident at the camp, Shaker Aamer. He’s set, we’re told, to renew his calls for Aamer to be released in talks with Hillary Clinton.

Good, as far as that goes. But the situation has really become critical. Staggeringly, Aamer has been detained without charge or trial at Guantánamo for the best part of an entire decade (nine years and two months). (See an earlier post looking at some of the shocking statistics being racked up by Guantánamo). It’s truly amazing that the US justice system could have become so degraded as to allow this to happen. 

Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt admits the government is finding negotiations with the US over Aamer “frustrating”, but I think they’re going to have push through that frustration and somehow demand resolution. The firm message given to Clinton and her entourage must be that unless Aamer is allowed a fair trial he should be released and allowed to be reunited with his family in the UK. Setting a timetable for this to happen also makes sense. Please support Amnesty’s e-petition to Clinton on this.

Aamer’s case desperately needs resolution and if he is – finally – released without charge he will join hundreds of others similarly held for years only to be turned free with no apology or remedy for the injustices done to them. Aamer may in fact have valuable information about the involvement of British officials in the mistreatment of “war on terror” detainees and as such it will be important that he’s given an opportunity to say what he knows to the Gibson detainee inquiry. The inquiry is set to start work in the next few months. Let’s hope his case is resolved by then.

Oddly enough I was thinking of the unholy mess that is Guantánamo while reading obituaries for the great X-Ray Spex singer Poly Styrene. Why? Because, in celebrating her early punk idealism, she said: “Punk attitude lives on because of the spirit of its fearlessness to try to change things for the better”. Not a bad ideal. To paraphrase one of her best-known songs, I’d like to say: “Oh Guantánamo, up yours”.

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