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Why Obama should simmer down

What’s Obama up to with his 9/11 death penalty remarks?

Rather than stoking it up with comments on the death penalty and 9/11 trials, shouldn’t the US president be talking calmly about justice for the victims of the 11 September killings?

If you missed it, during his China visit Obama spoke about those who criticised the recent decision to bring Khalid Sheik Mohammed and alleged 9/11 plotters before a civilian court in New York. They won’t find it "offensive at all when he's convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him", says the unnecessarily defensive president.

Hmm, very tasteful. Coming as it did in the death penalty capital of the world – China – an American president seeming to revel in the thought of executions is neither dignified nor statesman-like.

And hasn’t Obama the lawyer learnt anything about avoiding pre-judging the issue? Barack should spare us the Bush-style rhetoric and impose a personal moratorium on premature comments about “convictions”. (Didn’t we have enough of the prejudgement rhetoric over “bad guys” during the benighted Bush-Rumsfeld era?)

Yes, Mr President, please … simmer down. And, while you’re at it, perhaps you could get back to telling us what on earth is happening over Guantánamo? Yesterday he admitted– after much White House briefing in this direction – that his own 22 January 2010 deadline for the camp’s closure is going to come and go. So what now are the 215 prisoners (some there for nearly eight years), their families, friends, lawyers and supporters supposed to think or hope for?

By the US administration’s own admission, only a minority of the prisoners are even going to be put on trial. We need less PR stunts over Bermuda and Palau, and a real timetable for a fair resolution to this disgrace. Let’s not forget: there’s still no word on whether dozens of GITMO detainees will continue to be held indefinitely even when (eventually) the place is shut down. The totally scandalous idea of indefinite, no-trial- detention – announced earlier this year – is in fact an issue that’s still got far too little attention (Jeremy Harding's highly recommended feature here being a rare exception).

Guantánamo was – and is – a total travesty of the law and every further day of its existence is another day of damage to the US’s reputation. Also, as Johann Hari’s excellent feature on UK jihadis reminds us, leaving this miserable jail in place also gifts terrorists with excellent anti-US/anti-West propaganda. If you wanted to create the ideal recruitment tool for al-Qa’ida, you could do a lot worse than come up with the idea of Guantánamo Bay.

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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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