This Ain’t Change: Barack Obama and U.S. Torture/Detention Policies

Waterboarding
World Can’t Wait Fact Sheet

 Has Obama put an end to torture, rendition, and indefinite detention? Nothing could be further from the truth. Facts you need to know:
 
1)         Obama admits Bush officials tortured, but refuses to prosecute them.
 
Cheney has bragged about authorizing waterboarding — suffocating by water — of detainees. On January 11, 2009, Obama told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “From my view, waterboarding is torture.” Under the UN Convention Against Torture, torture is a crime and each state that signed the treaty—including the U.S.—is required to investigate and prosecute torturers.
 
The Obama administration is, therefore, not only morally, but legally, required to prosecute Bush Regime officials for torture.
 
Imagine a serial murder kills in broad daylight. If, instead of arresting the killer, the local police department issued a statement saying, “From this day forward, we will not allow murder. But we are not going to prosecute the murderer.” This is what Obama has done by refusing to prosecute the Bush Regime. If the Bush regime can get away with openly violating the law then there is no “rule of law.” Any president can henceforth break the law without any consequences.
 
2)         Under Obama, the U.S. is still holding detainees without charges or trial.
 
During the campaign Obama declared habeas corpus to be “the foundation of Anglo-American law.” Habeas corpus is your right to challenge your detention; it’s a right that goes back almost 900 years. Its absence marks a tyranny because without it there are no restraints on a government’s powers to detain and punish. In March Obama claimed that: “we ultimately provide anybody that we’re detaining an opportunity through habeas corpus to answer to charges.’ 
 
Contrary to his rhetoric, the Obama administration is continuing the Bush Regime’s policies of denying prisoners habeas corpus rights and has even adopted the same arguments made by Bush.
 
In February, the Obama administration declared in Federal Court that it would not grant habeas corpus rights to Bagram detainees. The U.S. currently imprisons roughly 600 prisoners at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Check out the Oscar-winning documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side,” which chronicles conditions at Bagram and the U.S. military’s brutal torture and murder of Dilawar, an Afghani taxi driver whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
 
In March Obama’s Justice Department claimed that Gitmo prisoners who were detained before June 2008 had no habeas corpus rights.
 
Apparently, habeas corpus, despite being “a foundation of Anglo-American law,” doesn’t apply to Bagram prisoners at all and at best, does not apply before June 2008 to Gitmo prisoners.
 
3)         Don’t be fooled just because Obama isn’t using the term “enemy combatant”
 
A big deal is being made about the fact that the Obama administration will no longer use the term “enemy combatant.” But it’s a change in name only: in the same court filing in which it made this announcement, Obama’s Justice Department made clear that it would continue to detain prisoners at Guantanamo without charge. As the NY Times put it:
 
“[T]he [Obama] Justice Department argued that the president has the authority to detain terrorism suspects there without criminal charges, much as the Bush administration had asserted. It provided a broad definition of those who can be held, which was not significantly different from the one used by the Bush administration.”
 
“This seems fundamentally consistent with the positions of the prior administration,” Steven A. Engel said of the Justice Department’s filing. Engel should know – he was formerly a senior lawyer in the Bush Regime who oversaw detention issues.”
 
Meanwhile, Obama’s executive orders do not ban indefinite detention.
 
In addition, at his confirmation hearing, Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder said: “There are possibly many other people who are not going to be able to be tried but who nevertheless are dangerous to this country… We’re going to have to try to figure out what we do with them.”
 
Holder suggested prisoners could be detained for the length of their war of terror which, as we know, has no set end point.
 
4)         Guantanamo is still open, and conditions there are even worse than under Bush
 
According to Reuters: “Abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has worsened sharply since President Barack Obama took office as prison guards ‘get their kicks in’ before the camp is closed, according to a lawyer who represents detainees.
 
“Abuses began to pick up in December after Obama was elected, human rights lawyer Ahmed Ghappour told Reuters. He cited beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-forcefeeding detainees who are on hunger strike.”
 
5)         Obama is continuing rendition.
 
During his confirmation hearing, new CIA director Leon Panetta made it clear the Obama administration will continue rendition: “Using renditions, we may very well direct individuals to third countries,” Panetta said.
 
Rendition is the practice of kidnapping somebody in one country and shipping them to another country for detention. On February 5, Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), pointed out: “Rendition is a violation of sovereignty. It’s a kidnapping. It’s force and violence…Once you open the door to rendition, you’re opening the door, essentially, to a lawless world.”
 
Obama supporters have attempted to draw the distinction between this practice and “extraordinary rendition,” defined as the practice of transferring somebody to another country knowing that they will be tortured.
 
But who does Panetta view as a source of inspiration when it comes to making sure that people are not tortured? The Bush Regime! During his confirmation hearing, Leon Panetta said that under the Bush administration, “There were efforts by the CIA to seek and to receive assurances that those individuals would not be mistreated.”
 
Panetta then added, “I will seek the same kind of assurances that those individuals will not be mistreated.” (emphasis added)
 
Hmm. That’s comforting.
 
 
“Mr. Obama also left open the option for American operatives to capture terrorism suspects abroad even without the cooperation of a country where they were found. ‘There could be situations — and I emphasize “could be” because we haven’t made a determination yet — where, let’s say that we have a well-known Al Qaeda operative that doesn’t surface very often, appears in a third country with whom we don’t have an extradition relationship or would not be willing to prosecute, but we think is a very dangerous person, he said.”
 

 

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.