Flickr Photo byDamon Lynch| This is a picture from an Amnesty International "Close Gitmo" demonstration outside the US Embassy at Grosvenor Square in London on January 11, 2008. It had been six years since the U.S. authorities first transported 'war on terror' detainees to Guantanamo.
When we consider the indignity and inhumane treatment that detainees at Guantanamo have experienced and the torture and abuse which has surely inflamed Islamists who fill the ranks of al-Qaeda-like networks, what is our nation's collective reaction? How do we respond? Does the thought of Guantanamo even matter to us?
Do the thoughts of detainees at Guantanamo being subject to acts that we Americans would probably think could only occur to victims of crimes depicted in Law & Order:SVU or CSI affect anyone? Have we any empathy for those who have not been afforded a trial, or, if innocent, not been released?
Eight years ago, the first detainees arrived at Guantanamo Bay. They arrived dressed in "turquoise blue face masks, orange ski caps and fluorescent orange jumpsuits, their hands in manacles." They were not considered prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.
Over the course of the past eight years, there have been countless reports of abuse and violations of the law. Guantanamo has provided Americans with an example of the behavior and operations of American forces at other prison sites all over the world that should be far from acceptable.
Days after being inaugurated, Obama issued three executive orders that banned the use of enhanced interrogation techniques (Cheney's euphemism for torture), pledged to close Guantanamo, and began a review of all pending cases at Guantanamo.
This press event could be considered a publicity stunt that was designed to stave off angry human rights, civil rights, and/or civil liberties advocates who had been ramping up pressure on Obama throughout his presidential campaign so that he would make a promise to close Guantanamo once he got into office. Fortunately, those angry groups did not let up. On top of right wing hysteria and Cheney's national security speaking tour, the groups forced Obama to further explain how he would take action on Guantanamo in another press event in May 2009.
This time Obama chose to use the event to give a major speech on national security.
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