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Talib Kweli + More On Guantanámo

Talib Kweli, Alex Wagner + More Speak On Obama's Unfulfilled Promise To Close Guantánamo Bay

Yasiin Bey force fed to protest Guantanamo standard procedure
Yasiin Bey, about to undergo simulated force-feeding in line with practices at Guantánamo.

While you were (hopefully) enjoying a lazy Sunday of Netflix and Chill, something changed. America crossed an invisible line, a boundary you probably didn’t even realize was there, which nevertheless has far-reaching  and ominous implications for the presidential race getting under way in Iowa, our standing in the world and perhaps most of all, our ability to look in the mirror and recognize ourselves as the Land Of The Free. That’s because as of Sunday, January 31st the US Detention Center at Guantánamo Bay has now officially been open longer under President Barack Obama–who vowed to close the facility on his second day in the oval office back in 2009–than it was under George W. Bush, who first employed it as an extra-legal holding pen for detainees in the War on Terror.

To be clear, since the prison opened in January 2002 , 779 prisoners have been detained at Gitmo. Of those, 678 have been released or transferred, one was brought to the US for trial, and nine have died in prison. Only 146 of that 678 have been released under Obama’s administration, including a period in 2011-2o12 when no prisoners were released, in spite of official clearance for many of those inmates (including 24 men who are still being held to date) which was handed down in 2009 by Obama’s Guantánamo Bay Review Task Force. In 2013, President Obama made a high profile promise to resume the release process, striking down a ban he imposed on the release of Yemeni prisoners, who comprised 33 of the 37 cleared prisoners who were still being held at that time. Although another group of nine cleared prisoners has been released this month–including Omani national Fahd Ghazy, who has been interred at Guantánamo since the age of 17–91 prisoners are still being detained, 34 who have already been cleared for release and are simply waiting for justice.

Although President Obama has laid the endless deferment of his first Presidential promise at the feet of the Republican-controlled congress, lawyers for the detainees, including the CCR (Center for Constitutional Rights) have pointed out that with so many cleared prisoners still in an unexplainable legal limbo, the more logical explanation is political cover, not congressional interference.“It’s a joke,” said one lawyer, summarizing the Obama administrations latest changes to the review process to The Guardian. “The Obama administration set up the Periodic Review Board process when it suited their political needs [in 2011]…and then did nothing about it.” The bottom line is that in spite of occasional spurts of progress “..at the current pace, the administration will not get through all the detainees and give them a proper chance of transfer by the time Obama steps down,” according to senior CCR attorney Pardiss Kebriaei.

As we tried to wrap our heads around this ongoing nightmare–and what it all means as our generation tries to figure out the way forward for America, we reached out to some of the sharpest political minds–and tongues–we know personally to get their views, including Talib Kweli, M-1 of dead prez, Alex Wagner (host of MSNBC’s Now With Alex and former Editor of FADER Magazine) and frequent Okayplayer contributor Sama’an Ashrawi.

OKP: As of Jan. 31st, Gitmo has been open longer under Obama than Bush–14 years later, how do we weigh Barack Obama’s legacy in light of his promise to close the prison on Day 2 of his presidency?

Talib Kweli:

“Being a politician means being a professional liar. The job requires making promises you cannot keep because once you are elected the job becomes about keeping the job, the campaign promises become secondary. Obama’s legacy will be measured on a series of events, Gitmo being one of them. When you weigh what he got accomplished against the historically unprecedented, racist opposition he faced and the good will destroyed by the previous administration, in the world of politics, which is a world of half truths and lies, he will be seen as an efficient and successful president. He was better at the political game than any of his foes by a long shot.”

Alex Wagner:

“You can’t really blame the president for the fact that Gitmo is still open — if he could close it by executive order, my guess is, he would. But the current Republican-held Congress is unlikely to do anything on key issues of national security in an election year where they’re trying to exploit fears about terrorism to win back the White House. That said, this administration’s policy relating to force feeding — and general lack of transparency about the extrajudicial measures it has taken in the name of national security — had been in direct opposition to the president’s stated goals at the beginning of his presidency. That’s been a major disappointment for a lot of Americans who were hoping he would abide by (and restore) the rule of law that was so grossly manipulated under George W. Bush. It’s truly important that Obama ended the Bush-era practice of torture, including water boarding–but for those had hoped to see an end to extrajudicial practices, including targeted killing, we’ve been seriously disappointed.”


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