Upon entering the Oval Office, President Barack Obama promptly promised to usher in a series of changes, one of which would be closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
Under President George W. Bush, Guantanamo had become a symbol of America’s weakening commitment to human rights.
At Gitmo, suspected terrorists were tortured and held indefinitely, sometimes without ever being afforded the dignity of a trial.
Gitmo signaled an administration content to let fear be its guide. In reducing ourselves to wartime barbarism, we forfeited a moral authority we’d once been able to claim with less trepidation.
Human rights supporters hoped that Obama’s pledge to close Guantanamo indicated he’d be less apt to let fear dictate policy. They hoped that under Obama, the U.S. could walk onto the world stage confident that our own house was in good order.
As the president’s first term comes to a close, it’s clear these hopes were misplaced.
Republican efforts to keep Guantanamo open stifled the president’s resolve. To this day, the prison remains in operation.
And the president’s defeat at Guantanamo is but one of his failures in the human rights arena.
Under the Bush Administration, the CIA was granted permission to run a global network of secret prisons for suspected terrorists. Prisons worked in tandem with the intelligence agency’s decades-old rendition program, which allowed suspects on foreign soil to be abducted and detained.
The Bush Administration drew harsh criticism from the international community after some accused the CIA of being complicit in the torture of detainees.
Obama shuttered the secret prison system within days of taking office, but ordered the continuation of the CIA’s rendition program.
“If done within certain parameters, it is an acceptable practice,” the president concluded.
On the campaign trail in 2008, then-candidate Obama vowed to bring the War on Terror back in line with American ideals. In allowing rendition to continue, he reneged on that promise.
Further soiling this president’s record on human rights has been his expansion of U.S. drone strikes in the Middle East and across the Horn of Africa.
After 18 civilians were mistakenly killed by a drone in Afghanistan this past June, American-led NATO forces in the country finally decided to discontinue targeting Afghan homes for drone strikes.
Outside of Afghanistan, strikes on homes are still permitted.
The Obama Administration has enacted a policy under which all military-aged males killed within a strike zone are labeled enemy combatants unless evidence surfaces proving otherwise.
This policy has made precise analysis of just how many civilians perish in drone strikes nearly impossible, and calls into question Obama Administration claims that civilian casualties have been minimal.
Obama’s drone strike program is divorced both from meaningful oversight and the American values the War on Terror purportedly defends.
Obama was voted into office by an electorate expecting him to follow through on promises of change.
With respect to human rights, the president has not met those expectations.