The demonstrations held in front of White House on Friday demanding closure of the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention camp should awaken President Obama from his self-imposed, prolonged slumber on the issue. The demonstrators, numbering around fifty but representing about a dozen organisations, urged the president to make good on his promise to close the detention centre. The protests come a year after the president reaffirmed his commitment to shut the facility, set up at a US naval base on Cuba after the September 11 attacks.The president had made some genuine attempt to fulfill his promise and made some progress, but got bogged down in the face of severe opposition from Republicans and others. “Since the president spoke these words, there has been progress -- but at a very slow pace,” said Ron Stief of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
Given the current pace of events, most detainees now at the centre will still be there when Obama leaves office in January 2017. That would only prolong the case of the inmates, some of whom have been on hunger strikes. The strikes had brought their plight into global spotlight, and inmates have grown more stubborn with the publicity they received for their action. For example, a federal judge ruled this week that the military can force-feed a Syrian detainee at the Bay to prevent him from dying. The ruling by the judge Gladys Kessler follows a decision this week in which she barred the Pentagon from forcibly feeding another inmate. In her follow-up order issued late Thursday, she changed her mind to keep the detainee alive. The judge had harsh words for the Pentagon which, she said, should abide by its own protocols, which say the standard for force-feeding is whether the said inmate is facing an “imminent risk of death or great bodily injury.”
More pressure needs to be piled on Obama to make him fulfill his promise. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were among the organizations represented at the White House protest, which coincided with similar demonstrations in 40 cities across seven countries. The rights bodies need to persist with the protests and enlist the support of more like-minded organizations.
The responsibility for Obama’s failure to close the detention camp must also be shared by the governments of the inmates. These governments have no strategy on the issue, and have failed to protect the interests of their citizens.
As Obama faces criticism on a slew of issues, from foreign policy to healthcare, his ability to act firmly is being eroded. The Guantanamo closure is one issue that would be pushed down in his priority list, unless he is forced to act.