In the early days of the Obama Administration – March of 2009 – a human rights group in Spain named Association for the Dignity of Spanish Prisoners made an appeal to Spain’s National Court that the body use its ability to protect the rights of Spanish citizens no matter where they may be by targeting the United States and it’s creation of “a legal framework that allegedly permitted torture”. Charges were brought against a who’s-who list of the legal accomplices to the pro-torture policy of the Bush Administration:
- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
- Chief of staff/legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, David Addington
- Pentagon general counsel William Haynes
- Undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith
- Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel, Jay Bybee
- Official in the Office of Legal Counsel, John Yoo
Between these men, you had the sources for policies that reigned for most of the opening decade of this century when it came to America’s outward appearance to the rest of the world. From these men you saw the legal framework and backing for the undoing of decades of goodwill that the United States made and gained throughout the 20th century. From these men you saw the legal justification for a superpower – and by extension anyone else if they so chose – to abandon things like the Geneva Convention.
The Obama Administration had a rather important decision to make.
In March of 2009, the Obama Administration still seemed to be very much on the side of righting the policy wrongs that were carried out during the Bush Administration years -utmost against them America’s new pro-torture policy. On January 23, 2009, President Obama signed an executive order stating that the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay would be closed within a year’s time. What better way then to make an even more bold statement to the world that the crimes of the previous administration would not go unanswered, and that America would admit that terrible wrongs had been committed under the previous keeper’s watch, than to allow Spain to move forward with its legal efforts?
Something in the month of March changed.
As soon as the plan for legal action was announced in Spain, the U.S. began diplomatic efforts to ensure that the Spanish would not go ahead with the indictments or the charges – diplomatic efforts that were being conducted under the watch of and with the guidance of the Obama Administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. U.S. officials were able to get in contact with the chief prosecutor, Javier Zaragoza, by April 1st to express their dismay with the situation. The Spanish maintained that what was being done was completely within the construct of their legal system and as such it was the right thing to do.
A Republican Senator, Judd Gregg (New Hampshire), began applying pressure in April 14th. He was joined the next day by Republican Senator Mel Martinez (Florida). Musings from the Spanish side that there’s suddenly a chance the case might not have 100% good legal footing were not enough to stave off the pressure. America began to warn Spain that if they pushed forward with this case, they might find their current relationship with the United States in some trouble.
Results came quickly as by April 16th Spain’s Attorney General, Conde-Pumpido, announced that criminal complaint was “fraudulent” and would no longer be gone after. This became official on April 17th when prosecutors in the National Court filed a report that ask the case be dismissed. Conde-Pumpido stated that if there were any illegal acts done by those who were going to be indicted, that they should be brought to justice in the United States – not Spain. The case was still technically alive in the hands of the investigating judge, Baltasar Garzón, but after being punted through the summer months and handed off to another judge in September of 2009, the case pretty much went away.
In the end, with a little help from some Republican pressure on Spain, the Obama Administration was able to get potential charges dropped against key members of the previous administration for – and this has to be emphasized – creating the legal framework that allowed for the United States to get away with illegal detention and torture of prisoners abroad in their care.
As this case continued to shrivel and die, so too did President Obama’s commitment to stand by his January 2010 deadline for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. In May of 2009, Mr. Obama announced that prosecutions at Guantanamo would resume. By November of 2009, Mr. Obama concluded that his January 2010 deadline would be missed. A general deadline of “later in 2010″ was mentioned, but with no specifics. With 29 days remaining in the year, there is absolutely no indication that the Guantanamo camp is going anywhere anytime soon. An announcement in late 2009 that prisoners would be transferred from Guantanamo to a prison in Illinois has also gone nowhere in this time.
While the Obama Administration has in no way carried out human rights abuses like the ones seen during the Bush Administration years, giving everyone involved a free pass to continue the rest of their lives with no retribution or accounting for their actions is almost as reprehensible as the committing of the acts their selves. It’s turning a blind eye to America’s black eye, and it has all happened in near complete silence – until Wikileaks blew the cover off of that when relevant communications were leaked. From this we learn that there was indeed another act of bipartisanship in 2009 – bipartisanship when it is the Obama Administration catering to the wants and demands of the Republican right. Yet another chance to take a stand and change course from the Bush Administration years was completely missed, and the stains on America’s moral character appear to be permanent.
There may indeed have been a different government elected in 2008 from the one previous, but in far too many cases – this one of the more insulting ones – the difference between the old administration and new is all but indistinguishable.