Change we can believe in? Reprieve report evaluates Obama’s first year

January 19, 2010

In his first days in office President Obama issued executive orders that appeared to draw back from the worst excesses of the Bush era, stopping the CIA from running prisons, banning torture, and announcing that the notorious prison at Guantánamo Bay would be closed.

One year into the Obama administration, many of these promises remain unfulfilled. Guantánamo is still open, rendition continues, and the government is fighting to keep Bagram prisoners from challenging their detention. The unlawful system of using military commissions to ‘try’ terrorist suspects has been reinstated at Guantánamo Bay, and while some details of the worst abuse carried about by the Bush administration have been revealed, there have been no meaningful efforts to hold anyone accountable for these crimes.

This new report outlines the Obama administration’s commitments, achievements and shortcomings during its first year in four critical areas: release and resettlement of Guantánamo prisoners; access to and judicial oversight of other extralegal prisons, notably the detention facility at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan; transparency and accountability; and practices of torture and rendition.

The report also poses ten questions for President Obama:

1) Why is Guantánamo Bay still holding men that the US government has cleared for release?

2) Why is the Obama administration actively challenging the right, upheld by US courts, of some Bagram prisoners to have lawyers?

3) How will the US deal with future Afghan captures in light of the decision to hand the prison at Bagram over to Afghan control?

4) Why are members of previous administration not being held accountable for their role in the torture of prisoners?

5) How does the Obama administration know that those they are rendering to third party countries are not being tortured by the regimes to which they are delivered?

6) Why has music torture, and other psychological abuse, not been banned?

7) Why is the Obama administration keeping secret which Guantánamo prisoners have been cleared for release?

8) What is the difference between rendition and kidnap?

9) Why is the Obama administration blocking the release of information that proves former prisoners, like Binyam Mohamed, were the victims of crimes?

10) Is the Obama administration really closing Guantánamo, or just moving it to Illinois?

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said:

“Perhaps the defining trait of President Obama’s first year in office has been his effort to reach a bipartisan consensus. Unfortunately, this has been his Achilles heel, as you simply cannot reach agreement on health care with people who think the NHS is in the business of shuffling old people to their deaths, and you can’t find a way to close Guantanamo Bay with people who think America is in a necessary war with one billion Muslims. Indeed, in some areas, all that Obama has managed to do is to compromise his own beliefs in his effort to accommodate the extremists in his own country. This is sad and it may yet come to be his political epitaph.”

The full report may be downloaded below. For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk 020 7427 1099/ 07931592674 or visit www.reprieve.org.uk

Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900 Registered Company No. 5777831 (England) Registered Office 2-6 Cannon Street London EC4M 6YH; Chair: Lord Bingham; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Julie Christie, Martha Lane Fox, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner