Socialist Worker

Obama’s tortured logic on prisons

by Richard Seymour
Issue No. 2154

Within days of Barack Obama’s inauguration it was announced that Guantanamo Bay was to close within a year, along with the secret prisons that George Bush’s administration had set up around the world.

The purpose of these prisons had been to keep captives outside the jurisdiction of US law, so that they could be tortured. Even with that precaution taken, the Bush administration went the extra mile.

John Yoo, of the Department for Justice, supplied legal arguments that redefined torture to exclude what the Bush administration intended to authorise. He said that no known law or treaty could prevent the US from torturing “enemy combatants”.

Most of those detained were not even combatants. The Seton Hall University Law School found that 55 percent of those detained in Guantanamo didn’t encounter US troops on the battlefield. Only 8 percent were estimated to have connections with Al Qaida.

The methods of torture acknowledged in official documentation are gruesome enough. These practises include stress positions and “waterboarding”. But the evidence of what took place is even worse.

So, the announcement that these institutions were to be gradually shut down was rightly applauded.

Last month Obama went further, releasing secret CIA memos that confirmed the Bush administration had authorised a wide-ranging programme of torture against supposed “terror suspects”.

In fact, the release of the documents was the result of an American Civil Liberties Union law suit, but it was advantageous for the government to give in to the pressure.

Yet the force of this was blunted by the insistence of Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel, that no prosecutions would be sought. This is curious. Three federal judges have examined the evidence and found that the Bush administration broke US law.


Repeating Dick Cheney, Obama’s national intelligence director Dennis Blair even claimed that the torture practised in the Bush years had yielded “high value information”.

The administration has since gone to great lengths to conceal the Bush gang’s crimes.

It has suppressed the release of photographs depicting the torture and rape of prisoners. It has sought to quash attempts to prosecute the private company employed in the extraordinary rendition of Binyam Mohammed on the grounds that national security would be harmed.

It even went so far as to threaten that, if British courts attempted any prosecutions that revealed official documents on the CIA’s treatment of him, the US would have to reduce intelligence-sharing with Britain.

Part of the reason for protecting the officials who authorised this internment and torture could be that Obama intends to maintain a “Bush lite” policy on the issue.

It has been reported that executive orders by Obama’s administration preserve the CIA’s authority to abduct suspects and transport them to countries that have tortured on the US’s behalf.

US lawyer and journalist Glen Greenwald has revealed that Obama has attempted to shield Bush’s illegal spying from judicial review and invented a form of “sovereign immunity” more extreme than Bush claimed.

Obama wants to make the government immune from any legal challenge over wiretapping. And inmates of Bagram prison have been barred from using US courts to appeal against their detention. Bagram is a key part of Obama’s strategy, especially as he intends to expand the war in Afghanistan.

The Obama presidency may be smarter and more sophisticated than Bush’s. But it evidently remains an imperial presidency.

Richard Seymour runs the Lenin’s Tomb blog. Go to »

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Tue 2 Jun 2009, 18:21 BST
Issue No. 2154
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.