​Obama, Gitmo, and ‘American exceptionalism’

Eric Draitser is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City and the founder of StopImperialism.com.

Guantanamo Bay.(AFP Photo / Mladen Antonov)

Yet another scandal has engulfed the Obama administration, as the President has come under fire for his prisoner swap that secured the release of the only US POW remaining in Taliban custody.

However, the real scandal is not whether Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is a
hero or a traitor, but rather the fact that the US – purportedly
the “land of the free” – detains prisoners indefinitely,
denying them any legal process.

In fact, under President Obama (a constitutional scholar), the
practice of indefinite detention without trial or legal counsel,
has been codified into US law. Perhaps this is what Obama means
when he waxes poetic about “American exceptionalism”
the exception to the rule of law, the exception to international
law, the exception to human rights?

The story behind the story

While media pundits, security “experts,” and politicians
engage in the typical finger-pointing and political jockeying
around the Bergdahl scandal, there is one critical point entirely
left out of the US and Western media narrative: that Washington
continues to hold, illegally and without charge, many prisoners
from the so-called “War on Terror” in its gulag at
Guantanamo Bay. Such grave abuses of human rights, which have
been enshrined as US policy, are far more destructive and
scandalous than any backroom deal made by President Obama.

The ongoing detention of Saudi citizen and permanent UK resident
Shaker Aamer is perhaps the most obvious example of
the criminality and inhumanity of the US and the Obama
administration. The UK-based human rights organization Reprieve,
which works for the release of all prisoners held beyond the rule
of law in the “War on Terror,” has been actively working
to secure the release of Aamer, along with all other prisoners
held at Guantanamo. As the organization’s website notes,
“Shaker has long been cleared for release by the United
States. He has never been charged by the United States with a
crime and has never received a trial. However, he has been
repeatedly abused and subjected to extended isolation in
Guantánamo Bay.”

Indeed, it would seem that, despite Obama’s background in
Constitutional Law, and his professed belief in the international
rule of law, his administration is engaging in obvious violations
of Mr. Aamer’s human rights, along with those of the other
Guantanamo gulag inmates. Specifically, his detention violates a
number of articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  • Article 5 – “No one shall be subjected to torture or to
    cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.”
  • Article 6 – “Everyone has the right to recognition
    everywhere as a person before the law.”
  • Article 7 – “All are equal before the law and are
    entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the
  • Article 10 – “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a
    fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal,
    in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any
    criminal charge against him.”

Certainly, a legal scholar should understand the degree to which
such conduct is universally recognized as illegal and a violation
of human rights. And yet, Obama and his administration seem
entirely content to continue the Bush-era practice of indefinite
detention at Guantanamo.

Indeed, Aamer is undoubtedly a victim of grave human rights
abuses and torture which have taken a significant toll on both
his physical and mental health. Earlier this year, Dr. Emily
Keram, an internationally renowned expert in psychiatry, forensic
psychiatry, and neurology, assessed Mr. Aamer and submitted her
report to his legal representatives. Dr. Keram noted:

“[Mr. Aamer suffers from] psychiatric symptoms related to his
current confinement…which also gravely diminish his mental
health… the length, uncertainty, and stress of Mr. Aamer’s
confinement has caused significant disruptions in his…ability
to function. He is profoundly aware of what he has lost… Mr
Aamer requires psychiatric treatment, as well as reintegration
into his family and society and minimization of his re-exposure
to trauma and reminders of trauma… [he suffers from physical
ailments including severe edema which] if left untreated, may
reflect an underlying, life-threatening organ or vascular

Aamer has endured more than twelve years in Guantanamo, without
trial, under conditions of torture. According to Mr. Aamer,
“You cannot walk even half a meter without being chained. Is
that a human being? That’s the treatment of an animal.”

Despite repeated calls from international human rights crusaders,
the Obama administration has stonewalled all demands and requests
that Aamer be freed. What exactly does this tell us about the
current occupant of the White House?

US President Barack Obama.(AFP Photo / Mandel Ngan)

Obama’s lies

In his recent speech at West Point military academy,
President Obama said, “What makes us exceptional is not our
ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is
our willingness to affirm them through our actions.”
Such a
statement, aside from its humorously ironic sentiment, is
indicative of the attitudes of US leaders and policy-makers
towards the world, and their conception of their place within it.
Obama here argues that, despite being a serial violator of
international law and human rights, the United States is always
justified in its actions so long as it claims those actions
“affirm international norms and the rule of law.”

Undoubtedly, a clear-thinking individual would do a double-take
at such a statement. Indeed, Obama (and his supporters) are
engaged in what the great novelist George Orwell termed
“doublethink” – the act of holding two contradictory
positions and believing them both to be true at the same time. On
the one hand, Obama seems to acknowledge the existence of
“international norms and the rule of law,” while
simultaneously denying those same principles by saying that
America is exceptional in regards to them. That is to say, the US
is the arbiter of what is lawful and unlawful, and if the US
takes certain unlawful actions, they immediately become lawful by
virtue of the “exceptional power” enacting them to
“affirm” those same principles. If such thinking seems
utterly insane to you, then you are not alone.

Obama has stated on numerous occasions that he believes “with
every fiber of his being”
in America’s
“exceptionalism.” It seems then that Obama also believes
he can “except” himself from his own promises regarding
Guantanamo. During his first presidential campaign in 2007-2008,
Obama promised to close down the gulag at Guantanamo.
Now, nearly seven years later, Obama still vows to “continue
to push to close Gitmo because American values and legal
traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people
beyond our borders.”
So, Americans are supposed to believe
that the President, with a hostile Congress, will achieve in the
next two years that which he has not even bothered to try in the
previous seven? To believe such nonsense is to engage in
stunningly willful ignorance, like the proverbial ostrich burying
his head in the sand.

Something else about Obama’s statement that deserves attention:
his specific reference to the impermissibility of indefinite
detention. Of course, Obama and his speechwriters carefully made
sure to include the phrase “beyond our borders” as a
qualifier, knowing that it is the Obama administration that has
codified and enshrined in law the fascistic “National Defense
Authorization Act,”
a law which allows the President to
order the indefinite detention of US citizens suspected of
involvement in terrorism. So, the President who talks of the
“rule of law” and “international norms” has
little to no interest in those principles when it comes to US
citizens. Hypocrisy is not a strong enough word.

While politicians position themselves in support of, or
opposition to, Obama and this Bergdahl scandal, the world watches
and shakes its head. Having always portrayed itself as the beacon
of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law, the United States has
come to symbolize war, oppression, and exploitation for much of
the world. Indeed, the decades since the end of the Cold War saw
an unprecedented growth of militarism and warmongering from
Washington, as the empire asserted itself anywhere it pleased.

Today, as a multi-polar global order is emerging, the blatant
imperialism and lies of Washington are brought into stark relief.
The liars stand naked before the world. And indeed, the world is
finally beginning to see that the emperor truly has no clothes.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Comments (11)

Bitcoin Buddhist 14.06.2014 01:14

The only exceptionalism Americans possess or buy into is the delusion that they are somehow better people than any of the other 6 billion+ human inhabitants on this planet… Pure delusion

jeff strehlow 13.06.2014 20:54

Gorf 13.06.2014 16:02

The greatest thing about American Exceptionalism is that it PISSES OFF the Russians to no end!!


I doubt that anyone likes American exceptionalism, except for some deluded Americans. No one likes arrogance and that’s exactly what American exceptionalism is.

Serge Krieger 13.06.2014 19:15

“There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America.”
O tto von Bismarck

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