One is often reminded that the US president is the most powerful man on the planet. Yet, former US president Barack Obama dismally failed to close down the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention centre. He repeatedly promised and desperately wanted to shut it down and take the credit for being an inspired human rights champion.
Had he succeeded in fulfilling his promise, his name would have gone down in the history of his country as a great leader. However, he was not powerful enough to persuade Congress to follow through with his vision.
This shows the powerlessness of a president – in this case Obama – who needed to fulfil his election pledge, but could not. So, the conflict in the power base in the US seems to suggest that a president is not quite omnipotent at home or abroad after all.
George W Bush had opened this detention facility on January 11, 2002 and, so far, there has been no sign of its closure in the foreseeable future. Instead, Donald Trump, the current US president, has promised the opposite and stated that he will “load it with more bad dudes”.
Will Guantanamo exist forever? The long-suffering inmates are getting old and infirm after 16 years of courageously enduring physical abuse and psychological mistreatment at various levels.
The scandal of Guantanamo – a blot on the US, which has frequently lectured the entire world about rights violation – shamelessly continues.
Amid torture and the ins and outs of the darkest CIA secret prisons around the world, the inmates rely on the international community to do something to secure their release.
For instance, sustained political campaigns have been mounted in Britain and have succeeded in securing the release of British detainees in Guantanamo, including Shaker Aamer. Since then, there has hardly been any mention of the detention facility.
Both the broadcast and print media are preoccupied with Brexit or a difficult divorce from the EU, which is a highly emotional political issue. Therefore, stories concerning the plight of victims of torture in Guantanamo do not qualify for any space in the mainstream media.
So far, nine detainees have died in custody at Guantanamo. Although gradually in reduced number, there are still 41 others languishing at the detention centre.
During the Bush administration, the number of prisoners released was 532 and Obama released another 198. Many were tortured in secret prisons overseas before being transferred to Guantánamo number. Only five percent were ‘captured’ by US troops as terror suspects and others were sold to the US for a bounty.
The inmates have not been charged with an offence. They were caught at the wrong time and at the wrong place.
The US argues that if these inmates are released, they would endanger the security of the US as an act of revenge. But 59 countries have accepted the detainees who, surprisingly, have not posed even the slightest risk to the security of any country.
Trump wants to “make America great again”. This sounds like a good idea – a very good idea indeed – but he will have to do some noble acts on his way to achieving that goal. The starting point could ideally be to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention centre by overriding objections from Congress.
The second good deed that Trump could perform is to hand over the illegally-occupied Cuban territory on which the prison is based back to Cuba. By doing this, he will be able to kill two birds with one stone and simultaneously make America great again.
Half a billion dollars are paid every year by taxpayers to operate Guantanamo. If Trump is ready, willing and serious about making America great again, he could do himself and his country a favour and save this huge amount and spend it on the needy and on improving health services.
The writer is a freelance contributor.