Mixed messages from President Obama after 100 days

Mixed messages on counter-terrorism from President Obama after 100 days

© Amnesty International

29 April 2009

100 days after taking office, President Obama's record in terms of US counter terrorism policies has been assessed in a new Amnesty International report. The organization describes the message from the presidency as "mixed".

When he took office on 20 January 2009, President Barack Obama inherited a legacy of torture, impunity and unlawful detention. The legacy is the result of the USA's response to the attacks of 11 September 2001. The response has been marked by an assault on the framework of international human rights law.

Human rights violations – including the crimes under international law of torture and enforced disappearance – were not only committed, but were also justified, by the US government as necessary and legal.

Images of caged, shackled detainees in the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba; of torture and other ill-treatment at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq; of Gulfstream jets used to transfer detainees to secret prisons around the world; have been seared into the public consciousness.

During his campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama committed himself to closing the Guantánamo detention facility and ending torture by US personnel. To what extent these commitments would mark a real shift towards bringing the USA into compliance with its international human rights obligations in the struggle against terrorism remained to be seen.

Amnesty International issued a checklist on 5 November 2008 against which to assess the progress made towards this goal in the new administration’s first 100 days.

After the election, the organization called on President-elect Obama to take 17 concrete steps during his first 100 days in office towards:

  • closing Guantánamo and ending illegal detention;
  • eradicating torture and ill-treatment;
  • ending impunity.
At the end of the 100 days, it is clear that significant steps have been taken by the new administration, including some to undo the damaging detention and interrogation policies developed under the previous administration.

However, other changes have been more symbolic than substantial. The little action taken by the new administration on accountability for past human rights violations has cemented the impunity nurtured in the past, for at least some of the perpetrators.

"President Obama's  actions - within 48 hours of taking office - to close Guantánamo within a year and end secret CIA detentions was very welcome," said Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

"Closure and disclosure will not be complete until the US Government follows through by ending all unlawful detentions, bringing to justice all those responsible for torture and other serious human rights violations carried out during the Bush administration, and providing real remedies to victims.

"We have seen some important positive developments in the first 100 days but there are still some steps that are either incomplete or remain to be taken. For instance, on Bagram where hundreds are still detained with no solution in sight."

Amnesty International’s report on President Obama's first 100 days uses the organization's checklist as a guide. The report reviews the words and deeds of the new administration to evaluate the USA's progress towards meeting Amnesty International’s appeal to counter terror with justice.

Obama - Building trust and respect for human rights in the US (Feature, 29 April 2009)

USA: Mixed messages: Counter Terror and Human Rights: President Obama’s first 100 days

Index Number: AMR 51/043/2009
Date Published: 29 April 2009
Categories: USA

This report assesses the words and actions of the US administration, led by US President Barack Obama, in its first 100 days against specific recommendations Amnesty International made to the incoming President on countering terrorism and human rights. In essence, Amnesty International called on the new administration to undo the damage caused by US policies developed in what the previous administration dubbed the “war on terror", policies that undermined the framework of international human rights law.

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