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Consenting to infamy

The aberrations of Guantánamo are incompatible with Obama's principles

If Barack Obama had really wished to close Guantánamo, and needed some supplementary arguments for doing so, he would find dozens in the documents on this no-man's-land prison gathered by WikiLeaks and published in this newspaper. They constitute an extensive dossier on the infamous prison, which remains in use in spite of the solemn presidential promise of January 2009. As happened earlier with the papers on American foreign policy, Washington has been quick to deplore the publication of these documents, complaining that its security has been undermined in some way that is not very easy to define.

The Guantánamo papers, which extend to 2009, reveal an appalling cross-section of abuses and violations of the most elementary rights committed in the prison created by George W. Bush in 2002 after the September 11 attacks: a judicial limbo administered by soldiers, in which the United States still keeps more than 170 suspects of Islamic terrorism. The reports on more than 700 prisoners, many of whom were taken to Guantánamo arbitrarily, and some of whom have been there more than nine years, reveal a prison system characteristic of totalitarian regimes, based on suspicions, conjectures and informants.

Far more than any legal consideration, the continuance of Guantánamo has to do, as the WikiLeaks files show, with the probability that some of the prisoners represent a present or future threat to the United States, due to their connection with Al Qaeda or with the Taliban. All this, quite independently of whether they are guilty of anything - as is proved by the fact that so far only seven of the prisoners have been tried and convicted.

Guantánamo, a prison incompatible with a country that claims to champion the rule of law, is one of Obama's great failures, and one of the deep disappointments of his half-concluded mandate. The back-pedaling of the president who enthused so many Americans and so many people abroad, especially in the Muslim world, by proclaiming his determination - "I don't want to be ambiguous about this. We are going to close Guantánamo" - now lends credence to the idea that, after all, the White House does not find Bush's creation so abominable. Nor has Obama had anything to say about the inadmissible conditions in which the soldier Bradley Manning, the alleged WikiLeaks informant, has been kept in jail.

The persistence of the aberration that is Guantánamo has been confirmed this month with Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement that the mastermind of September 11, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, will finally be tried not by an ordinary court on US soil but, along with his most direct accomplices, by the infamous military commissions, and by the procedure of court-martial. The director of the CIA was not talking off the top of his head when in February before the Senate he said that if Osama Bin Laden were captured he would probably end up in Guantánamo.