As a candidate for president, Barack Obama promised a new direction. Just days after taking office, the new US president issued a series of executive orders banning all acts of torture, discontinuing the use of CIA black sites, and calling for the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay to be closed.
But what will it really take to dismantle the Bush administration’s legacy of torture when there is the same leadership at the Pentagon, the same rhetoric about protecting “state secrets”, and the same refusal to allow victims of rendition to file lawsuits in US courts — not to mention a fully functional US military prison at Bagram air base in Afghanistan?
Among other things, since taking office, the Obama administration has asserted in court that prisoners held at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan have no right to challenge their detentions in US courts, pre-empted a supreme court ruling on whether a legal US resident can be imprisoned indefinitely without trial, and argued to dismiss cases brought by alleged victims of rendition on the grounds that they might pose a threat to US “national security”.
The litany of disappointing actions on human rights and civil liberties seems to be growing longer every day.
This week on Fault Lines, we talk to people on all sides of the so-called “war on terror” — from human rights lawyers to former Bush administration officials; from a former US detainee who was rendered to torture to the CIA analyst who helped author his fate.
Where at first glance the US appears to be heading in a new direction, to what extent has the Obama administration turned its back on the abusive policies of the Bush era? And to what extent can we expect more of the same?