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Between Our Safety and Our Ideals

By Olivia M. Goldhill, None

It’s been less than two months since President Obama was inaugurated, but the sheen of the new administration has already begun to fade. During the first week of his presidency, Obama gave a very pretty speech in which he “rejected as false the choice between safety and ideals” and signed an executive order to close the controversial prison at the United States naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Obama’s first post on the White House website also claimed that his administration would be “the most open and transparent in history.” But the promise of “change” has thus far proven to be hollow.

The Obama administration surprised many in February when it pressed ahead with a Bush policy that refuses to even litigate certain cases for fear of a security breach. Much of the information concerned has been revealed through international government investigations. Nevertheless, judges are prevented from reviewing case information and evaluating the security breach themselves. Such an act directly opposes promises of transparency and holds many worrisome implications.

Recent events concerning a British prisoner at Guantanamo have exemplified this disappointedly consistent level of secrecy. Binyam Mohamed, a Pakistani-born British citizen, was the first prisoner to be released from Guantanamo after Obama ordered its closure earlier this year. Controversy has since abounded from Mohamed’s court case, in which a High Court decree to release information regarding torture allegations was denied by the British Foreign Office. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s justification for the refusal was that disclosure would do “serious and lasting harm”, to the United Kingdom’s intelligence exchange with the CIA.

An excessive degree of secrecy casts a suspicious light on any government and lends support to accusations of dubious motives. Indeed, the British High Court, which reviewed the material in question, asserted that it was “difficult to conceive that a democratically elected government could possibly have any rational objection to placing into the public domain such a summary of what its own officials reported as to how a detainee was treated by them” and stressed that the report involved “no disclosure of sensitive intelligence matters.”

The High Court analysis presents the actions of both the American and British governments as highly suspect. If indeed the prohibited information concerns no security release, then Obama is irrefutably wrong in denying its exposure. Evidence of torture will be damaging to America’s reputation around the world, but it nevertheless deserves to be heard. Should such evidence later be revealed by a non-governmental source, it would even further discredit American ideals.

The evidence to support Mohamed’s torture allegations is fairly damning, and it goes without saying that any civilized country should strictly adhere to Obama’s rhetoric and reject such barbaric treatment. Mohamed claims that the CIA would chain him in restrictive positions and that he was once shackled for eight days in a position where it was impossible to either stand straight or sit. He also allegedly spent five months in total darkness and one month straight when he was forced to continually listen to one repeated Eminem CD played at an ear-splitting volume.

Torture is both inhumane and ineffective; indeed, Guantanamo Bay has induced more suicides than convictions. A moral government would reject both physical acts of torture and circumstances that perpetuate the implication that torture is permissible. Thus, in the name of the ideology that both Obama and America represent, Obama should make a clean break from the past administration and refuse to cover up any acts of torture.

In addition to the innate moral inconsistencies that constitute acts of censorship, U.S. treatment of Binyam Mohamed has seriously undermined its relationship with Britain. The British government first requested the release of Mohamed in 2007 but was denied, and the US military later declared that it would formally charge Mohamed. These charges have since all been dropped, but the CIA continues to maintain its stubborn policy of non-communication regarding the case. American threats to withhold future information or comparably pressurizing statements are completely inappropriate and violate the respect deserved by America’s closest ally. The stereotyped depiction of a bullying United States is strongly associated with the Bush era; Obama should not allow this label to taint his administration.

Barack Obama’s promises and ideals allowed him to win an election against all the odds. The characteristics that made Obama’s campaign so popular should be sustained throughout governance, and it is imperative that Obama revoke the excessively secret policies of Bush’s administration. Binyam Mohamed’s case highlights the shortcomings that prevent Obama’s administration from being “the most transparent in history” and thus warrant immediate attention. To hide evidence of torture is as morally dubious as the act itself; the last thing this country needs is another Bush.


Olivia M. Goldhill ‘11, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Pforzheimer House.

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