A young girl holds a picture of Bobby Sands in a republican march to mark the 20th anniversary of the IRA hunger strike at the Maze prison in Northern Ireland May 27. REUTERS/Archive
Barely a week after Margaret Thatcher’s funeral in London, her ghost is stalking the corridors of power. At his press conference on Tuesday in Washington, President Barack Obama was asked about Guantánamo Bay prisoners refusing to eat. In doing so, the veteran CBS reporter Bill Plante, who asked the question, exposed a running sore in the Obama administration. He also invited direct comparison between Obama and Lady Thatcher – who faced a similar dilemma in 1981.
As a candidate in 2008, Obama, a distinguished Harvard-educated legal scholar known in the Senate for his common sense and humanity, promised to quickly close the prison for 166 terrorist suspects in the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The existence of a U.S. detention center that ignores the basic legal right of habeas corpus and the failure to bring prisoners to trial after so many years “erode our moral claims that we are acting on behalf of broader universal principles,” he said. He went on to repeat his pledge, yet five years on, Gitmo is still open for business.
The president’s embarrassment can be blamed, in part, on his naïveté. For a while after his inauguration in 2009 he appeared to be under the impression he had been elected the most powerful man on earth. It has taken four painful years for him to realize that the division of government guaranteed by the Constitution prevents him from doing not only what he wishes but what a majority of Americans have mandated.
Under the guise of saving money, Congress has stymied the president’s plan to try those believed guilty of terrorist offenses on U.S. soil and to release the 86 innocents who have been held without trial for years. Despite their insistence that they believe in America’s system of justice, it appears that many congressmen have little faith in it.