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Obama Effect: Abuse Uptick at Guantanamo

By February 25, 2009

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"Living our values doesn’t make us weaker," went one of President Obama's more rousing lines last night, "it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture."

At least on paper.

It's a different story in Guantanamo. From Reuters:

Abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has worsened sharply since President Barack Obama took office as prison guards "get their kicks in" before the camp is closed, according to a lawyer who represents detainees.

Abuses began to pick up in December after Obama was elected, human rights lawyer Ahmed Ghappour told Reuters. He cited beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-forcefeeding detainees who are on hunger strike. The Pentagon said on Monday that it had received renewed reports of prisoner abuse during a recent review of conditions at Guantanamo, but had concluded that all prisoners were being kept in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

"According to my clients, there has been a ramping up in abuse since President Obama was inaugurated," said Ghappour, a British-American lawyer with Reprieve, a legal charity that represents 31 detainees at Guantanamo. "If one was to use one's imagination, (one) could say that these traumatized, and for lack of a better word barbaric, guards were just basically trying to get their kicks in right now for fear that they won't be able to later," he said.

"We do not torture," of course, was a line that Vice President Dick Cheney and President Bush used again and again, devaluing its meaning to the point of morbid parody, considering what we continue to learn about these two men's definition of "do not."

I hope Obama's English isn't as closely indebted to Kafka, though early signs are worrisome.

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