Jan. 21, 2009, in just his second day in office and flanked by former generals and admirals, President Barack Obama pledged to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the U.S. prison that had become synonymous with human rights abuses and lawlessness. Obama has largely succeeded in eliminating Bush-era practices of torture and secret detention. But the plan to close Guantanamo has failed, with the president's lofty rhetoric foundering on the reality of a new politics of terrorism.
The Bitter End: Winding Down the War on Terror
Whether about hunger strikes at Gitmo, revelations of NSA surveillance or blowback from drone strikes, recent news headlines have testified to the persistent fallout and legacy of the initial U.S. reaction to the attacks of 9/11. Despite the Obama administration’s expressed desire to disengage the battlefield, winding down the war on terror has proved more difficult than expected. Jonathan Hafetz explains why the ultimate danger of the failure to close Gitmo is that we might just get used to it. Loch Johnson examines the security versus surveillance dilemma and what to do about the current imbalance. And Charli Carpenter argues that a new paradigm for the fight against terror is essential not only for U.S. credibility, but also for the legitimate use of military force moving forward.
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Articles in this feature
Every democracy must wrestle with the dilemma of ensuring security for its citizens, while at the same time protecting their liberty and privacy. For the U.S., the equilibrium between security and liberty has clearly shifted to the security side of the equation since the 9/11 attacks, jeopardizing the nation's entire system of intelligence accountability. America's vast "intelligence community" threatens to return to the era when their operations resided outside the normal framework of American government and its Madisonian safeguards.
The term "shadow wars" aptly describes the U.S. approach to the war on terror. Policymakers perceive they are fighting an enemy composed of shadow and dust. But to prosecute this campaign, the U.S. has itself "fallen into shadow." Its moral high ground and once-principled politics have been replaced by a recourse to policies such as arbitrary detention, torture and extrajudicial killings. Winding down this "war" both necessitates and provides a window for stepping out of the shadows.