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Smt. Indira Gandhi has been an eminent Prime Minister of the country under whom in 1971 the country registered a decisive victory over Pakistan, a victory which led to the vivisection of Pakistan, and the birth of a new state, Bangladesh. Talking about the balance-sheets of different Prime Ministers in a blog some time back I wrote that while the creation of Bangladesh was a big plus point in Smt. Gandhi’s record the blatant abuse of Emergency powers that took place during 1975-77 brought the country’s greatest achievement since independence, namely Democracy, to the brink of annihilation. Smt. Gandhi’s full balance-sheet thus is not very flattering.
I am reminded of this by the latest issue of TIME (June 10, 2013) which carries as its cover story President Obama’s agonizing dilemma about what to do with U.S.A.’s notorious military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, where the Bush Administration had detained hundreds of men captured in counter-terrorism operations since 2001.

This TIME article written by Michael Crowley, the journal’s Deputy Chief of its Washington Bureau, opens with the statement “Barack Obama had been President for only one full day when, on Jan. 22, 2009, he acted on a central campaign promise. Arguing that the Founding Fathers would agree that America must “observe the core standards of conduct not just when it’s easy but also when it’s hard”, the President signed an Executive Order to close the Guantanamo Bay Prison and said that closing this prison would return America to the “moral high ground” it had yielded in its ruthless pursuit of Al-Qaeda during the Bush years.

The article quotes Obama saying in May 2009, “I can tell you that the wrong answer is to pretend like this problem will go away. I refuse to pass it on to somebody else. It is my responsibility to solve the problem.” The article adds: “Four years later, with Guantanamo still open - and the site of widespread hunger strikes and other acts of disobedience by many of its 166 inmates- Obama is again trying to fulfill that responsibility.

In a May 23 address about a range of his counterterrorism policies, including drone strikes, Obama declared the start of a new push against the political obstacles that thwarted his first attempt to close the most infamous symbol of the U.S.’s post -9/11 war on terrorism. “[History] will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to end it,” Obama said.

The TIME article adds:
But Obama will be hard pressed to live up to his grand rhetoric. Opposition still runs high to the idea of releasing or bringing into U.S. prisons dozens of men widely considered dangerous terrorists even if many are not. Asked to gauge the probability that Obama can close Guantanamo before he leaves office, David Remes, a lawyer who represents 18 Guantanamo inmates replies, “Zero.”
I am not inclined to endorse unreservedly the view expressed by the counsel of the terrorists or suspected terrorists kept in Guantanamo prison.  But I too hold that Obama can discharge his campaign promise only if there is adequate popular support for it. As things stand, the U.S. Government seems unlikely to do so.

In India, we have seen that it was the angry 1977 poll verdict which made Smt. Gandhi realize how wrong she was when she brazenly abused the Emergency provisions in the Constitution just to protect herself from the serious implications of a court judgement. In Obama’s case, on the other hand, against the background of 9/11, his dilemma is very real, and so quite understandable. That he has nevertheless been seriously pondering over how to resolve it without in any way weakening his country’s resolve to triumph over terrorism speaks volumes for his sincerity.
No wonder, Michael Crowley’s cover page article titled “WHY GITMO WILL NEVER CLOSE” also carries a sub-title: “President Obama wants to shut down the controversial prison but not the policies it has come to represent.”

L.K. Advani

New Delh

i04 June, 2013

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