Dear President Obama,
Your visit to Nelson Mandela, and his former prison cell, was the right thing to do as guest head of state. The same may be expected of future leaders paying tribute to the closing of Guantanamo Bay detention center. Our best estimate is that there are still 166 detainees at Guantanamo. Many of these men were unjustly imprisoned like Mandela. How do we know?
Wikileaks published 779 secret documents which revealed that more than 150 of these people were innocent, people who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Many of them were Afghan and Pakistani farmers, chefs, and drivers – ordinary people – not “terrorists” or “enemy combatants”.
These secret documents also revealed that many if not most of these men have endured torture at US-controlled “black sites” on foreign soil or at Guantanamo. These men, according to US intelligence sources, had very little useful information to divulge to help keep America safe.
By the way, Mr. President, Wikileaks is the same organization that you and the Bush Administration relentlessly pursued for disseminating government secrets. These weren’t the kind of secrets that gave our enemies an advantage for attacking America. These were secrets that obscured the criminal wrongdoings of US government officials. Many of your supporters desperately try to reconcile your words as a presidential candidate and your actions as a two-term president of the United States. You have not closed Guantanamo prison.
Under your administration, you have imprisoned Bradley Manning. Manning leaked files like “Collateral Murder”, a video exposing the senseless slaughter of innocent civilians by a US Apache helicopter crew in 2007. Under your administration, you have prosecuted six whistleblowers who are otherwise heroes for exposing government crimes. Edward Snowden will likely be number seven.
Edward Snowden uncovered one of the largest and damning secrets of all – that the NSA had been recording phone calls and Internet activities of all Americans up until at least 2011 that we know of so far. This is not how a healthy democratic republic is supposed to function.
Mr. President, when you were looking out from the bars of Mandela’s prison window, could you have been thinking of those innocent prisoners still being unlawfully detained at Guantanamo? Were there any feelings of nagging irony, that the nation you lead has the highest prison incarceration rate in the world?
Back in the 1980s, many of my friends and I were fond of “Free Mandela” posters, stickers, and T-shirts; a great many supporters of his were. And we all dreamed about the day when Mandela would be set free. I’m sure you shared in this sentiment. Mr. President, I have an idea for a new slogan that I hope will catch on in a similar way, if only for a few of us who are dreaming a better future when justice is re-installed as a pillar of society.