Amnesty chief: At the rate Obama is going, it will take us 65 years to close Guantanamo

Kate Allen

Kate Allen

Last week saw the 100-day point in Barack Obama's historic Presidency and it's time to ask: how is he doing?

Leaving aside the froth such as Barack's BlackBerry and Michelle Obama's wardrobe, the two defining issues so far are the global economy and international security. On the former it's fair to say the crisis is not going to be sorted out by a new President in a few weeks. But on security, especially in the face of the continuing threat of international terrorism, things are quite different.

An exit strategy for Iraq has been announced, more troops are headed for Afghanistan, Guantanamo will close within a year and secret 'black site' CIA prisons will shut immediately. Crucially, detainees will no longer face waterboarding or other 'enhanced interrogation' techniques such as prolonged sleep deprivation.

Barack Obama

Promises, promises: Barack Obama on the campaign trail in the run-up to his election

Amnesty International and others cheered this break with what Obama himself called a 'dark chapter' in America's recent history.

It didn't end there. After nearly seven years' detention without trial, Binyam Mohamed was released from Guantanamo Bay and returned to Britain.

In this newspaper, Mr Mohamed described in disturbing detail an ordeal that saw him detained and allegedly tortured in Pakistan, and then questioned but not helped by MI5 agents, who apparently connived in his secret removal to Morocco to face barbaric torture and hellish captivity.

It's a harrowing story and a chilling insight into the reality of the War On Terror.

Now, of course, we've had the disclosure of previously classified US Justice Department memos informing CIA officers about how far they could go in interrogation sessions.

In practice, we now know, they could go very far indeed, and Obama has made history by allowing these damning documents to be seen by the world.

So, significant progress on several fronts. But this is not the whole story. As Amnesty will report next week, a fuller assessment of the Obama Administration so far throws up some very worrying findings.

Take Guantanamo. This travesty of justice, which has so harmed America's standing in the world and achieved so little, is far from finished. Apart from Binyam Mohamed, not a single prisoner there has been brought out of limbo since Obama took office.

Guantanamo Bay

'Dark chapter': But Guantanamo Bay, pictured in 2002 at the height of America's war on terror, is still in operation

It's taken three months to resolve the situation of one detainee out of 240. At this rate, it will take another 65 years to clear the camp.

Meanwhile, despite signs of a new willingness to tackle at least some of the poisonous legacy of arbitrary detention, torture memos and abuse, the Obama government has blocked all attempts by former victims of illegal detention who've sought to bring to book a Boeing subsidiary company for illegally flying them between prisons as part of the CIA's shadowy 'extraordinary rendition' programme.

And it doesn't end there. Earlier this month, White House lawyers sought to stop more than 500 prisoners held at a US-run prison at Bagram in Afghanistan from being able to challenge their indefinite detention - an incarceration totally devoid of either charges or trials.

Bagram, nicknamed the Afghan Guantanamo, has a fearsome reputation, with conditions reported to be far worse than those at the Cuban site. Several inmates have died in custody, apparently after sustained torture.

So how does all this square with the stirring sentiments in Obama's inauguration speech in January?

Binyam Mohamed

Released: Binyam Mohamed is the only prisoner freed from Guantanamo since Obama took office

'We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,' he said. But isn't it precisely this false choice that's still being made in the name of providing 'security'?

Obama talked glowingly about not sacrificing the values of America's founding fathers 'for expedience's sake', but has then put his seal on global detention policies that are doing exactly that. Where are the 'rule of law and the rights of man' to be found at Bagram?

During the election, Obama ran on a 'change' ticket. In many ways change has come: in tone, delivery and policies. There's been new thinking on stem-cell research, on the dangers of global warming and on engaging with countries such as Cuba and Venezuela.

On tackling international terrorism, but doing so within the framework of international law, Obama's government has made an auspicious start.

The danger now is of quiet reversal to Bush-era behaviour, defying those who would much rather have America leading by example than apeing the behaviour of repressive countries.

Meanwhile, there's an interesting irony to be extracted from the battle by Binyam Mohamed to get our Government to release documents on his detention and mistreatment.

Last week, the High Court heard claims that the Foreign Office had deliberately misrepresented the Obama administration's views, disingenuously implying that the new American government agreed with the old Bush government in opposing the release of documents in his case.

On what does the Foreign Office base this claim? Actually, nothing at all, say Binyam's lawyers. They're just assuming it. They haven't even asked the Obama team what they think on this crucial case.

Or, more worryingly, do the mandarins of the Foreign Office know something about the way the wind is blowing as Obama seeks to show the world he cares about security and human rights?