“By claiming that his primary responsibility is to keep us safe, he takes us outside the legal arena and enters the same arbitrary arena in which Bush and Cheney performed with such aplomb.”
Two rival factions of the American Empire are now involved in a public ‘debate’ over how best to break the law and invite the contempt of the other 95% of the globe’s inhabitants.
Former Vice President Cheney basically says stay the course: the more torture (he prefers the euphemism ‘enhanced interrogation’) and wars of aggression (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Gaza), the better. President Obama, on the other hand, has to in some way pacify his ‘limousine liberal’ base without upsetting the Wall Street ‘banksters’, the military industrial complex and other corporate interests who call the tunes for both our political parties.
A week earlier Obama had Cheney agreeing with his (Obama’s) decision to defy a court order and not allow the release of an additional batch of torture photos. Obama’s rationalization was that his generals told him that releasing the photos might enflame Muslim public opinion more than it already is and put our deployed troops in yet more danger from the very people we are fighting to liberate. If the mighty leader of U.S. Empire was interested in what just one citizen thought, here’s what I would tell him. Muslim public opinion is already enflamed against us because of our wars of aggression and torture policies. It’s not the pictures of the torture which is wrong, it’s the torture! Start bringing the troops home now and appoint a special prosecutor to look into holding Bush/Cheney accountable for the illegal wars of aggression and torture. Muslim and world opinion will alike concur that this is the kind of change we can believe in.
Now Obama may be many things, but he is not a dummy. As President of the Harvard Law Review, he was arguably the top law student in the country. As a Constitutional Law professor at the distinguished University of Chicago, he should certainly know the Constitution. This would be the very same University of Chicago which has also given us both the atomic bomb and the economic bomb of neo-liberalism and globalization. The former destroyed two Japanese cities and gave our Empire apologists the ultimate fear card to play time and again when citizens objected to their power grabs across the globe. The latter has destroyed just about every economy on earth with the exception of China.
Obama starts his speech on torture saying that “my single most important responsibility as President is to keep the American people safe”. He’s the Constitutional Law Professor, but I thought his oath was “to protect and defend the Constitution”. By protecting and defending the Constitution, we are kept safe within the framework of our government set up by the ‘Founding Fathers’ and all the subsequent legislation, court rulings and Constitutional Amendments which have followed. By claiming that his primary responsibility is to keep us safe, he takes us outside the legal arena and enters the same arbitrary arena in which Bush and Cheney performed with such aplomb.
“We know that al Qaeda is actively planning to attack us again.” Obama knows this? I don’t. Did tortured detainees scream this out as they were being pummelled and water-boarded? Perhaps this would be a good time to look at why al Qaeda attacked us in the first place. Of course this is based on the assumption that al Qaeda did attack us on 9/11. This may or may not be true. But because the 9/11 Commission was not independent and was composed of establishment figures from our two corporate political parties, we the people have no idea of what actually went down on 9/11. If Obama was actually looking to promote transparency in government, a good place to start would be an actual independent investigation of 9/11. Regarding al Qaeda being behind 9/11, there is also the thorny problem that bin Laden, while cheering the attacks, has never taken credit for them, something that terrorist groups normally do.
When bin Laden declared his jihad on the U.S. he listed three reasons:
1. The lockstep support of the U.S. for Israel and the resulting continued anguish of the stateless Palestinian people;
2. The presence of U.S. troops in the Muslim holy-land of Saudi Arabia;
3. The deaths of a U.N. estimated 500,000 children under the age of five in Iraq as a direct result of the U.S. led economic sanctions against the Iraqi government in the 1990s.
It is also well to remember that before 9/11 most of us had never heard of bin Laden. While that shows the general ignorance of the corporate-media fed American people, it also indicates that pre 9/11 bin Laden did not have huge support in the Mideast. Bin Laden said time and again that he wanted the U.S. to attack a Muslim country. He knew that this would increase his standing in the Muslim world and the Bush/Cheney Administration was happy to comply and attack not just one, but two Muslim countries. Obama, elected with much support from the U.S. peace community, is basically continuing the Bush/Cheney policy in Iraq, has significantly ramped things up in Afghanistan and added a third country, Pakistan, to the mix, with the fourth Iran waiting in the wings.
Is it possible for the U.S. Empire to look at the situation objectively and say that addressing the causes of terrorism might be a good start to eliminating future terrorism? That supporting Israel, without insisting on the internationally acknowledged compromise of an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, is counterproductive to both U.S. and Israeli security? That the people of Saudi Arabia should have a say in who rules their country and propping up a monarchy unresponsive to the Saudi people with U.S. arms and troops is undemocratic? That we were wrong to pursue economic sanctions against Iraq, that resulted in a half million dead Iraqi children? That invading Iraq on a pack of lies, in direct violation of the U.N. Charter was a tragic crime? That invading Afghanistan was also illegal and immoral, based on the fact it was also done without U.N. approval and honest negotiations seeking a non military solution? That we should have taken the Taliban offer to turn over bin Laden to a third country upon receipt of proof from the Bush Administration that he was responsible for the 9/11 attacks?
Obama waxes on about living up to our Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. “Fidelity to our values is the reason why the United States of America grew from a small string of colonies under the writ of an empire to the strongest nation in the world…From Europe to the Pacific, we have been a nation that has shut down torture chambers and replaced tyranny with the rule of law.” He promotes the great American myth that we are the good guys.
Why didn’t Obama the teacher say that we grew from a small string of colonies to the strongest nation in the world on the backs of African slave labor? That his current residence was built with slave labor as were many of our Capitol’s landmark buildings? He could have told us that our young government fresh from its victory over Britain embarked on a campaign of deceit against our First Americans with broken treaty and promise after broken treaty and promise that can only be called genocide. Of course the slavery of Africans and the genocide of the Native Americans was not enough for our bloodthirsty young empire as we fought wars of aggression with Spain, Mexico and the Philippines to expand. Our forefathers’ values were wrapped in the Manifest Destiny that the continent was theirs from the Atlantic to the Pacific and then some.
Fast forward to more recent times and we see wars of aggression with Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. We see our CIA orchestrate and support military coups across the globe in Nicaragua, Chile, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Philippines, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela. He could have told us that the corporate elite who pull the strings of empire wised up after the Vietnam debacle and the unrest in the streets of the U.S. as citizens protested the Vietnam War and both racial and sexual discrimination. Our elite establishment, in the form of the Trilateral Commission, even wrote a book on the subject and called it “The Crisis in Democracy”. Of course the crisis to them was that there was too much democracy and that was a dangerous thing for the elite who rule our country.
He could have talked about our new country allowing only white male property owners the right to vote or hold office. He could have talked about our new country’s treatment of women which was patently worse than the Native Americans’ treatment of their own women. He could have talked about the values our country showed in withholding the voting franchise not only from Africans, Native Americans and women, but also from the vast majority of white males who did not own sufficient property to qualify.
He could have talked about the values enshrined at the Fort Benning, Georgia School of the Americas (now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) where we have trained and schooled our neighbors to the South in death squads, torture and intimidation of their people. He could have talked about the brutality inflicted upon the Vietnamese people by our military and civilian command which contaminated fully 10% of the entire country with the toxic dioxin Agent Orange. He could have talked about the 2-5 million dead Vietnamese or the 1 dead million Iraqis. He could have talked about the use of ‘depleted uranium’ in Afghanistan and Iraq – the risk of cancer we are subjecting the civilian populations and our own troops to.
A good statement summing up U.S. values was issued by U.S. Commanding General William Shafter in the Philippines “It may be necessary to kill half of the Filipinos in order that the remaining half of the population may be advanced to a higher plane of life than their present semi-barbarous state affords.” The good general overestimated, we only had to kill about a million.
Obama’s claims that it is necessary for him to throw away more than 800 years of precedent dating back to the Magna Carta as he plans on continuing the Bush suspension of habeas corpus with regards to prisoners held captive in the so called “War on Terror”. He plans on civilian trials for a few (I am assuming there are a few we actually have evidence against), releasing some to their native countries (for God only knows what kind of treatment), military commissions trials for others (our courts have ruled such commission unconstitutional and one can only hope that Obama will not allow information obtained by torture as admissible and will allow the defense to actually see the prosecutions evidence, neither of which was allowed with the original military commissions). That just leaves those with no evidence against them and Obama claims the authority to hold them indefinitely in limbo without charges filed and zero habeas corpus rights. Bear in mind some of them have been jailed for almost 8 years. We have already released about 500 and the Pentagon says 74 or about 1 in 7 of those released have returned to “the battlefield” against us. For these individuals to return to the battlefield against us, means that they were originally in the battlefield. If this was true, does anyone think that Bush/Cheney would have released them to make America less safe? Isn’t it more likely that the majority of those released were not captured on any battlefield, but were innocents turned in by neighbors with a grudge for the $5,000 bounty we offered? That even the most innocent amongst them, after being subjected to up to 7 years of confinement and torture courtesy of the U.S., might be tempted to take up arms against those who had falsely imprisoned them?
Obama is right. These are our historic American values. Obama is doing nothing to change them, what are you as a citizen doing?
Nick is a Vietnam veteran and member of Veterans For Peace. He has been actively protesting our government's crimes of empire in both person and print for some years now and was named "Citizen of the Year" for Northwest Indiana in 2006 for his anti war/peace efforts by the National Association of Social Workers.