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I was truly inspired by Obama when he emerged on the national political scene as a presidential candidate promising real hope and change. Healthcare reform, increased transparency, ending the war in Iraq, limiting the influence of special interest groups, ending the use of torture, closing Guantanamo Bay, cutting the deficit, and revising the Patriot Act; the complete opposite of what George Bush seemed to represent. Obama once stated, “transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.” I couldn’t wait for him to take action.
Unfortunately, the sad truth of the matter is that Obama not only broke a great deal of his critical campaign promises, but also escalated the Bush-era War on Terror. Many of Obama’s policies – from the use of extraordinary rendition, targeted killings and state secrets to indefinite detention and domestic spying – have become nearly indistinguishable from those of the Bush Administration.
Not only did Obama continue Bush’s illegal war in Afghanistan, he drastically escalated it by sending 68,000 more troops to the front line. The Obama Administration and the media are reporting that troops will be withdrawn by 2014, but this appears to be inaccurate. In a secret meeting between Obama and Afghanistan President Karzai, it was agreed that the US will keep troops there until at least 2024.
Obama campaigned heavily on ending the other illegal war started by Bush, the war in Iraq. He did well by removing most of our troops, but reports indicate US special operations units have redeployed to Iraq, and an additional 5,000 contracted mercenaries are stationed in Iraq.
Moving on to Obama’s own illegal war in Libya which was not approved, but specifically denied by Congress and explicitly prohibited under the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973. Obama ignored Congress and initiated a bombing campaign along with a deployment of troops. In an article published in Foreign Policy, Yale Law Professor Bruce Ackerman wrote, “In taking the country into a war with Libya, Barack Obama’s administration is breaking new ground in its construction of an imperial presidency,” stating further, “Make no mistake: Obama is breaking new ground, moving decisively beyond his predecessors.”
In a speech given shortly after the Libyan intervention began, Obama clarified his intentions. “Of course, there is no question that Libya – and the world – would be better off with Gaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.”
Regime change quickly became the goal, with US led NATO repeatedly attempting to kill Muammar Gaddafi through the use of targeted bombing. Airstrikes killed Gaddifi’s youngest son, who was 29, and two of his grandchildren who were reportedly younger than 12.
Ackerman continued, “History will say that the War Powers Act was condemned to a quiet death by a president who had solemnly pledged, on the campaign trail, to put an end to indiscriminate war making.”
It may be worth noting that under Gaddafi, Libyans were afforded free healthcare, education, financial assistance for housing and university, access to clean free water and the country remained debt free. Literacy and homelessness had nearly been wiped out and Libya’s Human Development Index for 2010 was the highest in Africa and higher than that of Saudi Arabia.
In another attempted regime change, Obama authorized the CIA to support the Syrian rebels and their Free Syrian Army, who are fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Many reports indicate that factions of al-Qaeda have merged with these rebel groups who are receiving direct US aid. A recent report by McClatchy Newspapers claims the Obama Administration cleared the way for US residents to provide money to the Syrian rebels, through donations to a US based non-profit group, which is intended to be sent to Syria for the rebels to purchase weapons.
While Bush favored the capture and indefinite detention of suspects, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (otherwise known as drones) are Obama’s go to weapon in the War on Terror. Drone use began under Bush and greatly increased under Obama, with drone related deaths sharply rising. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that since 2004, drone deaths in Pakistan total between 2,583 and 3,378, including between 475 and 885 civilian and 176 children. Since 2002, deaths in Yemen are reported to be between 365 and 1,055, with between 60 and 163 civilian deaths. Deaths in Somalia, since 2007, have been reported to be between 58 and 170, with between 11 and 57 civilians killed. Drone death numbers may vary because, as the New York Times reports, the Obama Administration has continued the Bush Administration’s policy of “redefining civilians.”
“Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It, in effect, counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent,” reports the New York Times.
According to one study completed by Pew Research Center, the use of drones in Pakistan has resulted in 74 percent of Pakistanis viewing the US as an enemy.
In an unprecedented move not even attempted by Bush, Obama authorized the targeted killing of three American citizens, two who were minors. Reported al-Qaeda member and cleric Anwar Al Awaki, his 16 year old son and 17 year old nephew were killed through the use of targeted drone strikes. Obama told colleagues that this decision was “an easy one.” We learned from Guantanamo that many suspected terrorists were not actually terrorists and were eventually released with no charges. Everyone deserves a trial, no matter how harsh the crime committed. Extrajudicial drone deaths are nothing more than state sponsored murder.
Amendment Six of the U.S. Constitution states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”
Obama campaigned heavily in 2008 on closing Guantanamo Bay, which he has failed to do. One may argue that this was due to bipartisan blocking of funds needed to transfer and house the prisoners elsewhere, which may be true to some extent, but the bottom line is that Obama allowed this to happen and didn’t make much of an effort to prevent it. One would think that Obama would attempt to appeal to the American public and even pressure lawmakers himself to ease their opposition. When the fund-blocking bill arrived at Obama’s desk to sign, he did not veto the bill as he could have, he signed it into law, indicating his disapproval through a presidential signing statement.
If this isn’t enough, the Obama Administration recently imposed new arbitrary rules on Guantanamo prisoners who already lost their first habeas corpus challenge. The new rules eliminate the right for a lawyer to visit their clients at the facility.
As Glenn Greenwald reported, the move to close Guantanamo was a symbolic gesture more than anything else and closing Guantanamo wasn’t the real issue at stake. The Obama Administration wasn’t planning on ending the use of indefinite detention without trial, they were simply hoping to relocate the prisoners to a facility in Illinois. The administration explicitly indicated they would continue indefinite detention without prosecution.
Transparency was one of Obama’s key 2008 campaign promises and on his first day as president he promised to “usher in a new era of open government.” On the campaign trail, Obama was quick to criticize Bush’s record of invoking the “state secret” privilege to avoid disclosing certain facts. Once elected, Obama went back on his transparency promise and invoked the state secret clause on numerous occasions. As Los Angeles Times explains, “if the government doesn’t want to admit the existence of a document it believes to be exempt from FOIA, it may advise the person making the request that it can neither confirm nor deny the document’s existence. Under the proposed regulation, an agency that withholds a document will respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist.”
Bloomberg reports that upon their FOIA requests for cabinet-level agency travel information, 19 of 20 agencies broke the law and failed to supply the requested information.
Former terror suspects who were captured and tortured by the CIA are now free and seeking justice against the U.S. government. Some have tried to file lawsuits but Obama has invoked his state secret privilege, and the courts ruled that such a lawsuit could expose state secrets.
President Obama even created a secret kill list which he placed himself personally in charge of.
While campaigning in 2008 Obama famously said, “We only know crimes took place because insiders blew the whistle at great personal risk … Government whistleblowers are part of a healthy democracy and must be protected from reprisal.”
But The Obama Administration has prosecuted more journalists and whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all other presidents combined. The inhumane treatment of U.S. army whistleblower Bradley Manning, who is responsible for leaking massive amounts of U.S. military and diplomatic information, is a prime example of Obama’s crackdown on whistleblowers. Bradley Manning has been detained for over 845 days – 11 months spent in solitary – with no trial, which is required by the U.S. military to take place within 120 days. According to The Guardian, “The UN special rapporteur on torture has formally accused the U.S. government of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.”
Former NSA senior executive Thomas Drake was also indicted under the Espionage Act in April 2010, accused of sneaking classified documents out of NSA headquarters and attempting to leak government secrets to a Baltimore Sun reporter. Drake was additionally charged with obstructing justice and lying to federal law enforcement agents, and if convicted he could serve up to 30 years.
Obama isn’t only prosecuting a record number of journalists and whistleblowers, he is bragging about it too.
Jennifer Lynch, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a citizen rights advocacy group, told Washington Times, “If anything, the Obama administration is less transparent than prior administrations.”
This brings us to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012, which includes provisions critics say allow for the indefinite detention of American citizens in military custody without due process. Obama once threatened to veto the NDAA if it reached his desk with the unconstitutional detention clauses included, but went back on his word and signed it anyway. Instead of vetoing the bill, he decided to include a signing statement suggesting that he won’t use the provision on American citizens.
A group of seven journalists, activists and thinkers sued Obama over the provision and received an injunction – essentially labeling it unconstitutional. The Obama Administration then challenged the ruling and it was overturned, which will remain until the appeals court has made a decision. As of now, according to the NDAA, the U.S. military has the right to indefinitely detain, without due process, any American citizen who is thought to be involved in terrorist activities.
The Patriot Act was famously passed by the Bush Administration after 9/11 and includes provisions allowing for warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, which have been repeatedly ruled unconstitutional. The Patriot Act also permits law enforcement agencies to obtain “sneak and peek” search warrants. According to the ACLU, these allow the government to essentially break into your residence without your knowledge, only notifying you after the fact, and take pictures, seize objects and electronic communications. Obama campaigned on promises to reform provisions of the Patriot Act, but when the one-year extension came to vote, instead of objecting or offering reforms, Obama asked Congress for an additional three year extension.
Obama assured Americans that he would end the use of torture on suspected terrorists. He did manage to shut down CIA “black site“ prisons located around the world, which were notorious for their use of torture. Instead he decided to outsource detainees to countries where they will be detained and interrogated by foreign governments who are known for their brutal interrogations. This practice, known as extraordinary rendition, is described by critics as kidnapping and has carried over from the Bush-era. In fact, the Obama Administration granted final immunity to Bush’s CIA torturers and refused to prosecute any others involved in the CIA interrogations.
One more promise broken was that to impose tougher rules on lobbyists and their revolving door policies — of course there are always the loopholes. One example is Obama’s nomination of former Raytheon lobbyist William J. Lynn as deputy defense secretary. Raytheon is one of the largest defense contractors and weapons producers in the United States. Obama also receives campaign contributions from lobbyists through the use of SuperPACs and, on at least two occasions, has received money directly from lobbying agencies; two checks at $50,000 each. The New York Times reports Obama received at least $5 million from lobbyist “bundlers,” including $500,000 from an executive at the drug-maker Pfzier, and a $500,000 donation from a top Comcast lobbyist.