In a speech interrupted by frequent heckling, President Obama today made a bold and daring call for America to try to adhere to age-old concepts of "law" and "basic human rights" in the amorphous and endless "war on terror." But might treating people "decently" threaten Our Freedoms?
We have been enthusiastic about pointing out how disappointing the Obama administration's conduct of the "war on terror" has been, from drone strikes to the black hole of Guantanamo Bay. The president of Hope and Change has largely, disappointingly, continued (and enlarged) the Bush administration's sprawling, unaccountable global security state, perpetuating many more of its outrages than might have been expected on election night of 2008. So let us give credit to Barack Obama: today, he said a lot of shit that really made sense.
He noted that terrorism after 9/11 is not really of a different nature from terrorism before 9/11. He included acts by non-Muslims (the Oklahoma City bombing, for example) in a list of terrorist acts. He acknowledged the self-defeating nature of a strategy of using violence to fight terrorism. He, in short, tried to bring a general sense of proportion to the generally insane "war on terror."
His specific recommendations included a new set of standards for drone strikes mandating that "before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured"— clearly a higher standard than the U.S. has been using up to now. Not as good as, you know, promising not to assassinate U.S. citizens without a trial, but a step in the right direction. He made vague references to "privacy protections to prevent abuse" when it comes to the NSA's monitoring of virtually all communications. Nice idea, but hard to find very reassuring. He called for a media shield law, to protect journalists from the predations of his own Justice Department. And, in a move both symbolic and significant, he vowed to "refine, and ultimately repeal" the Authorization to Use Military Force that was passed in the wake of 9/11, and which has undergirded the entire "war on terror" ever since.
As President, I have tried to close GTMO. I transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries, or imprisoning them in the United States. These restrictions make no sense. After all, under President Bush, some 530 detainees were transferred from GTMO with Congress’s support. When I ran for President the first time, John McCain supported closing GTMO. No person has ever escaped from one of our super-max or military prisons in the United States. Our courts have convicted hundreds of people for terrorism-related offenses, including some who are more dangerous than most GTMO detainees. Given my Administration’s relentless pursuit of al Qaeda’s leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened...
I know the politics are hard. But history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism, and those of us who fail to end it. Imagine a future – ten years from now, or twenty years from now – when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country. Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? Is that something that our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?
Yes: detaining people in a legal black hole indefinitely until they all try to starve themselves to death is bad. Guantanamo was a bad idea in the first place. At least we know that Obama has a conscience about these things.
But are America's normal fortress-like prisons ready to hold terrorists with their killer secret terror magic— in the same state where your children sleep? At night? Your Republican congressperson may not think so.