Civil Rights / Politics / War

Secrecy, Drones, Prisons, Kill Lists: Obama’s Legacy

On Monday, the Associated Press revealed that the Department of Justice used subpoenas to obtain phone records of its editors and reporters from April and May 2012. The records were obtained due to the investigation and supposed leak to the AP last year that the CIA had “thwarted an ambitious plot by al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner using a bomb with a sophisticated new design around the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.” The AP report, published on May 7, 2012, cites unnamed officials as sources. The piece also notes that AP had received information regarding the thwarted plot the week previous to publishing, but had agreed per requests by the White House and the CIA to hold the information because the “sensitive intelligence operation” was still in progress. Once officials said that those concerns were put to rest, the AP published the story.

The story was co-written by reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman along with contributions from Kimberly Dozier, Eileen Sullivan and Alan Fram. They, along with their editor, Ted Bridis, had both their personal and work phone records seized from April-May 2012, in addition to general AP office numbers.

But who could be surprised? From the very start of Obama’s presidency, he and his administration have managed to take the Bush-era attack on civil liberties and not just continue them, but in many cases, significantly expand them (Lena Groeger and Cora Currier of ProPublica have created a fantastic interactive list here). The AP phone records story, while certainly significant, is not the first time the Obama administration has acted above the law. Glenn Greenwald wrote for a piece in The Guardian,

“And then there are the two War on Terror presidents. George Bush seized on the 9/11 attack to usher in radical new surveillance and detention powers in the PATRIOT ACT, spied for years on the communications of US citizens without the warrants required by law, and claimed the power to indefinitely imprison even US citizens without charges in military brigs.

His successor, Barack Obama, went further by claiming the power not merely to detain citizens without judicial review but to assassinate them…He has waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, dusting off Wilson’s Espionage Act of 1917 to prosecute more than double the number of whistleblowers than all prior presidents combined. And he has draped his actions with at least as much secrecy, if not more so, than any president in US history.”

What is clear is that Obama’s legacy is shaping up to be one rife with assaults on civil liberties, government secrecy, and broken promises. Here are my top ten:

  1. National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA: Signed into law by Obama, it authorizes the U.S. government to carry out “counter-terrorism” domestically and detain INDEFINITELY and WITHOUT TRIAL any U.S. citizen who is suspected of any sort of suspicious activity that could be deemed terrorism or supporting terrorism. And what’s more, these U.S. citizens could be shipped to one of our extraordinary rendition sites across the globe – sites like Guantánamo Bay.
  2. Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan: Both U.S. citizens. Both killed in Yemen by a U.S. drone strike on September 30th, 2011. Anwar al-Awlaki was specifically targeted on Obama’s kill list. Neither was officially charged. Neither given a trial. Neither convicted of any crime.
  3. Abdulrahman al-Awlaki: Just two weeks after al-Awlaki and Khan were killed, al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, was also killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen. Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary and a senior adviser to Obama during his reelection campaign said, when asked about the boy’s killing, that he “should have a far more responsible father.”
  4.  Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA):  In 2008, then-Senator Obama voted for FISA, which allows for warrantless wiretapping of international communications by the NSA. In December of 2012, Obama extended it for another five years.
  5. Patriot Act: In May, 2011, Obama renewed much of the Patriot Act, including wiretaps and the “lone wolf” provision which allows government surveillance of individuals even if they are not known to be affiliated with a terrorist organization.
  6. Drone Strikes: During Bush’s presidency, there were about 45 drone strikes in Pakistan. During Obama’s first year as president, there were 53. Under Obama’s presidency, drone strikes also expanded to Yemen. Additionally, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration, “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.”
  7. Whistleblowers: The Obama administration has charged more people under the Espionage Act than all past presidents…combined. Six have been charged under the law thus far: Thomas Drake, former senior executive at the NSA, Shamai K. Leibowitz, former FBI translator, Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a nuclear proliferation specialist, former CIA agent John Kiriakou, Jeffrey Sterling, former CIA officer, and…
  8. Bradley Manning: Pfc Bradley Manning, the sixth in the list of those charged under the Espionage Act, has now spent over three years in jail without trial for releasing classified documents to the website Wikileaks. The documents he released exposed lies and corruption by U.S. government officials, killings of civilians, torture in Iraq, drone strike cover-ups, and abuse of children by U.S. government contractors abroad. They included the  Collateral Murder video, showing a U.S. Apache helicopter gunning down over a dozen people in Baghdad in 2007, including civilians and two Reuter’s employees, photojournalist Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver Saeed Chmagh. Also released were the Iraq War Logs, chronicling reports from 2004-2009 of thousands of cases of prisoner torture and abuse filed against coalition forces in Iraq. The reports include gruesome description of people being whipped with cables, sexually assaulted, urinated on, and hung from the ceiling on hooks. In addition, the War Logs added 15,000 civilian deaths to the known body count, totalling over 150,000 people, of which about 80% were civilian.
  9. Spying on Muslim Communities: Under the Obama administration, the NYPD and the CIA have joined together to spy on communities of Muslims in the U.S. using “human mapping” or racial and religious profiling, and in 2011, AP reported the use of “mosque crawlers” or informants used to monitor sermons and other areas where groups of Muslims are known to frequent.
  10. Guantánamo Bay: During Obama’s first campaign for the presidency, he promised to close down Guantánamo Bay, a promise he quickly abandoned. Now, further controversy is surrounding the prison as prisoners, some who have been detained for over a decade and many who have even been cleared for release, have gone on hunger strike. Of the 166 prisoners at Guantánamo, at least 130 are refusing to eat as part of a hunger strike that began this February. At least 20 prisoners are being force-fed, which the United Nations Human Rights Commission considers torture. 

This list is by no means exhaustive. I didn’t mention the 11th anniversary that occurred last October of Operation Enduring Freedom, marking over a decade of involvement in Afghanistan. I didn’t mention the past six years of fighting terror in Somalia. I didn’t mention that we have been dropping drones on Pakistan for the past nine years. Then of course, there is the War on Drugs in Latin America – a war that we have been waging to no end for decades, costing the U.S. billions of dollars and an untold number of lives. I didn’t mention that we are militarily involved in an estimated 60% of the world’s nations. I didn’t mention Obama’s record deportations of illegal immigrants that far exceeds the Bush-era deportations. And these things will continue because we ignore them. The right is distracted by the government “coming for their guns.” The left is complacent because a Democrat is in office. Meanwhile, our government continues to act as if it is above the rule of law. If Obama’s legacy is one of secrecy, egregious assaults on civil liberties, and drone strikes around the world, our legacy is one of ignorance, stupidity and complacency. I’m still not sure which is worse.

Also published on Raging Chicken Press and CounterPunch.

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19 thoughts on “Secrecy, Drones, Prisons, Kill Lists: Obama’s Legacy

  1. What are we gonna do about it? Give him more ‘demerits’? Who cares about him, he’s actually a strawman – a nihiist, corporate lawyer whose only attraction is the ability to lie with a straight face shamelessly and repeatedly, no matter what.

    What are we gonna do about it? I think we need a minimal set of requirements that must be met and the organization to eliminate everyone holding a national elected office until they are met.

    My suggestion is to Roll-Back and Re-Do The 21st Century :

    repeal the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF),
    repeal the PATRIOT Act, and
    elect a citizens’ committee to get to the bottom of the events of 9/11, patterned on the Challenger commission.

    The idea is to enforce a small number of core requirements ‘everyone’ can agree upon that will radicley reduce the power of the usg and radicley increase our own, by putting one foot in front of the other until we’ve accomplished same.

  2. The major sea change in media discussions of Obama and civil liberties

    During the Bush years, it was conservatives who supported the Bush DOJ and Alberto Gonzales’ threats against the press on national security grounds; now, defenders of such threats to press freedoms are found almost exclusively from progressive circles (similarly, many of the most vicious and vocal attacks on WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning have come from progressives).

    This is such an under-appreciated but crucial aspect of the Obama legacy.

    • Agreed on all counts. Exactly why I’m putting my energy into another party entirely. Justice Party all around. Sick of this duopoly/corporatocracy. Time for some change.

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