The smell of bird shit seemed perpetually fresh, there were so many doves. As late as 2009, talk of impeachment proceedings for the previous President’s malfeasance remained more than a figment in the political consciousness of many Americans. After all, the preceding eight years had seen an unforeseen concentration of executive power, and with it, the proliferation of warfare abroad.
President George W. Bush had no qualms about using his proverbial sword at the dismay of many, most notably the American Left. In the years following the September 11 Attacks, liberals seethed in anger over the lies that fueled the War in Iraq, and the paternalistic repercussions that ensued at home. Many welcomed impeachment proceedings for alleged war crimes. The PATRIOT Act became a pestle to a decaying Constitution, rendering the Fourth Amendment a mere gimmick in the years to come and paving the way for such controversial measures as New York City’s “Stop and Frisk” program. The holding of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay became a symbol for violations of international statutes on torture, and American Muslims came under a McCarthy-like wave of suspicion, leading to prejudice and profiling from fellow citizens.
So popular was this antiwar sentiment and the clamoring for the restoration of civil liberties among the Left, that the Democratic Party would make it a plank on its 2008 platform.
We support constitutional protections and judicial oversight on any surveillance program involving Americans. We will review the current Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. We reject illegal wiretapping of American citizens, wherever they live.
We reject the use of national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. We reject the tracking of citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. We reject torture. We reject sweeping claims of “inherent” presidential power. We will revisit the Patriot Act and overturn unconstitutional executive decisions issued during the past eight years. We will not use signing statements to nullify or undermine duly enacted law. And we will ensure that law-abiding Americans of any origin, including Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans, do not become the scapegoats of national security fears.
We believe that our Constitution, our courts, our institutions, and our traditions work.
In its operations overseas, while claiming to spread freedom throughout the world, the current Administration has tragically helped give rise to a new generation of potential adversaries who threaten to make America less secure. We will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools to hunt down and take out terrorists without undermining our Constitution, our freedom, and our privacy.
To build a freer and safer world, we will lead in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people. We will not ship away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, or detain without trial or charge prisoners who can and should be brought to justice for their crimes, or maintain a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law. We will respect the time-honored principle of habeas corpus, the seven century-old right of individuals to challenge the terms of their own detention that was recently reaffirmed by our Supreme Court. We will close the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, the location of so many of the worst constitutional abuses in recent years.
What has ensued since Barack Obama’s victory isn’t the simple smattering of broken promises or the occasional mistake. Rather, it’s a complete reversal from positions held during his 2008 campaign. As head of the executive branch, Mr. Obama has fostered a paranoid, super-secretive White House, building upon the dark and destructive record of his predecessor. At best, his record on civil liberties and national security is incredibly worrisome.
The assassination of American citizens without due process, secret kill lists, indefinite detention, an unprecedented war on whistleblowers and furthering the dehumanization of war vis-à-vis drones, are just some of characteristics of Barack Obama’s Administration, which surpasses its predecessor in the art of state-sponsored sadism.
The Murder of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki
Many of the President’s strongest supporters remain unaware of the tragic story of American citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was 16-years-old when he was killed by a drone strike in Yemen during October of 2011.
Months before, the teenager’s grandfather — Nasser al-Awlaki — filed a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), questioning the government’s authority to kill Americans citizens without the right to a trial. Nasser feared for the life of his son, Abdulrahman’s father, Anwar al-Awlaki, a onetime engineer in New Mexico before his status as a radical Islamist cleric and al-Qaeda operative.
Among other things, the ACLU accused the U.S. Government of violating the Fifth Amendment, which states that no American shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
The senior al-Awlaki’s attempts to challenge the government proved futile, and on September 30, 2011, Nasser’s nightmare became a reality. His son, and fellow American Samir Khan, were killed by a drone strike. Former Chief of Staff William Daley recalls Obama’s decision to extend his kill list to American citizens such as Anwar al-Awlaki as an “easy one.”
Within two weeks, Nasser would have to re-live a similar, albeit completely unexpected scenario.
Unmanned drones assailed the southern region of Yemen on the night of October 14, 2011. They would kill dozens of innocents, including Nasser’s grandson, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was playing in the streets with friends that fateful evening.
The Obama Administration’s killing of a teenager, one who had never been accused of any crime — one who had not seen his father in two years since the latter went into hiding — sparked minimal outrage stateside.
Little was made of the young al-Awlaki’s murder in the media and even less by the Obama Administration. To date, Abdulrahman’s death has yet to be acknowledged by Barack Obama. The President has also decided to keep the reasons for both al-Awlaki executions a state secret.
The government officials who have commented on the teenager’s death, have assured it was a mistake, though for the time being, we’ll never know.
Observers may note that the teenager’s death, as tragic as it was, is collateral damage that arises from the rigors of combating global terrorism.
But the young al-Awlaki is hardly the first, nor the final casualty of President Obama’s bloodlusting obsession with remote-control bombing.
Episode II: Attack of the Drones
In January of this year, the President took a bold step in revealing the once-covert drone war in Northwest Pakistan.
But even upon this admission, the White House has taken the position that, in court, due to the secretive nature of the Pakistan operation, it can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the drone attacks. This ridiculous maneuvering has waived Obama from having to comply with judicial review or any Freedom of Information Act requests, because doing so would supposedly threaten national security.
It’s Bush on steroids.
The claim the President would make minutes after is equally interesting, however. “I want to make sure people understand actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties,” Obama told viewers of an hour-long Google+ forum.
While the Obama Administration stashes the drone program alongside Schrodinger’s Cat, a recently released joint effort by the New York University School of Law’s Global Justice Clinic and Stanford Law School’s International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic suggests otherwise.
In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the U.S. safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts.
This narrative is false.
These chilling statements serve as a dark atrium for the disturbing data inside the NYU/Stanford report, entitled “Living Under Drones.” The research indicates that a mere 2 percent of all drone strike victims in Pakistan have been “high level” targets. The dead consist of hundreds of civilians, including 176 children. The study notes thousands of injured, as well.
In their nine months documenting Obama’s drone attacks, the NYU/Stanford team has revealed the horror incurred by civilians on the ground.
U.S. drone strike policies cause considerable and under-accounted-for harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury. Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.
“Living Under Drones” also reveals instances of the U.S. Military striking the same area multiple times, intentionally killing rescuers and humanitarian workers, as well as an unwillingness to assist injured victims.
The report concludes that evidence of Pakistani drone attacks having made the U.S. safer is “ambiguous at the best.”
There has been no statement from the White House regarding the new figures, and the government has maintained that the civilian death toll in Pakistan is “zero” or in the “single digits.”
A United Nations expert on humanitarian law has deemed some of Obama’s drone strikes in Pakistan a violation of international law and labeled the attacks “war crimes.”
Will liberal critics and protesters gather en masse to demand that a President responsible for the deaths of innocents be brought to justice, as they did when there was an (R) beside his name?
An October 23, 2012 report indicates that France will send drones to the West African nation of Mali, and suggests America may follow.
What happens when well-intentioned individuals attempt to shine a media spotlight on government abuse and fraud?
“[O]ften the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out,” said Obama. “Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled.”
In reality, the White House’s sanctions on whistleblowers and journalists are unprecedented in the course of American history. The growing secrecy that shrouds his administration makes Richard Nixon appear like Julian Assange’s number-one fan.
Armed house raids and mass polygraph testing are both components of Team Obama’s culture of isolation and intimidation. Anybody who doesn’t play by team rules is dealt with appropriately.
“Intelligence community employees with mortgages and mouths to feed no doubt get the message,” explains Jesselyn Radack, writing for Salon.
And if they don’t get the message, the White House has little trouble finding out. As reported by McClatchy, the National Reconnaissance Office — America’s secretive spy satellite agency — is subjecting thousands of employees and job applicants to polygraph tests.
“In the Pentagon alone, almost 46,000 national security polygraphs are ordered each year,” McClatchy notes, adding that the figure is a five-fold increase from 2002. Any polygraphers who fail to cooperate with government orders are “punished or criminally prosecuted as leakers.”
Among the whistleblowers who have incurred the Obama Administration’s wrath is a former Senior Executive of the National Security Administration, Tom Drake.
When he exposed the fact that a contractor was paid $1.2 billion for a new NSA spy program that could have been built in-house for a mere $3 million, the agency raided Drake’s home at gunpoint and immediately dismissed him from his post.
The government convinced themselves I was a bad guy, an enemy of the state, and went after me with everything they had seeking to destroy my life, my livelihood and my person — the politics of personal destruction, while also engaging in abject, cutthroat character assassination and complete fabrication and frame up.
That’s how Drake recounts the affair, which strained his marriage, landing him blacklisted and bankrupt.
While Drake won his case against the Justice Department (whose prosecutor unsuccessfully insisted on fining Drake $50,000 after the “not guilty” verdict), he was down hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyer’s fees and a retirement package.
CIA agent John Kiriakou worked for the intelligence community for almost 15 years, notorious for surviving an assassination attempt, as well as being the first CIA officer to label waterboarding as “torture.”
Today, he faces up to 50 years in prison for revealing secrets concerning CIA torture methods. The government information leaked by Kiriakou was originally kept secret from defense attorneys representing Guantanamo detainees — a highly illegal move by the government to begin with.
But rather than investigate the government’s withholding of information that may have proved exculpatory for the detainees, and the approximately 70 names and 25 photos of the detainees’ alleged torturers, the federal inquiry focused solely on Kiriakou and his punishment.
Kiriakou has already shelled out tens of thousands in attorney fees, and is having trouble raising the projected $1 million he will need for an adequate defense. His wife, also a CIA employee, was fired almost immediately after the feds pursued Kiriakou. She received the news while on maternity leave.
Perhaps the most notorious whistleblower of the Obama era is Bradley Manning. The former Army intelligence analyst leaked a Defense Department video showing a U.S. helicopter shooting journalists in Baghdad, along with years worth of diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, revealing serious corruption and embarrassing diplomatic exchanges by the U.S. and regimes around the world.
The jailed Manning currently awaits his fate. If charged under the Espionage Act, he’ll face the remainder of his life in prison.
In fact, the Obama Administration has already charged six government officials under the Espionage Act for allegedly leaking classified information. That number is twice as many cases as all previous presidents — combined.
The three examples are far from the only casualties of Obama’s war on whistleblowers, but arguably the most notable. Peter van Buren has more names, if you’re interested.
Two Sets of Rules
Equally sickening are the methods the White House has used to justify classified leaks when politically advantageous.
While waging their war on whistleblowers, the President’s administration has been suspected of leaking politically convenient security secrets of their own and parading the contents, portraying Mr. Obama in a bold and heroic light.
The President’s administration has continuously asserted that it’s precisely these types of secrets that are so sensitive, they’re unable confirm or deny their existence.
It’s the epitome of hypocrisy.
“Any suggestion that this administration has authorized intentional leaks of classified information for political gain is grossly irresponsible,” responded White House spokesman Jay Carney, when the question came up.
If this sudden stroke of positive press simply dropped into Obama’s lap, it’s one helluva coincidence. Glenn Greenwald, now with The Guardian, has labeled several curious instances of White House-friendly stories arising from thin air.
USA Today highlights Obama’s prowess as Commander-in-Chief from leaks detailing drone attacks that have killed prominent al-Qaeda members in the covert Pakistan operation, which “may or may not exist.”
In other newspapers, anonymous tips based on classified information become top stories. The administration boasts about cyber-attacks on Iran’s nuclear program and the President’s role in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
In fact, the White House seems bent on propagandizing the convenient leaks.
In August 2011, Maureen Dowd reported on a meeting between top administration officials and Sony Pictures Inc., who was provided with high-level classified information detailing the bin Laden raid according to sources. A film, based on the raid, was slated for an October 2012 release, but has suffered delays.
When The New York Times profiled Obama’s evolution on foreign policy back in May, three dozen current and former advisors delivered detailed information about the President’s kill list, along with the killings of high-level combatants, such as Anwar al-Awlaki.
Curiously, any mention of Anwar’s son is absent from the Times’ recap, which reads more like a carefully orchestrated public relations operation.
While the available information suggests a complicit White House, let’s suppose for the sake of argument that Carney’s flat-out denial is true.
As Greenwald posits, this would mean that all leaks thus far have been unauthorized and worthy of large-scale criminal investigations from the Department of Justice.
Why haven’t the three dozen advisors who spoke to The New York Times been hunted down? What about the “senior administration official” who lauded Obama for his role in the Iran cyber-attacks?
Up is down, and white is east in the Obama White House. When an individual leaks to expose government corruption, he or she is met with severe reprisal. But when an individual leaks information that portrays the President in Herculean fashion, they are protected, and likely rewarded.
As long as Mr. Obama’s Administration continues to eagerly use leaks when politically convenient, without prosecuting their source, it’s difficult to take the President’s obsession with national security as much more than an intimidation tactic, save for the instances of political theatre.
While fighting a brazen and blurry enemy abroad, perhaps the most significant war waged by this government lies within its own walls. In a United States where nearly every decision worth a candle is made behind the closed doors of a self-protecting Washington elite, whistleblowers have become a final recourse for exposing government wrongdoing.
By going after whistleblowers the way he has, Barack Obama has chiseled away at a pillar of free society, slowly pulling down the curtains on democracy in the process.