Glimmers of hope

2013-05-24 14:01
Barack Obama

Barack Obama

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Obama supporters and critics alike have learnt that the President of the United States remains, like his predecessor, a constant repeater of the word "terrorism". Legitimately or not, the t-word has been used for the last thirteen years to justify all sorts of events, starting primarily with the Authorised Use Of Military Force (AUMF), voted for by all members of Congress (except one gutsy woman called Barbara Lee) on 14 September 2001.
In a wide-ranging speech (that "coincidentally" tied in with recent Pakistan elections) on Thursday about counterterrorism, Obama prefaced every instance of changing, adapting, specifying or reducing a part of national policy by justifying why it had happened in the first place. He dropped "terror", "terrorist", or "terrorism" 50 times, and "al-Qaeda" 24 times in an hour long talk. This rousing speech, while promising change, still prioritised national security and hammering the enemies of America.
"America's actions are legal," he vehemently exclaimed, "Under domestic law [the AUMF], and international law, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces. We are at war with an organisation that right now would kill as many Americans as they could if we did not stop them first. So this is a just war – a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defence."
The AUMF, birthed three days after 9/11, permitted the President of the United States, then George W Bush, "to use all necessary and appropriate force" against anyone related to the attacks of 9/11, in precisely the open-ended manner presidents love.

Bad law

This incredibly bad law has kept the USA fighting for 12 years against an ill-defined enemy with no way of denoting whether or not a war has been won, with an endless mandate to continue fighting. So it was incredibly important to hear the president state clearly, "I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further."
The tone and delivery of this speech was authoritative and he did not apologise - Obama was showing the US he was in control. His words were blunt. His speech seemed real and honest and more from himself, in comparison to the grandiose spectaculars he delivered earlier this year at his re-inauguration and the State of the Union. As a friend of mine neatly summed up: "Fuck you, critics. I'm running this war." If you wanted to know the direction Barack Obama plans to take the country, you found it out today, and you were left in no doubt as to who the boss was.
This perpetual state of war has already infiltrated America's professed love of liberty - most notably the high-profile disregard of the human rights of those suspected of terrorism, whose fates have been left in limbo by Congress, left to rot in Guantanamo Bay.
Sadly, the president, who seems to be the only high-profile politician who wants to do anything about it, is reliant on Congress to do so. It was Congress that foiled his plans to close Guantanamo Bay, which sits on Cuba. While Obama attempted in 2009, after taking office, to close the prison and bring detainees onto US soil, he was foiled by both Democrats and Republicans over what to with the prisoners, and legislation was passed which forbade the government from financing trials in civilian courts.

There are also 46 prisoners that the US believes are involved in terrorism, but the evidence against the accused is inadmissible in court: in other words, obtained by torture. So they just don't get trials. Another 86 prisoners - more than half - have been cleared for release, but their home countries won't take them, or may cross lines not permitted by the US, such as torturing them. So they don't get transferred. There is also virtually zero chance of any politician agreeing to the release of someone who may dabble in terrorism after being freed; eleven years spent in an island prison is enough to get some folks a little pissed. So currently the only way out of the prison is, quite frankly, dying.

Guantanamo Bay 'not a major political issue'

This Guantanamo talk was directed at the rest of the world. This may horrify you to read, but Guantanamo Bay is not a major political issue within the USA. In fact it is just the opposite - pluralities of Democrats and Republicans favour keeping the prison open. It is the government who is feeling the pressure to shut the facility down from foreigners. Obama fessed up on Thursday, "Guantanamo Bay has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law. Our allies won't co-operate with us if they think a terrorist will end up at Guantanamo Bay."
If that was some PR for foreigners, his defence of his administration’s drone programmes was startling, intended for his citizens, and frank, and forceful. A March poll by Gallup showed 65% of Americans back the idea of targeting terrorism suspects in other countries with drones. Obama, while opening his defence by admitting there were concerns "about civilian casualties… the risk of creating new enemies… the legality of such strikes… accountability and morality" then proceeded to shoot back at the drone critics. "Our actions are effective," he said. "Dozens of highly skilled al-Qaeda commanders, trainers, bomb makers, and operatives have been taken off the battlefield," adding, "Simply put, these strikes have saved lives."
The drone programme has resulted in innocent civilian victims, the deaths of four American citizens (one of whom was a 16-year old boy), concerns over sovereignty (many of these attacks have happened in Pakistan - Obama did make mention of "foreign governments [who] cannot or will not effectively stop terrorism in their territory") and a severe lack of oversight - until recently drone strikes were conducted within the realms of the CIA instead of the military (which is subject to congressional oversight).
Only following this did Obama then relent, saying, "Over the last four years, my Administration has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists… in Presidential Policy Guidance that I signed yesterday."

Glint of wisdom

This movement toward protocol was backed up by a senior administration official who earlier in the day said, "this has been an evolving process", with the official’s colleague adding, "we have sought to refine these practices over time". Implicitly, it was an admission mistakes have been made beforehand, as well as a firm indication the programme will continue.
In spite of Obama's deference to his country's perennial obsession with national security, there was a glint of wisdom that we haven't seen emanating from US leadership in many years. A rousing defence of national security policy enveloped this island:
"For all the focus on the use of force," Obama said, "force alone cannot make us safe. We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root; and in the absence of a strategy that reduces the well-spring of extremism, a perpetual war will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways."
If things don't change after the president strings those few sentences together, then they probably won't.

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  barack obama  |  pakistan  |  us

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