Barack Obama has now been president of the most powerful country in the world for over half a year. His swearing in was experienced as a relief - a breath of fresh air following the Bush-Cheney years. In a new series, DeepJournal explores some of the new president's major policy arenas. What is the practice behind the perception of America's new hero, President Barack Obama? In this first part: The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The wars in Irak, Afghanistan and Pakistan
By the end of 2011, the remaining troops will also be gone, reports CNN. 'All U.S. troops have to be out of Iraq by December 31, 2011, under an agreement the Bush administration signed with the Iraqi government last year'. That departure date is the result of a decision by Bush. If up to Obama, the troops might just stay longer. 'Our commanders must have the flexibility they need in order to respond to these challenges, and President Obama assured me that there is a 'Plan B'', 'the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee John McHugh said in a statement', writes AFP. NBC's Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszeswki, says [video, 1'15] to David Gregory: 'In fact military commanders, despite this Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government that all US forces would be out by the end of 2011, are already making plans for a significant number of American troops to remain in Iraq beyond that 2011 deadline, assuming that Status of Forces Agreement would be renegotiated. And one senior military commander told us that he expects large numbers of American troops to be in Iraq for the next 15 to 20 years'. Gregory: '15 to 20 years, I think that takes a moment to really sink in'. And that's even without mentioning the biggest embassy in the world - the one in Baghdad. Or the huge number of private contractors in Iraq - a military to civilian ratio of 1 to 1. Or that a majority of Americans are opposed to both wars. A minority is thus for the war. Barack Obama belongs to that group.
'Obama's speech at Camp Lejeune delivered a number of lines -- wrapped in laudatory rhetoric -- that could have been delivered by Bush himself, writes Jeremy Scahill. "I want to be very clear," Obama told the military audience. "We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein's regime -- and you got the job done." Perhaps it bears remembering that "removing Saddam" was justification two or three offered by the Bush administration after the WMD fraud was exposed'.
When troops are pulled from Iraq, it does not mean that less American GI's are seeing action. For Obama is picking up where Bush left off, and is even taking it a step further - to Afghanistan. 'Soldiers pulled from Iraq duty, sent straight to Afghanistan', is the headline from CNN. 'The soldiers had barely arrived in Iraq before they got new orders -- get ready for Afghanistan. [...] None of the soldiers with whom CNN traveled to Afghanistan knew what to expect when they hit the ground in Kandahar'. And it's still not enough. Michael G. Vickers, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict, said last week: 'Before additional U.S. troops arrived there in the spring, the U.S. footprint was about 30,000 military members. Within the next two months, that number will increase to 68,000. [...] Vickers couldn't be specific on whether this would be a temporary “surge” similar to the Iraqi surge in 2007', writes the U.S. Department of Defense. But it could end up being even more. ISAF commander General Stanley McChrystal will present a report later this month: 'The review is also expected to recommend that the number of Afghan troops be increased beyond the goal of 134,000, other military sources said'. Obama's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, says that extra troops 'could end up creating a pressure in Pakistan, which would add to the instability'.
Afghanistan was and is a difficult country to keep under the thumb. And moreover: 'July, little more than half over, has already become the deadliest month for US-led forces since the war began nearly eight years ago. A total of 46 occupation troops have been killed, 24 of them Americans. This death toll—approximately three a day—is equivalent to what took place during the heaviest fighting in Iraq', writes Bill Van Auken on July 17th. In less than two weeks those numbers are already drastically out-of-date : not 46, but 67 deaths. The other numbers make an impression as well. Van Auken: '[...] the US Air Force, [...] reported that it had dropped 437 bombs on Afghanistan in June. Close-air support missions flown thus far in 2009 by US warplanes had risen to 17,420 by the end of June, the Air Force command reported. This compares to 19,092 for all of 2008'.
In June the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the White House, together with Nancy Pelosi , was trying 'to muscle through a $106 billion war funding bill today'. But among Democrats enthusiasm for this is not very high: 'I see no reason to be keeping our troops in Iraq that much longer and to start into Afghanistan when there's no end in sight," Woolsey said Monday. "If we were voting on funds to bring our troops home from Iraq, I'd vote for it in a minute. ... I just hope we're not repeating the mistake we made in Iraq'. The solution? '[...] the White House has threatened to pull support from Democratic freshmen who vote no'. Author Norman Solomon wonders: 'But why would a president choose to single out fellow Democrats in their first congressional term? Because, according to conventional wisdom, they're the most politically vulnerable and the easiest to intimidate'. In the end the 106 billion dollar package was approved. By the end of this fiscal year, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will have cost Americans 915 billion dollars. 'Asked if the United States was winning in Afghanistan, a war he effectively adopted as his own last month by ordering an additional 17,000 troops sent there, Mr. Obama replied flatly, “No.”'
The West is going to great lengths in Afghanistan, and does so at a high price in money and human life. But who can say why? Van Auken: 'The original pretexts given for waging the war in Afghanistan have fallen by the wayside. The authorization of the use of military force legislation passed by the US Congress in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York City was predicated on the American military being used to hunt down those blamed for these atrocities—Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, a name that now goes virtually unmentioned in official Washington circles'. Earlier this month I spoke with a soldier who had just completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan for the Dutch army and whose greatest wish it was to ask the Dutch Minister of Defense why The Netherlands is fighting in Afghanistan. He certainly has his suspicions. It was expressed in large part by Bill Van Auken: 'The only reason left for what is now clearly Obama's war is the real and original one—the utilization of American military might to assert Washington's dominance over the oil-rich and geo-strategically vital region of Central Asia'. Karen Kwiatkowski, former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force and Pentagon desk officer, sees [video, 3'15] yet another possibility: 'If you're asking me: What's the reason we're in Afghanistan? It's because of Iran. We want to be in a military position, in an operational position to threaten Iran from next door'. The American presence in Afghanistan also has consequences for what happens on another border, writes The New York Times: 'Pakistani officials have told the Obama administration that the Marines fighting the Taliban in southern Afghanistan will force militants across the border into Pakistan [...]'.
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The American fight in Pakistan - a friendly, sovereign state against which there has been no declaration of war - had already begun under Bush. Obama is continuing the attacks with remote-controlled drones. But he wants even more. He is demanding that Pakistan step up the fight against the Taliban. There is a lot at stake for Pakistan. A lot of money: 'The Obama administration plans to dramatically increase civilian aid to Pakistan [...] A threefold increase in civilian aid would come on top of more than $10 billion in mostly military assistance since 2001'. The money is part of the U.S.'s 'new strategy on Afghanistan and the surrounding region, hoping the overture will lead to more effective steps by the Pakistani military to shut down insurgent sanctuaries, U.S. officials said', writes the LA Times. The Pakistani attacks in the Swat Valley have resulted in 2.5 million refugees in the past couple of months. Unicef warns that 'as many as 1 million people could remain displaced until December because of the widespread destruction in their home towns, such as Mingora'. The Pakistani military carries out the attacks, but does so at the request of the White House. Because of this, the attacks in the Swat Valley, as well as a potential new offensive in South Waziristan, are also being seen as Obama's war.
Why are bombs falling in Pakistan? 'So let me be clear: Al Qaeda and its allies -- the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks -- are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the United States homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban -- or allows al Qaeda to go unchallenged -- that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can. [...] It is [...] an international security challenge of the highest order. [...] The safety of people around the world is at stake'. This quote does not come with the squinting look of George W. Bush, but is spoken with the warm voice of President Obama. While Obama was making his statement, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley twittered: 'Listning Prez on FOX anounce his Afhgan stategy Now it bcomes Obama War Not Bush war any longer'.
America is not simply sitting on the sidelines, it has actively taken part in the battle. So what are the numbers? 'The CIA is said to have carried out at least 16 Predator strikes in Pakistan during the first four months of this year, compared with 36 strikes in the whole of 2008. These have killed about 161 people since President Obama's inauguration, according to news reports in Pakistan'. The attacks have killed a total of around 700 people, of which 14 were so-called Al-Qaida fighters. Back in February The New York Times wrote: 'The strikes are another sign that President Obama is continuing, and in some cases extending, Bush administration policy [...]'.
Carol Grisanti of NBC News explains [video] that one of the ways in which the CIA determines its targets is through the hiring of informants. They hire people to place chips on military targets in return for monetary compensation. The chips transmit a signal that tells the Predator drone, controlled by remote from a U.S. Air Force Base in the American state of Nevada, where to deliver it's bombs. Grisanti says that the people who plant the chips are often turned over to the Taliban afterwards. This way their handler doesn't have to pay them. In her report Grisanti plays a taped confession recorded by the Taliban. Their captive is the 19 year-old Habibur Rehman. He talks about his assignment: 'This man gave us chips wrapped in cigarette paper. He then told us to do our job'. 'I thought this was a very easy job', Rehman said in the video before he was killed, reports Grisanti. 'The money was good so I started throwing the chips all over. I knew people were dying because of what I was doing, but I needed the money'. Grisanti explains in her report: 'They are promised money. A hundred dollars in the tribal areas is a fortune'.
America is also providing military training to the Pakistanis. '[...] Special Forces personnel will focus on training Pakistan's Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force [...]. The project, which draws on proposals first discussed under the Bush administration, is a joint effort with the U.K., senior U.S. officials said', reports the Wall Street Journal. Earlier the New York Times made it clear that the U.S. involvement wouldn't stop there: 'American Special Operations troops based in Afghanistan have also carried out a number of operations into Pakistan's tribal areas since early September, when a commando raid that killed a number of militants was publicly condemned by Pakistani officials. According to a senior American military official, the commando missions since September have been primarily to gather intelligence'. The fact that White House interest in Pakistan was big under Bush and is getting even bigger under Obama can be seen in this news bulletin: 'The White House has asked Congress for — and seems likely to receive — $736 million to build a new U.S. embassy in Islamabad, along with permanent housing for U.S. government civilians and new office space in the Pakistani capital'. The embassy will cost just as much as the one that the Americans built in Baghdad.
The economic policy of the Obama Administration.
An important component of President Obama's economic policy consists of the cleaining up of the financial chaos left behind by his predecessor. A key part of this is the bailout: Thetakeover of a few large financial institutions by the American government and the loaning of money tohundreds of banks. The bailout began under Bush, with his Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (former CEO of Goldman Sachs). And it went further under Obama, with his Treasury SecretaryTimothy Geithner (former president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank). The bailout maycost the American taxpayer more than 23 trillion dollars.
A portion of that amount has already been distributed - not to Main Street, but to Wall Street. Roughly 180 billion went to AIG, which then channeled 13 billion to Goldman Sachs: '[...] the original plan to bail out AIG was concocted at a meeting held last fall, run by then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson who, before becoming treasury secretary, had been CEO of Goldman Sachs. Also attending the meeting was Lloyd Blankenfein, the current CEO of Goldman Sachs. Also at the meeting: Tim Geithner, then head of the New York Fed', writes Professor Robert Reich. In the meantime Paulson became $200 million dollars richer, Geithner got to be Secretary of the Treasury, and Goldmanseldom sees a loss these days: 'The winning % is what gets me... it's simply impossible'.
The U.S. Federal Reserve distributes the bailout funds, but allows no complete oversight of its activities. This while three-quarters of the American public are in favor of auditing the Federal Reserve. Congressman Ron Paul is now demanding to audit the Fed. On the way he is running right into the White House, which is proposing the exact opposite: 'The Obama plan would give the Federal Reserve new powers to oversee the entire financial system'. An MSNBC anchor says in his introduction of a discussion on Pauls plans [video]: 'The Federal Reserve, of course, having proven itself unreliable at best in monitoring the financial markets over the last couple of years. [...] The Federal Reserve still doesn't think they deserve to be audited. Even as they carry trillions of dollars of assets on their books, held against U.S. taxpayer money'. Ron Paul says of the Fed [video, 3:30]: They are the culprits, they create the bubbles and here we're giving them more power... This is allowing the fox to protect the henhouse. It just can't work. It's going to make things much worse'. Paul [video, 5:30]: 'The American people were very, very hopeful. That we have a new American president, a young guy making these promises. Now they're saying: 'It looks like it is more of the same'.
An important question is whether the 23 trillion dollars is a good investment or whether the financial institutions should have simply been allowed to fail. Journalist Bill Moyers wants to know the facts and interviews William K. Black. He is the former Executive Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention and is now an Associate Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
>From the transcript:
'BILL MOYERS: [...] you supported Barack Obama, during the campaign. But you're seeming disillusioned now.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, certainly in the financial sphere, I am. I think, first, the policies are substantively bad. Second, I think they completely lack integrity. Third, they violate the rule of law. This is being done just like Secretary Paulson did it. In violation of the law. [...] it requires them to close these institutions. [...]'. In February Black posed the question: 'Why Is Geithner Continuing Paulson's Policy of Violating the Law?' Financial expert Peter Schiff sums up the problem surrounding the bailout [video, 4:00]: 'The average American is going to see his cost of living rise dramatically and the value of their savings evaporate'.
The sponsoring of the banks by the Obama Administration does not sit well with investor Jim Rogers. He says in an interview: 'For the people who get the money, George, it is going to make it better for them. But for the rest of the country and the rest of the world... No, it's not going to make things better. It's going to make things worse. We are in perilous times and he doesn't seem to understand that he is making things much worse'. Congressman Alan Grayson: 'Everybody's worst nightmares are now taking place because we are seeing the transfer of literally trillions of dollars of wealth from the taxpayer to the bad banks'. His questions to the Fed have not been answered and 'Bloomberg News is suing the Federal Reserve for this and other information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)'.
Jim Rogers: 'It is astonishing to me that Mr. Obama ran on a platform of change and he's brought in people who caused the problems and are there now supposed to solve the problems'. He is most likely referring to folks such as:
* Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner - ex-President of the New York Federal Reserve.
* Geithner's chief of staff at Treasury, Mark Patterson - former lobbyist for Goldman Sachs.
* Director of the National Economic Council, Larry Summers - was advisor for financial institutions on Wall Street.
* Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs, Michael Froman - 'As a high-ranking Citigroup official, Mr. Froman is one of many potential appointees with ties to the current troubles on Wall Street', writes the New York Times.
* Chairman of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), Gary Gensler - the CFTC should be bringing about the opposite of what the Commodity Futures Modernization Act does, a law that Gensler helped to pass. The CFTC 'oversees $5 trillion in futures and options trading'. Previously Gensler was a partner at Goldman Sachs.
* Head of the Office of Financial Stability, Neel Kashkari - former Vice President of Goldman Sachs in San Francisco. The OFS is the government office that operates TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program).
* The list is too long to reproduce here in its entirety.
In conclusion the New York Times writes: '[...] almost the entire Obama administration economic team could be said to be made up of followers of so-called Rubinomics. [...] Robert E. Rubin has been a top trader and executive at Goldman Sachs [and] Citigroup, where he served as director and senior adviser'. Rubin is now Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations. Glenn Greenwald writes: 'Just think about how this works. People like Rubin, Summers and Gensler shuffle back and forth from the public to the private sector and back again, repeatedly switching places with their GOP counterparts in this endless public/private sector looting [...] And the winners -- as always -- are the same Wall St. firms that caused the crisis in the first place while enriching and otherwise co-opting the very individuals Obama chose to be his top financial officials'. 'So "they"--Summers, Gensler, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and their ueber mentor, Rubin--were as wrong as anyone could be. Perhaps such error is human, but aren't there folks out there with a better prospect of getting it right that Obama can rely on?', writes Robert Scheer in The Nation.
It's not only the 'mortgaging of the future' through the spending of governement money on the banks that's catching criticism, but the so-called cash for clunkers program is also under fire. Turn in your old clunker and receive a 4500 dollar rebate on the purchase of a new car. Good for the economy. It immediately reminded me of my conversations with Albert Spits of the Frédéric Bastiat Institute. The French economist Bastiat is the one who came up with the parabel of the broken window. This theory says that a broken window pane is not a boon to the economy, despite the fact that it causes money to be spent and provides work for someone. For the money that must now be spent on the window could have been spent on something else. In this way you could end up being 'up 1', so to speak, instead of just breaking even.
Of course the owner of the old car receives the government-funded rebate once it stops running. In practice it is for just this reason that the cars end up having to be destroyed. Examples of this can be found online; 'Cash for clunkers: cool!' Analyst Peter Schiff looks on in amazement [video, 1:45]: 'We're taking out clunkers, cars that work, cars that were on the road, that are functioning... There is no debt, people have no car loans on these cars. And we're destroying them; these are valuable pieces of property. [...] Why are we giving people money to take out a car loan that they didn't have before? [...] The last thing we want is more debt'. He also points out that not all of that money ends up in the U.S. economy. Around half of new cars sold are of non US brands.
Steve Forbes, owner of financial publication Forbes Magazine, states in a headline: 'Obama Repeats Bush's Worst Market Mistakes'. Obama fan and billionaire George Soros says: 'I'm afraid that it's too much continuity between the Obama administration and the Bush administration as far as the management of the financial system is concerned'. What is the practice of Obama's economic policy? Banks that don't deserve it are being put on life-support, cars that still run are being destroyed, employees of banks that would no longer be in existence without government bailout money are getting huge bonuses, and on Wall Street profits are even being made on the crisis itself (a billion dollars) by assisting in the break-up of financial insurance companies.
The human rights policy of the Obama Administration
There is a new wind blowing in Washington. The American government once again has a human face. Barack Obama will restore respect and dignity to his country. This is the hope. But what is the reality? What are the new president's plans, and what sort of solutions is he coming up with? The most significant solution in the arena of human rights is that there is no other solution coming for the problem of the terror detainees. Existing legislation provides the administration with the authority it needs, according to Obama. This power was created by President Bush and makes it possible for the Obama Administration to keep people locked up indefinitely without charging them, and without due process. This decision put an end to speculation that began in May of this year that Obama might seek Congressional authorization for preventive detention of detainees.
President Obama surprised friend and foe alike back in May when he spoke about the search for a solution to the situation of the prisoners at Guantanamo. He explained that there are people imprisoned there who on the one hand can't be convicted 'for past crimes' - because the evidence against them was obtained through torture - but on the other hand can't be released because of the threat they pose to the United States. It's a radical proposition, and in order to drive that point home, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow played an excerpt from the film Minority Report [video, 1:30]. In the film, someone's guilt can be detected precrime and they can be arrested for a crime that they have yet to commit. With Obama as president, it looks like fiction is going to catch up with reality. Maddow on some of the ideas in Obama's speech: 'You could get arrested today and locked up without a trial, without being convicted, without being sentenced, for say, ten years, until the threat of your future criminal behavior passes? 'Prolonged detention', he is calling it. This is a beautiful speech from president Obama today, with patriotic, moving, even poetic language about the rule of law and the constitution. And one of the most radical proposals for defying the constitution that we have ever heard made to the American people'.
An article in the New York Times with the headline Obama Is Said to Consider Preventive Detention Plan quotes a human rights activist as saying: 'We've known this is on the horizon for many years, but we were able to hold it off with George Bush. The idea that we might find ourselves fighting with the Obama administration over these powers is really stunning'. Diane Marie Amann, law professor at the University of California, writes in reference to Obama's plans: 'He signaled a plan by which they - and perhaps other detainees yet to be arrested? - could remain in custody forever without charge. There is no precedent in the American legal tradition for this kind of preventive detention'. Amann points out that this is unfortunately far from the truth, for there are precedents. 'Among them the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and the Japanese internment of the 1940s, but they are widely seen as low points in America's history under the Constitution. President Obama promised that his "new legal regime" - words identical to those Bush Administration official John Yoo used in 2002 - will provide an array of "fair procedures". That ought to be a given, for the Constitution requires due process before liberty may be deprived. But no amount of procedures can justify deprivations that, because of their very nature violate the Constitution's core guarantee of liberty'. These are Obama's plans, but the Associated Press writes about the reality: 'As many as an estimated 170 of the detainees now at Guantanamo are unlikely to be prosecuted. Some are being held indefinitely because government officials do not want to take the chance of seeing them acquitted in a trial'.
One interesting development is the recent decision to allow a suit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft to proceed. The orders for preventive detentions that he issued while Attorney General were illegal, and it is on that basis that he is now being sued personally. The case against Ashcroft is significant because what he did illegally while Bush was in office is something that Obama now wants to legalize. The case may proceed because two judges - notably appointed under George W. Bush and Reagan - had nothing good to say about Ashcroft's illegal working methods and - by way of implication - Obama's plans as well: 'We find this to be repugnant to the Constitution, and a painful reminder of some of the most ignominious chapters of our national history'.
England has had previous experience with preventive detention. 'But in late 2004 that was deemed a violation of human rights, and struck down. It was replaced with a form of house arrest, known as "control orders"', reports PBS's NOW. It's made clear in the broadcast that house arrest is also a mere legal facade for an illegal construct. '[...] restricting somebody's right to challenge their imprisonment indefinitely is not going to make us safer. In fact, recent evidence shows it is probably making us less safe'. This combative opinion - at odds with legal practices in England, with those of the Bush Administration and with same such plans of Obama - originates with a well-known crusader for civil rights. Namely, Barack Obama - before he became president of the United States. Last year during a military tribunal, a terror detainee held a photo of Obama hopefully aloft. But he has since lost all hope: '[...] he has lost faith that the American leader will be much different than his predecessor'.
Obama's ideas were radical. He now maintains the extreme legislation from the Bush government. The result is that if a terror suspect is acquitted of all charges, there's not even a guarantee that he will be released from custody. Law professor Jonathan Turley writing in an article with the headline Obama Administration Reserves Right to Indefinitely Hold Detainees Acquitted of Charges: 'The Obama Administration continues its retention and expansion of abusive Bush policies - now clearly Obama policies on indefinite detention and blocking the investigation of war crimes'. In an interview with Obama, the San Francisco Sentinel makes note of a concrete example: 'In a court filing last month, the Obama administration agreed with the Bush administration position that 600 prisoners in a cavernous prison on the American air base at Bagram in Afghanistan have no right to seek their release in court'. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wants more information about the 600 prisoners in Bagram: 'There are serious concerns that Bagram is another Guantanamo -- except with many more prisoners, less due process, no access to lawyers or courts and reportedly worse conditions," said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project'. But the Department of Defense and the CIA are standing in the way.
An explanation of their opposition can be read in the New York Times: 'Officials say the importance of Bagram as a holding site for terrorism suspects captured outside Afghanistan and Iraq has risen under the Obama administration, which barred the Central Intelligence Agency from using its secret prisons for long-term detention and ordered the military prison at Guantanamo closed within a year'. Obama's change doesn't mean abolishing the system of secret and unlawful detention of prisoners that he inherited from the prior administration, but instead involves conveying a predominantly visual modification: Guantanamo will be shut down, and as a result, its function is being shifted to Bagram. Another reason to move to Bagram is that a number of prisoners at Guantanamo won the right under Bush to a fair trial, and almost all of them were found not guilty on the basis of a lack of evidence. At Bagram it seems as if the same rights were also awarded to prisoners, but according to a lawyer for one of the prisoners, the outside world is being fooled by the introduction of a limited measure. Jonathan Hafetz of the ACLU says: 'Guantanamo was the Bush administration's effort to do an end run around the Constitution, and the Obama administration is now essentially using Bagram as a way to do an end run around Guantanamo and the constitutional right of habeas corpus found to apply there'.
The U.S. Air Force base in the Afghan city of Bagram plays a key role in the documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, in which American prison guards tell how they abused prisoners there during the Bush Administration. Torture took place there, sometimes resulting in death. Nutrients were also forcibly administered to people who couldn't take it anymore and refused all food and drink. This from the book Oath Betrayed - America's Torture Doctors by Dr. Steven Miles. Force-feeding also took place in Guantanamo Bay. What's more, it continues to happen today, under the new president, Barack Obama. The ACLU is therefore demanding that: 'Obama Administration Must Abandon Force-Feeding at Gitmo'. It equates the practice of force-feeding with torture: 'At least since 2005, [military physicians] have used restraint chairs to put hundreds of prisoners in eight-point restraints (ie, both ankles, wrists, and shoulders, one lap belt, and one head restraint) before, during, and after the placement of a nasogastric tube so that the prisoners can be force-fed. The use of coercion, physical force, or physical restraints to force-feed competent individuals on hunger strike has been condemned by the World Medical Association as a form of "inhuman and degrading treatment" that is prohibited according to Common Article 3'. In addition to the forced administration of food, the Immediate Reaction Force is still being deployed in Guantanamo as well, which terrorizes prisoners by 'breaking bones, gouging eyes, squeezing testicles, and 'dousing' them with chemicals'.
Both in Taxi to the Dark Side as well as in the documentary Standard Operating Procedure (which explores the stories behind the torture photos), soldiers talk about how their prisoners were for the most part innocent civilians. Back in 2005 in a series on American torture practices, I wrote about how innocent people were disappearing behind bars for large bounties. In both documentaries and in my series, it's clear that the prisoners are mostly made up of regular citizens. Obama could denounce the torture of these people and thus publicly distance himself from the Bush policy with regard to human rights, or lack thereof. One of these people is Binyam Mohamed. In his case, the U.S. has threatened England with sanctions. The lawyer for the British Foreign Secretary confirms this: 'It is entirely right,' she said, 'there has been that explicit statement of consequences'. She is arguing for the suppression of evidence showing American involvement in the torture of Mohamed.
Obama sidestepped yet another opportunity to expose Bush's torture practices. He could have made the torture photos and videos from Iraq and Afghanistan public in the name of transparency. But instead Obama pledged his support to Senator Joe Lieberman, who sought to block their release. Very little transparency was exercised through this declaration of support. News of this cooperation was buried in a footnote in a 33-page petition. A journalist from The Public Record wrote with disappointment: 'Obama's decision to fight to conceal the photos to the Supreme Court marks an about-face on the open-government policies that he proclaimed during his first days in office'. The civil rights organization ACLU filed an official request to release the photos. 'The Justice Department initially agreed to release the photos shortly after the change of administrations, but the Obama administration has since changed its position, claiming the photos should not be released'.
What is also continuing to take place under Obama are the renditions, with the only difference being that the terrorist suspects who are carried off won't be tortured. But if that's true, then why are they still being shipped off to distant and dangerous lands? It is unlikely that these people won't be tortured. Amrit Singh, a lawyer for the ACLU, says: 'It is extremely disappointing that the Obama administration is continuing the Bush administration practice of relying on diplomatic assurances, which have been proven completely ineffective in preventing torture'. The New York Times points out that Obama, in a 2007 article in Foreign Affairs, wrote: 'To build a better, freer world, we must first behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people. This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law'.
National Public Radio takes critical aim at Obama and writes: 'On a range of other issues, the Obama Administration's approach sounds very much like the prior administration's, only more of it'. Among other things, NPR takes aim at the so-called Fusion Centers, begun under Bush, where all kinds of data and information on terrorism is brought together. And with regard to the biometric and other information that travelers to the U.S. must provide: 'this, too, is an extension of the approach begun by the Bush Administration. [...] Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's big policy speech today at the Council on Foreign Relations [was] about educating the populace about how to be the eyes and ears of counter-terrorism'. Citizens were enlisted to be the eyes and ears for the authorities back during the Bush Administration. And when that isn't sufficient, Obama is making use of a more extreme measure, just like his predecessor: 'Obama's Military Is Spying on U.S. Peace Groups', reports Amy Goodman, the face of Democracy Now. 'Anti-war activists in Olympia, Wash., have exposed Army spying and infiltration of their groups, as well as intelligence gathering by the Air Force, the federal Capitol Police and the Coast Guard. [...] the spying in Olympia occurred well into the Obama administration (and may continue today)'. Goodman subtly added: 'President Barack Obama supports retroactive immunity for telecom companies involved in the wiretapping, and has maintained Bush-era reliance on the state secrets privilege'. Democracy Now points out in another article that Obama has also broken his promise to reconsider NAFTA: 'Obama's reversal on NAFTA has come under criticism from labor and human rights groups'.
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