Sunday, August 9, 2009

News and Human Rights 5: Barack Obama

Ever since the election I've been waiting for Obama to do something I disagree with. Up until recently, I'd been hearing nothing but great things. During his first week in office he called the leaders of countries we're on rocky terms with just to see how things were going, how's business, you guys need me to pick anything up from the store while I'm out? Any time he makes big news it's because he's doing something awesome and, most importantly, something very unBush. From writing little girls notes so they can skip school to killing flies with cat-like reflexes to inviting regular joes over to the White House to have some beers and work out a misunderstanding, when it comes to good publicity Obama is really cleaning up.
Now, what's dangerous about this is the same thing that I discussed in the Noam Chomsky blog, which is that politicians are carefully crafted by PR people to sell an image. Once you sell an image, you sell people on the idea that their candidate agrees with them in virtually every way, regardless of actual track record. It's this kind of political trickery that had thousands of God-fearing Christians believing that Bush would increase public spending and funds for education while cutting the defense budget, when really he consistently did the opposite. So, what happens when we look at Obama and dig a little deeper than the good looks, charming smile, amazing charisma and hard-to-argue-with-all-around-good-guyness? Short answer: You find some things you disagree with.
(Note: In the tradition of giving credit where credit's due, I should probably mention at this point that this blog is inspired and greatly supported by a few people on a website that I am known to frequent. The real digging took place there, and I am just lazily regurgitating the information that was provided for me.)
First of all, one of the things I was most excited to see under Obama's presidency was the closure of Guantanamo Bay. Gitmo is one of the most embarrassing, obviously ass-backwards thing about this country and its removal from the face of our human rights reputation could only do good for us as a nation. However, it seems now that even though Obama plans to close this unconstitutional prison, he does not plan on restoring sanity or basic human rights to the inmates being held therein. Recently, Obama proposed an "indefinite detention" policy, which would be specifically aimed at prisoners like those in Guantanamo Bay. In a nutshell, Obama said that there are detainees in Gitmo who can't be proven guilty with things like evidence, but nonetheless pose a threat to our nation. As Rachel Maddow pointed out, this kind of preventative-crime logic is typically more prevalent in science fiction and shitty Tom Cruise movies. The UK has a similar system of preventative detention, one that Tony Blair wanted to be as long as three months, but that was limited to 28 days by the British Parliament, and 28 days is the longest preventative detention period in any democracy in the world...until now. Obama seems to be implying that these prisoners must be held, without trial or charges or evidence, as long as the threat of terrorism presents itself. As long as a year, five years, or even ten years.
For those of you who are not sure how to feel about this, let me simplify it for you: You should feel horrified. This is really bad.
Also, Obama's administration has been aligning itself a surprising amount of the time with sketchy Bush administration policies and practices when they prove to be convenient. In direct contradiction with his promises of transparency, Obama's administration has fought a lawsuit that could recover millions of missing White House e-mails, sought to block the court-ordered release of pictures depicting US abuse abroad, and are even planning to classify White House visitor logs, among other things. Also, Obama's promise of posting for the public all bills five days prior to their being signed has been an utter failure, only actually happening once. While I've heard journalists on NPR praise Obama for his easily cherry-picked politics, it would seem that his promise to create "an unprecedented level of openness in Government," falls short of the mark.
Now, while I admit that not declassifying White House visitor records isn't something to get upset about, I do start to get a little nervous when Obama starts shutting down information about torture.
Earlier in the summer, a man named Binyam Mohamed was released from Guantanamo Bay and has been ever since trying to seek justice for the torture he endured there. Unfortunately, Obama's representative of the Justice Department maintained the same position as the Bush administration, that the entire matter was purely a state secret, and demanded that it be dismissed.
Now for the really scary part.
After the British High Court decided that torture really shouldn't be allowed to be a state secret, and that Mohamed should be allowed to get some justice for the things that were done to him, and a police investigation began, the British government received threats from the US that are basically to this affect: If you release the information you have in regards to what did or did not happen to Binyam Mohamed in Gitmo, we will no longer share information we have regarding terrorist threats directed at England. Best Wishes!
So it would seem that not only are Obama and his administration being tight-lipped about torture, but that they are threatening the well fare of another country's citizens, and also proposing new policies such as indefinite detention, which go further than even Bush went.

Now, don't get me wrong. I drove two hours just to cast my vote for this guy. Just thinking about having Obama in office as opposed to Bush, the relief is that of waking up from a bad dream. But I think it's important to criticize him all the same, and maybe even more so. Presidents can get away with these types of things because once you sell an image, you have everyone hooked into thinking "He's not a bad guy, look at that smile, he could never threaten to deny Britain knowledge which could potentially prevent them from saving the lives of thousands of citizens." Unfortunately, presidents do shit like that all the time. Really evil shit. Clinton seemed like a friendly guy, but trust me, getting a blow job was not the worst thing he did in office. Presidents support military coups, they sell weapons to dangerous dictators, and they suppress information about the mistreatment of prisoners. And the reason they can get away with it is that no one is watching them, and this goes ten times over for Barack Obama. Coming in after the biggest political disaster in the history of our nation, during a time when legal distortion is set at an all-time high and expectations are at an all-time low, it seems to me that it would be hard not to take advantage of the situation, just a little tiny bit. It's not that I don't like Obama, it's just that it is the duty of the people to keep their government in check, something that was all too forgotten during the Bush years. And I would rather die than go back to those dark ages.

Glenn Greenwald on threats to Britain
Glenn Greenwald on Obama's lack of transparency
Rachel Maddow's reaction to indefinite detention

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