Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Obama wins immunity for Bush

Salon: Obama wins the right to invoke "State Secrets" to protect Bush crimes
In a 6-5 ruling issued this afternoon, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals handed the Obama administration a major victory in its efforts to shield Bush crimes from judicial review, when the court upheld the Obama DOJ's argument that Bush's rendition program, used to send victims to be tortured, are "state secrets" and its legality thus cannot be adjudicated by courts.

With this, the Obama administration has effectively made sure that no-one who was tortured or wrongfully imprisoned by the US government during the Bush administration can ever bring any of the people responsible to trial. As Ben Wizner of the ACLU said:

To date, not a single victim of the Bush administration's torture program has had his day in court. If today's decision is allowed to stand, the United States will have closed its courtroom doors to torture victims while providing complete immunity to their torturers.

From the New York Times:

As a senator and candidate for the White House, President Obama had criticized the Bush administration’s frequent use of the state-secrets privilege. In February 2009, when his weeks-old administration reaffirmed the Bush administration's view on the case, civil libertarian groups that had supported his campaign expressed shock and dismay.

Overall, the Obama administration has been thoroughly dedicated to covering up the previous regime's blatant and criminal abuse of human rights. Given what they've been getting up to themselves, this isn't very surprising. The Bush administration inaugurated a policy under which the US government can order the assassination of any American citizen suspected of being a terrorist, due process and the judiciary be damned. In another article by Glenn Greenwald, he goes through how this works, and the fact that while for Bush, this was in the realm of theory, recently the Obama administration has placed a US citizen on the CIA's "hit list". More from the LA Times here. From that article:

"If an American is stupid enough to make cause with terrorists abroad, to frequent their camps and take part in their plans, he or she can't expect their citizenship to work as a magic shield," said another U.S. official. "If you join the enemy, you join your fate to his."

And, of course, the people who determine whether an American has "joined the enemy" are the CIA. There is no judicial process, and practically no oversight. If the Agency decides an American citizen is "deemed to be a continuing threat to U.S. persons or interests", they end up on the hit list.


There's the Obama administration for you. In my mind, one of the big questions is whether Americans will recognize that whatever you may think of the man, most of Obama's presidential campaign was built on a huge lie. All that talk about change was simply a smokescreen to get naïve people to vote for him.

This is most obvious in the realm of foreign and security policy, where Obama is succesfully combining pandering to voters with a "withdrawal" from Iraq with the continuation and intensification of some of the most abhorrent practices of the Bush administration's secret war on terror. In my opinion, Obama has jeopardized the entire US achievement in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as it is, with his arbitrary withdrawal dates, which will most likely end in disaster. As I said last year, I fully expect that once US troops actually withdraw from Iraq, the new Iraqi regime will have a life expectancy similar to South Vietnam.

What the fixed withdrawal dates effectively do is make the anti-US insurgency's work very simple. Maintain a low level of operations while preparing to take over the minute the Americans leave. And in Iraq, if that doesn't work, maybe Iran will invade and finally put an end to the long Iraq-Iran conflict.

It's probably for this reason that Obama's touted "withdrawal" from Iraq leaves 50,000 troops and eight Marine bases in the country. Sure, they're there in an "advisory capacity", which is the old Cold War way of saying "we have combat troops in this country, but we're not admitting it". So it's very much a notional withdrawal, because Obama probably knows fully well that he can't actually withdraw American forces from Iraq.

So really, there are two policy choices in Iraq, as well as in Afghanistan: a notional "withdrawal" that actually leaves a large enough American presence to deter both the domestic insurgency and neighboring countries, and so isn't a withdrawal at all, or abandoning both countries to the Islamists. The Bush administration was roundly, and in my mind quite rightly, reviled for embroiling America in a war in Iraq without any kind of real strategy for winning. In doing so, President Bush discarded the main strategic lessons America had learned from Vietnam, with the unsurprising result of creating a new Vietnam in the Middle East. As it stands, the Obama administration is following their lead with their total failure to create any kind of strategy for winning the war. As Obama stages his mock withdrawals and the CIA's hit lists lengthen, Pakistan is descending into anarchy.

In order to bring about any kind of satisfactory, peaceful solution to Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States would need a rarity: a president who's willing to create and implement a strong foreign and security policy. We know Obama isn't that president, so the onus is on the Republicans to come up with a candidate who is capable of resolving the situation before another four years of Obama see the collapse of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, or the continuation of six-figure US troop strengths in the Middle East for the foreseeable future. Neither option is good for America, or indeed for any of the countries involved.

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