Obama Calls For An End To A Perpetual War on Terror And For Respect For Civil Liberties

I only heard portions of Barack Obama’s speech while driving to and from lunch today but did like what I heard. It was clear that whether or not I wound up agreeing with everything, contrary to claims from portions of both the left and right, Barack Obama is no Richard Nixon or George Bush. For now I am relying on the prepared text, which lacks the portion where I hear Obama did an excellent job of responding to the criticism of a heckler. While we could question if some of this is being said later than desired, there was much in today’s speech which I did like, such as addressing this early in the speech: “I believe we compromised our basic values – by using torture to interrogate our enemies, and detaining individuals in a way that ran counter to the rule of law.”

Obama discussed our triumphs in fighting al Qaeda , and then its cost:

These questions matter to every American. For over the last decade, our nation has spent well over a trillion dollars on war, exploding our deficits and constraining our ability to nation build here at home. Our service-members and their families have sacrificed far more on our behalf. Nearly 7,000 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many more have left a part of themselves on the battlefield, or brought the shadows of battle back home. From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions we are making will define the type of nation – and world – that we leave to our children.

So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us, mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. What we can do – what we must do – is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. To define that strategy, we must make decisions based not on fear, but hard-earned wisdom. And that begins with understanding the threat we face.

He recognized that victories over terrorist groups often come from targeted efforts and police actions as opposed to the Bush/Cheney concept of a global war on terror:

Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ – but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America. In many cases, this will involve partnerships with other countries. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers have lost their lives fighting extremists. In Yemen, we are supporting security forces that have reclaimed territory from AQAP. In Somalia, we helped a coalition of African nations push al Shabaab out of its strongholds. In Mali, we are providing military aid to a French-led intervention to push back al Qaeda in the Maghreb, and help the people of Mali reclaim their future.

Much of our best counter-terrorism cooperation results in the gathering and sharing of intelligence; the arrest and prosecution of terrorists. That’s how a Somali terrorist apprehended off the coast of Yemen is now in prison in New York. That’s how we worked with European allies to disrupt plots from Denmark to Germany to the United Kingdom. That’s how intelligence collected with Saudi Arabia helped us stop a cargo plane from being blown up over the Atlantic.

Obama called for greater oversight over the use of drones and targeted killing, and greater transparency:

This week, I authorized the declassification of this action, and the deaths of three other Americans in drone strikes, to facilitate transparency and debate on this issue, and to dismiss some of the more outlandish claims. For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone, or a shotgun – without due process. Nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil…

Going forward, I have asked my Administration to review proposals to extend oversight of lethal actions outside of warzones that go beyond our reporting to Congress. Each option has virtues in theory, but poses difficulties in practice. For example, the establishment of a special court to evaluate and authorize lethal action has the benefit of bringing a third branch of government into the process, but raises serious constitutional issues about presidential and judicial authority. Another idea that’s been suggested – the establishment of an independent oversight board in the executive branch – avoids those problems, but may introduce a layer of bureaucracy into national-security decision-making, without inspiring additional public confidence in the process. Despite these challenges, I look forward to actively engaging Congress to explore these – and other – options for increased oversight.

I believe, however, that the use of force must be seen as part of a larger discussion about a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy. Because for all the focus on the use of force, 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 – through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments – will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways.

He called for a media shield to protect journalists:

Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law. That is why I have called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government over-reach. I have raised these issues with the Attorney General, who shares my concern. So he has agreed to review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and will convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review. And I have directed the Attorney General to report back to me by July 12th.

While Republicans were leading us into a perpetual war, Obama realizes that, like all wars, this war must end:

The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So 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. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.

He is addressing the continued detaining of prisoners at Guantánamo:

Today, I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from GTMO. I have asked the Department of Defense to designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions. I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries. Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and military justice system. And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee.

Even after we take these steps, one issue will remain: how to deal with those GTMO detainees who we know have participated in dangerous plots or attacks, but who cannot be prosecuted – for example because the evidence against them has been compromised or is inadmissible in a court of law. But once we commit to a process of closing GTMO, I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.

I know the politics are hard. But history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism, and those of us who fail to end it. Imagine a future – ten years from now, or twenty years from now – when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country. Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? Is that something that our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?

The president does not micromanage every action by the United States government and, as Ed Kilgore and David Weigel pointed out, Obama did try to hold the Congressional Republicans for their actions:

One thing is fairly clear: the speech poses a challenge to congressional Republicans that may not be that easy for them to meet, distracted as they are and as divided as they tend to be on national security policy these days. As Slate’s Dave Weigel quickly noted, Obama four times shifted responsibility for current dilemmas at least partially to Congress: on drones (where he insisted the appropriate congressional committees have known about every single strike); on embassy security; on the 9/11-era legal regime that still governs anti-terrorist efforts; and on Gitmo (where Republicans have repeatedly thwarted effort to transfer detainees to U.S. prisons). But like critical reporters, Republicans, other than neocons who want GWOT not only to be maintained but intensified, will probably tear off tasty chunks of the speech and masticate them noisily, or just dismiss it all and get back onto the crazy train of Scandalmania ‘13.

David Corn sees this as Obama taking the middle ground:

Not shockingly, Obama is attempting to find middle ground, where there is more oversight and more restraint regarding activities that pose serious civil liberties and policy challenges. The McCainiacs of the world are likely to howl about any effort to place the effort to counter terrorism into a more balanced perspective. The civil libertarians will scoff at half measures. But Obama, at the least, is showing that he does ponder these difficult issues in a deliberative manner and is still attempting to steer the nation into a post-9/11 period. That journey, though, may be a long one.

He is also looking for a middle ground which considers our security needs in the era of international terrorism along with the need to respect civil liberties and the principles which the nation was founded upon. He might not get it completely right, and the answers are not always entirely clear but, contrary to Bush and Cheney, he is considering the key issues.

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Bipartisan Report On Torture After 9/11

In case anyone still had any doubt that George Bush and Dick Cheney should be tried as war criminals, a bipartisan report confirms the long-standing criticism of torture being used under them:

A nonpartisan, independent review of interrogation and detention programs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concludes that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” and that the nation’s highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it.

The sweeping, 577-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had been “the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.” The study, by an 11-member panel convened by the Constitution Project, a legal research and advocacy group, is to be released on Tuesday morning.

Debate over the coercive interrogation methods used by the administration of President George W. Bush has often broken down on largely partisan lines. The Constitution Project’s task force on detainee treatment, led by two former members of Congress with experience in the executive branch — a Republican, Asa Hutchinson, and a Democrat, James R. Jones — seeks to produce a stronger national consensus on the torture question.

While the task force did not have access to classified records, it is the most ambitious independent attempt to date to assess the detention and interrogation programs. A separate 6,000-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s record by the Senate Intelligence Committee, based exclusively on agency records, rather than interviews, remains classified.

“As long as the debate continues, so too does the possibility that the United States could again engage in torture,” the report says.

The use of torture, the report concludes, has “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” The task force found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that these interrogation methods produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. While “a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information,” much of the information obtained by force was not reliable, the report says.

Interrogation and abuse at the C.I.A.’s so-called black sites, the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba and war-zone detention centers, have been described in considerable detail by the news media and in declassified documents, though the Constitution Project report adds many new details.

It confirms a report by Human Rights Watch that one or more Libyan militants were waterboarded by the C.I.A., challenging the agency’s longtime assertion that only three Al Qaeda prisoners were subjected to the near-drowning technique. It includes a detailed account by Albert J. Shimkus Jr., then a Navy captain who ran a hospital for detainees at the Guantánamo Bay prison, of his own disillusionment when he discovered what he considered to be the unethical mistreatment of prisoners.

But the report’s main significance may be its attempt to assess what the United States government did in the years after 2001 and how it should be judged. The C.I.A. not only waterboarded prisoners, but slammed them into walls, chained them in uncomfortable positions for hours, stripped them of clothing and kept them awake for days on end.

The question of whether those methods amounted to torture is a historically and legally momentous issue that has been debated for more than a decade inside and outside the government. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote a series of legal opinions from 2002 to 2005 concluding that the methods were not torture if used under strict rules; all the memos were later withdrawn. News organizations have wrestled with whether to label the brutal methods unequivocally as torture in the face of some government officials’ claims that they were not.

In addition, the United States is a signatory to the international Convention Against Torture, which requires the prompt investigation of allegations of torture and the compensation of its victims.

Like the still-secret Senate interrogation report, the Constitution Project study was initiated after President Obama decided in 2009 not to support a national commission to investigate the post-9/11 counterterrorism programs, as proposed by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and others. Mr. Obama said then that he wanted to “look forward, not backward.” Aides have said he feared that his own policy agenda might get sidetracked in a battle over his predecessor’s programs.

The panel studied the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at the C.I.A’s secret prisons. Staff members, including the executive director, Neil A. Lewis, a former reporter for The New York Times, traveled to multiple detention sites and interviewed dozens of former American and foreign officials, as well as former detainees.

Mr. Hutchinson, who served in the Bush administration as chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration and under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said he “took convincing” on the torture issue. But after the panel’s nearly two years of research, he said he had no doubts about what the United States did.

“This has not been an easy inquiry for me, because I know many of the players,” Mr. Hutchinson said in an interview. He said he thought everyone involved in decisions, from Mr. Bush down, had acted in good faith, in a desperate effort to try to prevent more attacks.

“But I just think we learn from history,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “It’s incredibly important to have an accurate account not just of what happened but of how decisions were made.”

He added, “The United States has a historic and unique character, and part of that character is that we do not torture.”

The panel found that the United States violated its international legal obligations by engineering “enforced disappearances” and secret detentions. It questions recidivism figures published by the Defense Intelligence Agency for Guantánamo detainees who have been released, saying they conflict with independent reviews.

Many on the right justified these actions belieing they were necessary for our national security. Therefore I will repeat the line above which points out:  The use of torture, the report concludes, has “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” The task force found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that these interrogation methods produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. While “a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information,” much of the information obtained by force was not reliable, the report says.

 

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Rob Portman and Dick Cheney Show That Conservatives Are The Most Selfish, Self-Centered People In The World

Rob Portman has joined Dick Cheney is supporting same-sex marriage after finding that one of their children is gay. They have no concept of supporting the same rights for everyone. They are only willing to support basic human rights for gay individuals when it affects their family. The same concept is true of the entire conservative philosophy. How many Republicans would pay no attention to partisan views on abortion should their own daughter needed an abortion but would deny this right to others?

This isn’t limited to social issues. Conservatives support limited-government when it is in their interest (ignoring this concept when it comes to imposing their religious views upon others). They promote an economic theory of limited government in order to provide philosophical cover for eliminating regulations which are a nuisance to their businesses and support for reducing their taxes. Meanwhile people like the Koch brothers are perfectly willing to use government programs to make money. They oppose government assistance programs which they do not personally need, ignoring the needs of others and failing to distinguish between a safety-net in a liberal democracy form a Marxist dictatorship. Sarah Palin made an exception in supporting assistance to disabled children because of first hand experience. If only conservatives had the capacity to consider hardships which other people’s children might face.

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Conservatives And Immigration

Obama has pleased most of the country with his recent expression of humanity towards children of illegal immigrants, but he has really pissed off the right wing. Mitt Romney is being forced into a more hard line position, which will make it more difficult for Republicans to win Hispanic votes. Conservatives on the internet are becoming quite hysterical. I’ve received a few emails wondering how anyone could support Obama, between doing something they believe is unconstitutional to warning of dire consequences if all these foreigners are allowed to stay. It is hard to decide which part of the conservative argument is more comical.

The claims of Obama’s act being unconstitutional is clearly absurd, but it does point out how conservatives view the Constitution. Note that most conservatives had no problem with real attempts to ignore the Constitution and increase Executive power during the Bush years. Did these conservatives complain about Dick Cheney’s unitary executive theory? They certainly show no respect for separation of church and state. I think that to conservatives, the Constitution is like Mitt Romney’s Etch-A-Sketch, having no relationship to the document actually written by the Founding Fathers. It changes to allow what they support and opposed what they disagree with.

As I was pushing the delete button on conservative email prophesying g all types of doom if we allowed these foreigners to stay, I was wondering why they are so worked up about an imaginary, overblown threat, while they ignore real problems which endanger the country, such as climate change or Republican economic policies which are destroying the middle class. Is there any explanation for this inconsistency beyond racism?

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Republicans Show What They Really Think About Deficit Reduction

Republicans once again show what their top priority is. During the Bush years, Republican such as Dick Cheney claimed that “deficits don’t matter.” Once Obama took office, the Republicans have repeatedly tried to blame the Bush deficit on Democrats and have demanded offsets for the costs of everything from emergency disaster relief to unemployment benefits and tax cuts for the middle class. However, there is now one exception. House Republicans are now saying that they want to continue the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy without any offsets:

While President Obama and congressional Democrats want to extend only the Bush rates for middle-income earners, Republicans have long argued that the entire slate of tax rates should be kept in place until Congress can agree to a complete overhaul of the tax code.

But moving to extend the Bush tax rates without offsetting spending cuts or revenue increases could leave the GOP vulnerable to attacks on the deficit, particularly for a party that has spent years accusing Democrats of bankrupting federal coffers and used their House majority to insist on controlling the exploding debt.

It is Republican Party orthodoxy that tax cuts do not need to be offset because of the additional tax receipts they spur through economic growth. And in interviews, even House Republicans who have broken with the party leadership on taxes told The Hill they do not believe the extension of the Bush-era rates needs to be paid for.

Of course the evidence over the years has been that in most cases lower taxes means decreased government revenue without causing economic growth. This was seen again with the Bush tax cuts. The Laffer Curve shows benefits for tax cuts in situations with high tax rates. On rare occasions, such as when Democrat John Kennedy lowered taxes, economic benefits were seen. Even the Laffer Curve demonstrates that economic stimulus will not  result from tax cuts when tax rates are at historically low levels, such as at the present. Republicans just want to lower taxes for the ultra-wealthy, and do not really care about the deficit or the consequences for the country.

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Quote of the Day

“Fox News sent Dick Cheney flowers. MSNBC sent chili cheese fries.” –Jay Leno re Dick Cheney’s heart transplant.

Bonus Quote:

“This weekend 71-year-old former Vice President Dick Cheney received a heart transplant. The heart is working so well that Cheney has already gone to Whoville and returned all their Christmas presents.” –Conan O’Brien

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Cheney Recovering From Surgery

Dick Cheney had surgery today to give him a heart. Next will Sarah Palin undergo surgery to get a brain?

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Quote of the Day

“I read Dick Cheney’s book. I don’t want to ruin it for anybody, but in the final chapter he kills Harry Potter. If you want the book, in the bookstore go past the self-help section. It’s in the self-serving section.” –Jay Leno

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Quote of the Day

“Dick ‘Kaboom’ Cheney has written a book, and he says he wouldn’t change anything. He feels strongly about this. He’d still invade the wrong country.” –David Letterman

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Cheney Fears Being Tried For War Crimes

Unindicted war criminal Dick Cheney is afraid of being tried for war crimes according to former Colin Powell chief-of-staff Lawrence Wilkerson. It also appears that he won’t have any friends left among former members of the Bush administration once they read In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir.

“I think he’s just trying to, one, assert himself so he’s not in some subsequent time period tried for war crimes and, second, so that he somehow vindicates himself because he feels like he needs vindication. That in itself tells you something about him,” Wilkerson told ABC News, explaining that Cheney may have “angst” because of receiving deferments instead of serving in the Vietnam War like Wilkerson and others in the administration.

“He’s developed an angst and almost a protective cover, and now he fears being tried as a war criminal so he uses such terminology as ‘exploding heads all over Washington’ because that’s the way someone who’s decided he’s not going to be prosecuted acts: boldly, let’s get out in front of everybody, let’s act like we are not concerned and so forth when in fact they are covering up their own fear that somebody will Pinochet him,” Wilkerson said alluding to the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was arrested for war crimes.

Wilkinson also described Cheney as being power-hungry:

Wilkerson adds, “Something happened to Dick Cheney and it wasn’t just 9/11,” which Cheney cites as deeply changing him. Wilkerson said the former vice president always “coveted power” and that Cheney was “fully expecting that he was going to be vice-president” when he headed up the search team for Bush.

“I can’t speak to the psychosomatic or the genetic problems with heart attacks or whatever, but I can speak to power,” Wilkerson said. “He wanted desperately to be president of the United States … he knew the Texas governor was not steeped in anything but baseball, so he knew he was going to be president and I think he got his dream. He was president for all practical purposes for the first term of the Bush administration.”

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