Photo credit: Reuters

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Guantanamo Blackout

Dear Mr. President,
On December 3, General John Kelley, head of U.S. Southern Command, ordered Guantanamo prison staff to stop providing the number of prisoners on hunger strike and the number being force-fed. According to the Miami Herald which tracked these numbers each day, “‘JTF-Guantánamo allows detainees to peacefully protest but will not further their protests by reporting the numbers to the public,’ the spokesman said. ‘The release of this information serves no operational purpose and detracts from the more important issues, which are the welfare of detainees and the safety and security of our troops.’ He refused to elaborate on how the daily report interfered with troop security and detainee welfare...” ( So much for Guantanamo’s motto: “safe, humane, legal, transparent detention.” The only valid part now is “detention.” After the mass hunger strike earlier this year, the number of hunger strikers being force-fed dropped to 11 but it’s starting to rise again—15 as of Nov. 15—and the military (and your Administration) doesn’t want more bad publicity and the way to accomplish that is to shut down that one sliver of transparency into Guantanamo. But the article also reveals that there are 2,100 troops and contractors assigned to Guantanamo and among these 2,100 people is a public-relations team of 20, led by a Navy Commander. These are astonishing numbers: a ratio of 13 to 1 prison personnel to inmates and a 20 man PR team assigned to a prison with zero transparency. What’s even more astonishing is that we’re spending $2.7 million per prisoner per year to keep them incarcerated, most of them never charged with a crime and more than half of them cleared for release more than 3 years ago. Somehow we found $454 million this year to lock up 164 people in Guantanamo but we’re cutting pensions in Detroit and Stockton and Harrison County, Georgia and a dozen other communities because we’re broke. We can spend $68,000 on a Hellfire missile to kill an unarmed 67-year-old grandmother and village midwife picking okra in her garden in the mountains of Waziristan (actually, 2 missiles were fired at her, so it was $136,000) but we can’t find a dime for the long-term unemployed and we had to cut $9 a month from Leon Simmons’ food stamps. What does this say about our priorities, Mr. President? What does it say about our leaders and our representatives? What does it say about you?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Buy America!

Dear Mr. President,
Today’s NYT (“For Toledo, Cash To Grow; For Chinese, Closer Ties” p. A12) tells how this rust belt town of 280,000, once the glass capital of the world, had to buy glass panels for the new wing of their museum from the Chinese because the glass industry has been off-shored and what’s left of it no longer had the capacity to fill the order. A pretty sad commentary on the state of America, what’s happened to our industrial capacity and why we’ve got so many people unemployed. We can’t even make the glass for own windows! But here’s the grabber: because of that glass order, the Chinese discovered Toledo, its key location—a major port on the Great Lakes, a regional rail and highway hub—and its depressed real estate market, and decided to invest in the city, bought hotels, restaurants, riverfront property and abandoned factories that could be refurbished and made functional again. Things are looking up for Toledo, thanks to the Chinese. The article also talks about other Chinese investments in the U.S.—$12.2 billion in the first 9 months of 2013: “Chinese investors have been buying commercial and residential real estate in Detroit, inexpensively because of the city’s financial troubles, and have agreed to finance a $1.5 billion waterfront development in Oakland, Calif. This year, on a trade trip to China, Gov. Jerry Brown of California discussed Chinese investment in the state’s troubled $91 billion bullet train project. Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee have also increased their push for Chinese investment.” What’s absent is any mention of U.S. investment, underwriting or loans to resuscitate our ailing cities. When you think about it, it’s pretty clear why. Unlike the Chinese, we spend our money on war, not infrastructure, not loans to develop waterfront property or refurbish hotels, factories and restaurants, or bail out pensioners or bankrupt cities. That’s the price of war, selling America to foreigners—in this case the Chinese, who know a good deal when they see it. Meanwhile, we give billions in military aid to dictators and military regimes, spend tens of billions on useless spying and give subsidies to corporate farmers while ending unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed—like the folks who used to work in the glass factories of Toledo—and cutting food stamps and child health programs…a litany of outrage. What’s wrong with this picture, Mr. President? To those of us out here on the hustings, the answer’s pretty obvious.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men

Dear Mr. President,
Counterterrorism, Qaeda-affiliate, militants, insurgents, National Security. Like the Abracadabra of magicians, these phrases seem possessed of magical power when used by the magicians and tricksters of Washington to justify any atrocity, any war, any act of aggression, any crime against humanity and any violation of the Constitution or international law. Last week we sent an emergency shipment of 75 Hellfire missiles to a non-existent Iraqi Air Force which had exhausted their supply, justifying it as necessary to help Iraq fight a growing Qaeda-affiliate insurgency in Iraq (today’s NYT, “U.S. Sends Arms To Aid Iraq Fight With Extremists” p. A1). While the Iraqis don’t have Predator or Reaper drones or any combat aircraft—yet—they strap the Hellfires beneath the wings of small Cessna turboprops and fire them “at militant camps with the CIA secretly providing targeting assistance.” (Shades of the CIA secretly providing targeting information for Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons attacks against the Iranians back in the 1970s!) The Iraqis paid for the Hellfire missiles (a little over $5 million, nice pocket change for Lockheed Martin) but we gave them 3 sensor-laden Aerostat balloons and 3 surveillance helicopters to help fight the Qaeda-affiliate insurgency which is gaining more and more territory in western Iraq and across the border in Syria. (So much for your pledge to bring the Iraq war to a “responsible end.”) But this is only the beginning. Next year we deliver 10 ScanEagle drones, 48 Raven drones, the first of the F-16s they bought and, if Congress approves it, lease at least 6 Apache helicopter gunships to them. Meanwhile, our counterterrorism folks say they’ve “effectively mapped the locations and origins of the Qaeda network in Iraq and are sharing the information with the Iraqis.” Hold on here, a minute, Mr. President, I thought Iraq was lined up with Iran and Iran was our mortal enemy, one of the Axis of Evil countries. Or maybe that was last month and the map’s changed once again. It’s hard to keep up with all the to-ing and fro-ing going on behind closed doors, all the Abracadabras and secret agreements and handshake deals. The only thing that never changes is that We the People always lose and the merchants of death always win no matter which side we’re on because war is good for business and the business of America is war. Peace on earth, good will to men, Mr. President. And a belated Mele Kalikimaka.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dirty Secrets? Say It Isn't So, Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,
More bad news for you on page 1 of today’s NYT: “N.S.A. Spied on Allies, Aid Groups and Businesses” and “Yemeni Deaths Test Claims of New Drone Policy.” The first article, based on the latest Snowden leaks, reveals more widespread spying than previously known, more than a thousand targets in this document, including such threats as Doctors Without Borders, the French oil company Total, Israeli PM Olmert, and a host of other government leaders, humanitarian organizations and businesses. The second article goes back to your May 23 speech promising more transparency and tighter control of drone strikes—another empty promise—and contrasts it to the Dec. 12 atrocity in Yemen: droning a convoy of vehicles in what the U.S. claims was a convoy of Al Qaeda militants including Shawqi Ali Ahmad al-Badani, accused of being a leader in the bomb plot that shut down 19 embassies in August. The convoy turned out to be a wedding party en route from the groom’s village to the bride’s but as usual, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Pentagon maintains they were all Al Qaeda militants and not civilians. The link between the two stories is in last week’s New Yorker article, “State of Deception,” which quotes a dissertation by a former CIA analyst, Bridget Rose Nolan, describing the process from NSA surveillance to National Counterterrorism Center analysis to your Kill List to the drone operators launching Hellfire missiles at targets 7,000 miles away. According to Ms. Nolan’s dissertation, a CIA colleague described the process as “You track ‘em, we whack ‘em.” But what if that intelligence is wrong? What if the analysts and drone operators, with no knowledge of Yemeni culture or tradition, can’t distinguish a wedding party from a group of militants? What if they don’t know that an Al Qaeda convoy would never include 11 vehicles? And then back to the first story and examples of the useless information the NSA collects in ‘Alexander’s haystack’ that provides no value, averts no plots and stops no attacks. Even your loyal NYT has given up on you in today’s scathing editorial, saying you continue to defend the secrecy surrounding all this, continue to believe that the problem is nothing more than a matter of PR and “any actions that Mr. Obama may announce next month would certainly not be adequate.” I can’t help but wonder if the NSA’s holding some dirt on you, Mr. President. Why else would you defend a rogue agency that undermines democracy?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Subverting Democracy

Dear Mr. President,
So your handpicked intelligence-community-insider panel reviewing the NSA is recommending you rein ‘em in. They don’t go near far enough—don’t just rein ‘em in, shut ‘em down—but even these guys report that the bulk collection of phone data has “not been necessary in stopping terrorist attacks” and that it “was not essential to preventing attacks.” (today’s NYT, “Obama Is Urged To Sharply Curb N.S.A. Data Mining” p. A1) Tuesday, Judge Leon called it “Orwellian” and said it “almost certainly violates the Fourth Amendment.” Then Wednesday, the rich tech execs who donate millions to Democrats complained in their meeting with you that it’s hurting business, and today your own panel recommends 46  major changes. The December 16 New Yorker article, “State of Deception,” by Ryan Lizza, reveals just how out of control the NSA is. It has consistently misled and lied to Congress, the FISA Court and the public and systematically ignored its own rules and the law so often that even the rubber-stamp FISA Court threatened to shut them down on several occasions. The article also chronicles how you’ve embraced and institutionalized all the Bush surveillance policies even though as a Senator and candidate for President you railed against them and tried to change them. More proof that you are a Machiavellian technocrat who will do anything to gain and maintain power. The article shows how you’ve kept the programs so secret that not even Congress, let alone We the People, know what’s going on. Even the NSA budget is classified so we don’t really know just how much they spend each year to spy on us, programs that provide no value. That’s NO VALUE, Mr. President. They’ve uncovered no plots and averted no attacks while burning through tens of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars doing it. Waste, fraud, and abuse! Even the current director of the National Counterterrorism Center admits they don’t really need to collect every phone call made by every American and most foreigners around the world, but that doesn’t stop Clapper and Alexander. Get it All! is their motto. According to the article, you had two clear opportunities to rein in the NSA in your first year as president but instead betrayed your stated principles and sided with the NSA, secrecy and illegal spying. Not good for democracy. As Edward Snowden said last July, “Seeing someone in the position of James Clapper baldly lying to the public without repercussion is the evidence of a subverted democracy.”

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Obama's Belt Buckle

Dear Mr. President,
Your December 12 letter arrived today thanking me for “the letter you sent this spring and for sharing your thoughts. I read your message with interest.” No clue which of the 55 letters I sent this spring you’re referring to or what issue but you repeated the standard “my highest priority is the safety of the American people,” so it might have something to do with your covert wars or drone strikes or assassination program or your war on whistleblowers or indefinite detentions or who knows what. The next sentence is also puzzling: “Tough times and big decisions will necessarily bring our ideas about how to move forward into starker contrast.” No clue in the letter what big decisions you’ve got in mind but a big decision would be to shut down the NSA and the CIA and cut the Pentagon budget in half next year and half again in 2015 and use the money to restore the social contract and the social safety net. Another big decision would be to double tax rates on corporations and the rich and use that money to rebuild our infrastructure. How about single-payer healthcare? Or ending covert wars? How about amnesty for Manning and Snowden and Kiriakou and all the other whistle blowers? All big decisions and all about as likely as a snowball in hell. I’d like to think you actually read one of my letters this spring and considered the issues I raised but you’re a busy guy with important things to do, like attending the weekly Kill List meeting to decide who gets whacked this week, and keeping all your secrets secret and the tech companies tamped down and the countries we spy on mollified, and keeping the good times rolling for your rich patrons. Your letter came in a 9 x 12 manila envelope, First Class, $1.32 postage and “DO NOT BEND” stamped on the front. At first I thought maybe it was some kind of diploma thanking me for pointing out the counter error on the “Contact the White House” web page (my December 14 letter) or maybe even an award for the most letters of complaint sent to you over the past year, but when I opened that big envelope there was just this dinky 5 sentence note on a sheet of your 6½ x 9 stationery with your robosignature and a piece of cardboard like the back of an 8½ x 11 yellow tablet to make sure it didn’t get bent. When I thought about it however, it fits your MO; great packaging but little content. That envelope today was kind of analogous to a Texas belt buckle: the bigger the buckle, the smaller the man. If you get my gist.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Score One For The Good Guys

Dear Mr. President,
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled yesterday that the NSA’s bulk collection of phone data “almost certainly” violates the 4th Amendment. He handed down an injunction to stop collecting data on the plaintiffs, destroy data already collected…and then stayed his own injunction for “national security” concerns until the government can appeal, a process that can take up to six months. Once again, “national security” trumps all. But today’s NYT (“Judge Questions Legality of N.S.A. Phone Records” p. A1), reports that Judge Leon rejected the legal basis for the NSA’s collection program which rests on distorting, twisting and misapplying a 1979 Supreme Court ruling—Smith v. Maryland—which involved the warrantless collection of phone records on a criminal defendant who, the court ruled, could not expect protection under the 4th Amendment; not even remotely like collecting every record of every phone call on every person every day. The judge also said the government had failed to cite “a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive.” Since the NSA’s discredited claim of “54 plots averted,” there’s been no mention of plots stopped or attacks averted and you can bet they’d be trumpeting them from here to kingdom come if there were. So why are we spending $10.8 billion a year on an enterprise which subverts and ignores the law, causes irreparable harm to our reputation at home and abroad, engenders mistrust and suspicion worldwide and cannot point to a single case where they helped foil an attack? And why are people like Clapper and Alexander not in jail for lying and misleading Congress, the FISA Court and the public? Why are they still treated with respect and their word taken as gospel while Manning languishes in Fort Leavenworth and Snowden has to take refuge in Russia? Why are whistleblowers persecuted while perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity go free and are treated as dignitaries? But the real underlying issue is secrecy, not just the NSA’s but the entire Obama government. And secrecy invariably leads to abuse and injustice. As the Times editorial put it today, “For seven years, these constitutional issues have been adjudicated under ‘a cloak of secrecy,’ as Judge Leon put it. Now, that cloak has finally been lifted in a true court of law.” Score one for the good guys.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Obama's Distorted Reality

Dear Mr. President,
I’ve been writing letters to you for 3 years now, sending each one electronically through the White House website and a hardcopy via USPS (doing my bit to help the USPS survive), 462 to date. Because the White House website restricts comments to 2500 characters (including spaces), I’ve gotten pretty good at saying what I want to say right at that number of characters. At first it was difficult to be so restricted but it does make one focus on an issue and not natter on and waste your time. (I know you never actually read any of these letters yourself but I keep the illusion going even though they haven’t made a dime’s worth of difference because it’s a way to vent my frustration and rage at your betrayals.) Anyhow, a month ago the White House website got revised and suddenly 2500 characters was 51 too many and my letters could no longer go through without the electronic version being abridged. I thought maybe some of the people who messed up the website screwed up the character counter on the “Contact the White House” page so I sent a message—only a few hundred characters—pointing out the problem but a month later 2500 characters (including spaces) is still 51 too many. I didn’t expect an acknowledgement—I haven’t received a response from the White House to any of my most recent 65 letters over the past 4 months—and if you won’t acknowledge your drone wars or extrajudicial assassinations or the murder of civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere, why would I expect you to bother acknowledging something this trivial? Just a little technical glitch that can easily be fixed, not a war crime like ordering the assassination of a 16-year-old U.S. citizen who posed no threat to the U.S. Or is it just a simple technical glitch? Maybe it’s a precursor of what’s coming, a way of choking off another avenue of dissent, forcing us to restrict our letters to 2449 characters and pretending it’s still 2500. That’s not a lot, maybe not even noticeable to most folks, but what’s next, 2400 characters? 2000? Why not just take down the page and do away with the pretense? In a way it’s symbolic of how you’ve lost touch with We the People, how you don’t hear our voices, or if you do, don’t give a damn, how we don’t exist in your reality of political wheeling and dealing and power games, deciding who lives and who dies, who gets the breaks and who gets screwed. In your world, 2449 is 2500 and that’s distorted reality, Mr. President.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Kiev, Washington, Yemen: Getting Rid of the Bad Guys

Dear Mr. President,
Yesterday afternoon, CIA assassins fired Hellfire missiles on a convoy of cars going to (or returning from) a wedding in a remote region of Yemen, killing at least 11 people—or 13 or 15 depending on the report. ABC News, the AP, Reuters, Al Jazeera and The Guardian all reported that those killed were civilians, a case of mistaken identity, that the CIA mistook the wedding party for a convoy of “suspected Al Qaeda militants.” Today’s NYT, however, reports that “Most of the dead appeared to be people suspected of being militants linked to Al Qaeda…but there were also reports that several civilians had been killed.” (“Drone Strike in Yemen Hits Wedding Convoy, Killing 11” p. A8.) So either the CIA no longer bothers to distinguish between militants who are an imminent threat to the U.S. of A. and civilian wedding parties, or perhaps  they’ve instituted a new program of assassinating prospective breeders of future suspected militants, a sort of pre-emptive first strike in your War of Terror. Although the Times article sounded like it was written by the CIA, it did mention that back in May you “promised to make the drone campaign more transparent.” The statement is left hanging; there has been no increase in transparency since then. They also noted that right after your speech, drone strikes in Yemen dipped for awhile but they’re now back in full force, 2 this week, at least 2 last month, and in a 2-week period this summer, 9 strikes took place with no indication any of those killed were high value targets or leaders of AQAP. A tactic of cowards is to hide behind secrecy and silence. No acknowledgement, no transparency, no justice, the hallmarks of the Obama years. Right above today’s article on the drone strike in Yemen, there’s an article on the antigovernment protests in Ukraine which quotes a mechanical engineering student in eastern Ukraine as saying, “If they manage to get Yanukovichn out, there will be a new Yanukovichn after him.” Not everyone is enthusiastic or hopeful. There’s a lot of cynicism and disgust. The same applies here in the U.S. In 2008 we were disgusted with Bush and his neocons and got rid of them but ended up with a new Bush and new neocons under a new label, Obama and his neoliberals. For 5 years you’ve continued and expanded the obscenely stupid, counterproductive and self-annihilating policies of the Bush years. Nothing has changed and Washington’s the same as Kiev. We’ve just exchanged the old Bush for a new Bush.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

We the People: Kiev, Arab Spring, Occupy

Dear Mr. President,
Here’s what your Vice told President Viktor Yanukovich of Ukraine the other day: “violence has no place in a democratic society and is incompatible with our strategic relationship.” (NYT, “Ukraine’s Forces Move Against Protesters, Dimming Hopes for Talks” p. A6) Where was Biden on October 25, 2011 when Oakland police and Alameda County sheriffs sent Iraqi war veteran Scott Olsen to the hospital with a fractured skull during their violent crackdown on the Occupy Oakland encampment? Or on Nov. 9 when the same law enforcement thugs beat Occupy protesters (including 70-year-old Professor and former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass and his wife) with truncheons to break up an Occupy protest on the UC Berkeley campus? Or Nov. 18 when UC Davis campus cops pepper-sprayed a group of peaceful protesters sitting on the ground? Or the countless acts of violence and brutality by the NYPD against Occupy Wall Street demonstrators? Biden’s lecture to Yanukovich was blatantly hypocritical. We turn a blind eye to violence and injustice here at home and by our friends and allies abroad but Ukraine or Syria or Libya or Iraq suddenly calls for sanctimonious lectures about freedom and democracy and aspirations. Ukraine under Yanukovich is drifting back into Russia’s orbit and away from the West so it’s obvious why we’re pro-democracy there, but what about Bahrain and Qatar and the West Bank where people have been fighting repression and injustice for years? Where are you and Joe on those? I’m pro-Kiev demonstrators too, Mr. President, but not for the same reasons you are. I’m for any uprising anywhere by We the People to throw off the yoke of oppression and injustice and that’s what the people of Kiev are doing. They want the same things people everywhere want, from Occupy Wall Street to Tahrir Square to Pearl Square to Gaza: freedom, dignity and respect. They want government to listen to them, to address their needs and desires, not just the power brokers and elites. And like all uprisings, it’s always the State who resorts to violence whether it’s the NYPD or Assad’s army or Ukraine’s interior ministry forces, so there’s tremendous nobility in those Kiev protesters chanting Peaceful Protest! Peaceful Protest! as Ukraine’s security forces closed in on Independence Square, No different than our own Occupy protesters. It’s democracy in action. Kiev. Cairo. New York. Real power resides not in the State but in We the People, a lesson both sides keep learning.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Court Jester and the Fool

Dear Mr. President,
This whole fiasco with the Bilateral Security Agreement reminds me of a high pressure used car salesman (the U.S.) trying to sell a clunker to a prospective buyer (Hamid Karzai). Only in this case the prospective buyer is just as canny and devious as the used car salesman. Every enticement offered brings a new demand, every pressure is met with another roadblock, and by the end of the day, the salesman is looking to the buyer’s wife, kids, cousins, dog, anyone, to sign the deal. After Kerry’s entreaties, after the Loya Jirga’s rubber stamp of approval, after Dobbins and Rice and all the other nameless negotiators’ pleas and threats, and with billions of Yankee taxpayer dollars sitting on the table, Karzai’s got new demands—free all prisoners at Guantanamo, stop raiding Afghan homes, kicking down doors in the dead of night, terrorizing villages with drones and Hellfire, help start peace talks with the Taliban. What’s with this guy, anyway? What gall! Next thing you know, he’ll demand your Nobel Peace Prize! After 12 years of propping him up, keeping him and his cronies in power all this time, delivering millions in unmarked Ben Franklins to his office every month, treating his government like it was legitimate instead of a sham, now he wants us to stop counterterrorism raids and make our heroes subject to Afghan law? Outrageous! He’s playing David with a slingshot up against Goliath, “the greatest military the world has ever known,” flipping us off, dancing around and laughing at us. It’s humiliating, Mr. President, don’t let him get away with it. Put him on your Kill List. Surely, he’s a bigger threat to the U.S. of A. than that grandmother you droned last year in the mountains of Waziristan while she was picking okra in her garden. I mean, he’s sucking billions of dollars out of our economy and into his own pocket, money needed here at home for food stamps, unemployment benefits, education and aid for ailing municipalities going broke and cutting services and pensions. Karzai’s playing you for a fool, Mr. President. It was a fool’s war to begin with, started by fools and driven by ignorance, hubris and fantasy, a war continued and expanded by you, now your war, to no purpose other than furthering misbegotten dreams of empire and world domination. The way to win in Afghanistan is to walk away, to stop the mayhem, stop the killing, stop supporting the most corrupt government on the face of the earth. In other words, stop playing the fool.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Obamajustice at Guantanamo

Dear Mr. President,
Belkacem Bensayah and Djamel Ameziane got a taste of Obamajustice this week. The Defense Department announced Thursday that it had transferred both men from Guantanamo Bay prison to Algeria. What the news release didn’t say was that both men were transferred involuntarily, that they preferred the hell of Guantanamo to the hell of Algeria where they are certain to be persecuted or killed. Both men have been in Guantanamo since early 2002, Mr. Bensayah sent there from Bosnia where his wife and daughters still live, and Mr. Ameziane rounded up by Pakistani authorities and turned over to the U.S. military, much like 14-year-old Hamidullah Khan, who I wrote about a few days ago, another victim of America’s arbitrary justice. Djamel Ameziane is a minority Berber and fled Algeria because of persecution. That’s how he ended up in the tribal area of Pakistan in late 2001, another man in the wrong place at the wrong time, no doubt sold for the bounty paid by the U.S. on “militants,” no questions asked, and sent to Guantanamo. According to yesterday’s NYT (“Two Detainees at Guantanamo Are Involuntarily Repatriated to Algeria” p. A20), both Canada and Luxembourg were possible repatriation countries but a State Department spokesman said transfer to another country was “not a viable option.” The Center for Constitutional Rights called Ameziane’s transfer to Algeria “as unnecessary as it is bitterly cruel.” An editorial in today’s NYT (“A Bad Decision at Guantánamo” p. A20) said that even though the Bush administration cleared Ameziane for release in 2008, when your folks took over in 2009, they blocked his release to any country other than Algeria: “During a 2009 hearing, Federal District Judge Ellen Segal Havelle, told government lawyers she was ‘appalled’ at the situation. ‘I don’t know why in the world the only thing that the government can see here is Algeria,’” You campaigned in 2008 on a promise to close Guantanamo and ordered it closed in 2009 but did nothing when the hawks in Congress objected. So it remained open. In May, during the mass hunger strike, you said Guantánamo “has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law,” and you recommitted to close it. And so you will. In the cold, calculating manner of technocrats, with neither mercy, compassion nor conscience, and with arbitrary justice where any means is justified, where people are nothing more than numbers on a spreadsheet, We need our own Nelson Mandela.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela & Barack Obama, a Study in Contrasts

Dear Mr. President,
Nelson Mandela died today. You called him “a symbol of justice, equality and dignity.” He had his faults like anyone, but he was a good man, deserving of his 1993 Nobel Peace Prize and of his reputation. He inspired by word and deed, believed what he said and acted on his vision of a fair and just world. You give good speeches too, but there’s no action or follow-up to go with them and frankly, I doubt you really believe anything you say. Yesterday you decried inequality in America but you’ve done nothing to change it. You proposed health care reform but that turned into a subsidy for the insurance and health care industries. Your version of tax reform was a paltry 4.6% tax increase on the super-rich. You vowed to close Guantanamo but 5 years later it remains open. You talk of ending war but the wars rage on with no end in sight. You promised to return to the rule of law but your laws remain secret and arbitrary and justice is whatever you say it is. Hamidullah Khan is an example. In 2008, when he was 14, his father sent him to South Waziristan to retrieve possessions from their ancient family home. His journey was to take a few days but somehow he wound up in American custody and has been held at the U.S. prison in Bagram for the past 5 years—no charges, no trial, no legal representation. Last month he was one of 6 Pakistanis secretly “repatriated”— taken from Bagram in the middle of the night, hooded, cuffed and flown to Pakistan, but not home or into the custody of Pakistan’s judicial system; rather, into the frontier tribal region where he will be judged by a bureaucrat under ancient laws. This is your War of Terror, Mr. President, unjust, immoral and waged in secret by bureaucrats and assassins with no accountability and no justification, like a Kafkaesque nightmare, unfathomable and arbitrary. A far cry from the vision of Nelson Mandela. And a far cry from any American values I grew up with. This is what Nazis did, what totalitarian regimes do. This is what 12 years of America’s War of Terror has brought us—war without end and without purpose, destroying us equally with our perceived enemies. It was a war begun in ignorance, lost before it began, and it has stained the very soul of our nation. America’s reign as the beacon of hope for democracy, freedom, justice, dignity and opportunity has come to an end. You have killed the dream and snuffed the flame of liberty. That is your legacy Mr. President, a far cry from Nelson Mandela’s.