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.