He promised to deliver “hope” and “change” to the American people. He vowed to oversee “the most transparent administration in history”. He reassured the world that he was different from George W. Bush, that he would scale back the excesses and abuses of The War on Terror, and bring the United States back into harmony with international law.
But after five and a half years in The White House, President Barack Obama has a lot of explaining to do. As cynicism and anger continue to rise in global opposition to his policies, it’s time to examine the worst of his transgressions, the war crimes he has committed in America’s name.
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed The United Nations Convention against Torture. Article 2 states that all participating nations “shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.”
Two times a day at the Guantanamo Bay gulag in Cuba, hunger striking detainees are forcibly removed from their cages by US military personnel in riot gear and taken to an isolated room where they are strapped into a chair.
Then, a tube is violently stuffed down their throat through one of their nostrils. It is filled with liquid meal replacement. Detainees often feel the need to vomit because of the excruciating pain. But they can’t or the process has to start all over again. It can take as long as two hours to complete. There are no bathroom breaks.
When questioned about this barbaric practice, which has been condemned by numerous medical associations, Obama argued that he didn’t want the detainees to die. So torturing them is the only alternative?
Article 12 of the UN Convention explicitly states that there should be “a prompt and impartial investigation…wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.”
During a famous 2009 interview on ABC shortly after winning the Presidency, Obama declared that it was best to “look forward, not backward” with regards to the Bush Administration’s horrifying torture legacy, the first of many examples of his utter contempt for international law.
Article 13 enforces the obligation to prevent the “ill-treatment or intimidation” of the tortured as well as whistleblowers “as a consequence of his complaint or any evidence given.”
Syrian detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who was cleared for release from Gitmo years ago, has been trying to convince a judge to end his force feeding for good. No longer able to walk, he requires a wheelchair. He claims the US military has taken it away because of his ongoing legal fight. Despite a brief reprieve, he continues to be violently force fed against his will. He grows weaker by the day.
In Afghanistan, the US Army continues to oversee the Bagram gulag where roughly a few dozen prisoners remain. As the BBC noted in 2010, they have been subjected to all kinds of psychological torture. And as The Guardian reported recently, they, too, have been hunger striking in protest.
What does it say about the state of the American justice system that John Kiriakou, the former CIA operative who blew the whistle on Bush’s torture policy (which is clearly continuing under Obama), is the only government official to ever pay a price for it, thanks to Obama’s ruthless, “legal” retaliation.
As of this writing, there are 149 detainees remaining in Gitmo and about 40 in Bagram. (And those are just the gulags we know about. (AUGUST 4 UPDATE: I had forgotten about Somalia.)) More than half of those in Gitmo have been cleared for release, meaning they are not guilty of any crime, by two different administrations.
The Bagram detainees are a different story. Like the Gitmo prisoners, they have also not been charged with any wrongdoing. But it’s not certain if any of them have been cleared by the military. (AUGUST 4 UPDATE: Yunus Rahmatullah has been released.) They certainly haven’t had their day in any legitimate courtroom.
As a result of so much cowardly inaction by Obama, hunger strikes (which began during the Bush era) are the last resort of these desperate people who have completely and understandably run out of patience. (Some have been locked up in cages for a decade or longer.)
Despite vowing to close Gitmo within the first year of his Presidency, Obama was never interested in releasing all the detainees. Instead, he had hoped to relocate them to a Supermax prison somewhere in America. Republicans balked and the Gitmo gulag remains open for torturous business.
As Human Rights Watch noted in 2011, this is a violation of the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which “prohibits arbitrary detention”. (The US signed the treaty in 1992.) Furthermore, “detentions are arbitrary if not in accordance with due process of law or are manifestly disproportional, unjust or unpredictable.”
Before it was practically neutered by Bush’s draconian Military Commissions Act of 2006, indefinite detention would also be a human rights violation under the Clinton-era War Crimes Act of 1996 which also condemns torture.
With no domestic or international investigative body willing to hold Obama accountable for this and no sustainable, intensely pressurized public campaign against the policy, indefinite detention will continue unabated as the failed War on Terror drags on.
Drones were first developed during President Clinton’s time in office but became flying death machines during the Bush years. Under Obama, their use has accelerated. Wrongly considered more precise and safer than invading ground troops, there have been numerous civilian casualties. Because of Obama’s depressingly common use of secrecy, however, it’s not clear why any of them were killed in the first place.
According to a UN report released this past February, on October 14, 2011, Abdulrahman was murdered along with several others when “precision-guided munitions were launched at an outdoor location in Azzan in Shawba province” in Pakistan. The Obama Administration claims he wasn’t the target along with all the other civilian casualties that tragic day but no “legitimate military target for the operation” has ever been put forward. (None were at the scene.) Dirty Wars author Jeremy Scahill noted in his book that Abdulrahman was only identified by the discovery of his long hair connected to a detached piece of his scalp.
Is it possible that because he was the son of a radical Muslim-American preacher (who himself was murdered by a drone that same year under questionable circumstances) the government viewed him as a future threat that needed to be terminated immediately? (For the record, there is no evidence Abdulrahman was a “terrorist”.)
Considering that Obama personally authorizes every drone strike before it happens, including the one that killed this teenage American boy, how is it possible that it was an accident? If there was a legitimate military target for that particular assassination campaign, why hasn’t it been mentioned publicly? The fact that it hasn’t raises suspicions of a cover-up, one of many on this sole issue alone.
Funding Israel’s Ongoing Genocide of Palestinians
The occupation of Palestine has gone on for more than 60 years. The recent, ongoing massacre of the open prison known as Gaza is one of innumerable examples of Israeli war crimes. Making matters worse is that America has long financed these egregious human rights abuses through various administrations, both Republican and Democrat, and has constantly protected Israel from potential repercussions at the UN.
Under Obama, and with the full support of Congress, military aid for Israel is now more than 3 billion a year. That money has helped pay for the murders of more than 500 people and injured thousands more in this recent massacre of Gaza alone, not to mention destroy much of the area’s civilian infrastructure including numerous residential homes & hospitals. It’s been reported that between 70 and 80% of the current victims are innocent civilians. These are not careless mistakes, they are deliberate acts of genocide funded by the United States federal government.
According to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, “complicity in genocide” is a violation of article 3. (The US finally signed on to it 40 years after it was first unveiled.) The definition of “complicity” is not narrowly defined nor restricted so when it comes to the matter of the ongoing collective punishment of the Palestinian people, financing this genocide, an act of complicity, is indeed a violation of that convention.
Instead of restoring America’s respect for international law as he promised all those years ago, President Barack Obama has made a mockery of it time and time again, not unlike his predecessor. If no legal authority is willing to hold him (or George W. Bush, for that matter) accountable for his atrocious human rights record now, America will no longer be defined by its mythic “dream” but rather for its entrenched system of injustice.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, July 21, 2014