Thursday, June 18, 2009

Morphing into "Bush Light" on Security Issues

There's more than the proverbial dime's worth of difference between Obama and Bush on domestic policy. In fact, for the anti-poverty agency where I work, there's hundreds of thousands of dollars of difference! But on the questions of intervention abroad and secrecy at home, Obama is rapidly acquiring the taste for an imperial presidency that characterized the previous administration.

Item: wars of choice. Bush famously sent American men and women into the line of fire in Iraq on a fool's errand. There were no weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden had no alliance and very little in common, and Iraq did not threaten the U.S. But the new administration is getting ready for an expanded war in Afghanistan, where U.S. intervention thus far has shifted control from one set of warlords (the Taliban) to another (the Northern Alliance) without making any permanent improvement in the lives of Afghanis and where civil war as soon as the U.S. pulls out seems inevitable.

Obama is also sending money to Pakistan, which more than any other country has offered aid and comfort to al-Qaeda. If Obama has good reasons to believe that the Pakistani military and secret police have changed tunes and now regard al-Qaeda as more of a threat to them than India, he hasn't shared those reasons with the public.

Item: Guantanamo. (Not "Gitmo," an ugly name invented by people who have no respect for the country of Cuba, part of which the U.S. has occupied for decades--imagine if the Cubans had a military base in Baja California!) Obama has pledged to close the prison camp there, site for torture and war crimes that should make all Americans ashamed. Yet he is letting NIMBY opposition keep him from transferring prisoners to U.S. soil to stand trial, and threatening to hold those trials in military commissions that Bush created, not in U.S. courts where a fair trial could be guaranteed. He is also ignoring the well-documented phenomenon of people being held in Guantanamo (and other secret prisons) for no damn reason whatever--just because some local U.S. ally whom they had offended put the "terrorist" label on their heads.

Item: secrecy and assertions of executive privilege. The Obama administration refuses to release logs of visitors to the White House. Dick Cheney took the same stand when he cut deals with the energy industry in secret meetings. The Obama administration also refuses to publish photos of U.S. soldiers, mercenaries, and spies torturing Iraqis or to prosecute torturers. And Obama wants to reserve the right to wiretap people and then try them on the basis of secret evidence. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy:

President Obama’s administration has told a federal judge in San Francisco that it does not have to release top-secret documents connected to a wiretapping case in which a branch of an Islamic charity in Oregon is suing the government, reports the Associated Press.

The judge told the government in May he would punish it if it did not devise a plan for how the suit could go forward without the release of the documents, the news agency reports. However, the prosecution already had possession of the documents for a short time, when the Treasury Department inadvertently released them. The government has since taken them back.

The al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, whose Oregon chapter is now closed, was designated as an organization that supports terrorism by the federal government in 2004. The documents are a phone log documenting wiretapping of members of the charity, the news agency reports. It says the government did not obtain permission from a judge to place the wiretaps.

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