The excuse used to justify Obama’s failure to close GITMO is incomplete and misleading. Plus: multiple other items
A few (relatively) brief items worthy of note today:(1) The New York Times’ Charlie Savage reported yesterday that the State Department “reassigned Daniel Fried, the special envoy for closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and will not replace him”. That move obviously confirms what has long been assumed: that the camp will remain open indefinitely and Obama’s flamboyant first-day-in-office vow will go unfulfilled. Dozens of the current camp detainees have long been cleared by Pentagon reviews for release - including Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a 36-year-old Yemeni who died at the camp in September after almost 11 years in a cage despite never having been charged with a crime. Like so many of his fellow detainees, his efforts to secure his release were vigorously (and successfully) thwarted by the Obama administration.
Perfectly symbolizing the trajectory of the Obama presidency, this close-Guantánamo envoy will now “become the department’s coordinator for sanctions policy”. Marcy Wheeler summarizes the shift this way: “Rather than Close Gitmo, We’ll Just Intercept More Medical Goods for Iran”. She notes that this reflects “how we’ve changed our human rights priorities”. Several days ago, Savage described how the Obama DOJ is ignoring its own military prosecutors’ views in order to charge GITMO detainees in its military commissions with crimes that were not even recognized as violations of the laws of war.
Whenever the subject is raised of Obama’s failure to close Gitmo, the same excuse is instantly offered on his behalf: he tried to do so but Congress (including liberals like Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders) thwarted him by refusing to fund the closing. As I documented at length last July, this excuse is wildly incomplete and misleading. When it comes to the failure to close Gitmo, this “Congress-prevented-Obama” claim has now taken on zombie status – it will never die no matter how clearly and often it is debunked – but it’s still worth emphasizing the reality.
I won’t repeat all of the details, citations and supporting evidence – see here - but there are two indisputable facts that should always be included in this narrative. The first is that what made Guantánamo such a travesty of justice was not its geographic locale in the Caribbean Sea, but rather its system of indefinite detention: that people were put in cages, often for life, without any charges or due process. Long before Congress ever acted, Obama’s plan was to preserve and continue that core injustice – indefinite detention – but simply moved onto US soil.
Put simply, Obama’s plan was never to close Gitmo as much as it was to re-locate it to Illinois: to what the ACLU dubbed “Gitmo North”. That’s why ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said of Obama’s 2009 “close-Gitmo” plan that it “is hardly a meaningful step forward” and that “while the Obama administration inherited the Guantánamo debacle, this current move is its own affirmative adoption of those policies.” That’s because, he said, “the administration plans to continue its predecessor’s policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial for some detainees, with only a change of location.”
And the reason Democratic Senators such as Feingold voted against funding Gitmo’s closing wasn’t because they were afraid to support its closing. It was because they refused to fund the closing until they saw Obama’s specific plan, because they did not want to support the importation of Gitmo’s indefinite detention system onto US soil, as Obama expressly intended.
In sum, Obama’s “closing Gitmo” plan was vintage Obama: a pretty symbolic gesture designed to enable Democrats to feel good while retaining the core powers that constituted the injustice in the first place. As the ACLU’s Romero said: “shutting down Guantánamo will be nothing more than a symbolic gesture if we continue its lawless policies onshore.” Again, had Obama had his way – had Congress immediately approved his plan in full – the system of indefinite detention that makes Gitmo such a disgrace would have continued in full, just in a different locale.
But here, as As’ad AbuKhalil noted, is how the article itself described the program:
The Pentagon is moving toward a major expansion of its cybersecurity force to counter increasing attacks on the nation’s computer networks, as well as to expand offensive computer operations on foreign adversaries, defense officials said Sunday.
Although it is easy to take for granted given how common it is, it is worthwhile every now and then to pause and note how courteous and kind the NYT is to the Pentagon.
On Al Jazeera’s “Inside Story Americas” program yesterday, I debated this Pentagon expansion of its cyber-war program with two defenders of the program: former Reagan Defense official and current CAP Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb, and Scott Borg of the US Cyber Consequences Unit, a government-funded 501c3 research institute. The 20-minute segment can be viewed here:
Video link: http://youtu.be/Kp_8j13DiiY
As I noted, although 4,000 new employees may not be enormous in the scheme of overall Pentagon spending, the expansion of this program and the new contracts it will entail certainly is substantial.
(3) As a hobby over the years, I’ve become somewhat of a connoisseur of US government statements that are so drowning in obvious, glaring irony that the officials uttering them simply must have been mischievously cackling to themselves when they created them. Among my favorites of this genre were all those denunciations by US officials of how Iran was “interfering” in Iraq and Afghanistan: two countries the US had invaded and, at the moment the statements were issued, were occupying with tens of thousands of soldiers.
In a Reuters report from Tuesday on the interception of a ship off the coast of Yemen which was allegedly carrying arms intended for Yemeni rebels and which anonymous US officials claim was sent by Iran, we have another excellent entry:
“‘This demonstrates the ever pernicious Iranian meddling in other countries in the region,’ said the second US official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.”
How dare Iran “meddle” in a country in which we have propped up (and continue to prop up) a dictatorship for decades and which we regularly bomb? It’s just hard to believe that any human brain – even the most nationalistically self-deluded – is capable of making these kinds of statements while hiding from itself the oozing irony.
(4) The reviews of Zero Dark Thirty continue to pour in. Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf calls it “the most vile and immoral war film I’ve seen in years”, and he separately noted that “Hollywood is giving [Kathyrn] Bigelow prizes because she makes Americans feel good about themselves and their wars.” In the Guardian, Slavoj Žižekdepicts the film as “Hollywood’s gift to America’s power”. Meanwhile, Atlantic Wire’s Richard Lawson yesterday wrote that the growing objections to the film – see here - have caused it to “crash” from its status as early-Oscar favorite into “something vaguely taboo”.
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(5) The war in Mali rages on. As the west’s attention focused on the genuinely tragic destruction of ancient manuscripts by Malian rebels, a French attack on the central Mali town of Konna killed 12 civilians.
Earlier this week, the New York Times noted about the war in Mali that “France gets about 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear reactors, and much of the uranium used for fuel is mined in [neighboring] Niger by Areva, the French nuclear company.” The Washington Post reports this morning that “the US military is planning a new drone base in Africa that would expand its surveillance of al-Qaida fighters and other militants in northern Mali” and “military planners are eyeing the West African country of Niger as a base for unarmed Predator drones, which would greatly boost US spy missions in the region.”
It’s an awesome stroke of good luck how the selfless Humanitarian Interventions of Nato nations always nicely coincide with their material self-interest. These interventions also coincidentally ensure the endless perpetuation of the War on Terror, as France is significantly heightening domestic security measures in anticipation of retaliatory bombings. And that’s all separate from what will undoubtedly be all the unanticipated instability, violence and suffering that comes from this latest bombing campaign. Many of these campaigns are justified by pointing to authentic atrocities (Saddam’s mass graves and Kurdish oppression) but they are rarely about those. Even when they are, the harms almost always outweigh the benefits.
(6) The New York Times’ John Harwood this morning reports that “for all the talk that President Obama has shifted leftward, much of his early second-term energy seeks simply to preserve the status quo.” Really? Obama is an agent of status quo perpetuation? But he just gave (another) really pretty liberal speech. Is it possible that there’s no correlation between his pretty speeches and his actual beliefs and actions?
(7) A couple of years ago, I spoke at an event at Brooklyn Law School on the lethal Israeli assault on the Gaza flotilla along with Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi and lawyer Fatima Mohammadi, who was on the Mavi Marmara. It was an excellent event but what I remember most is how nervous school administrations were about it: they took the unusual step of posting security guards at the entrance to the building to bar all non-students from attending, meaning that the community at large was excluded from hearing the event. What amazed me about that was how cowardly so many university administrators often are in the face of controversy: if there’s one place where marginalized and offensive ideas should be able to thrive and be heard without fear, it’s academia.
I was reminded of this by a brewing and evolving controversy at Brooklyn College, where I’m scheduled to speak next month to deliver the college’s annual Konefsky Lecture. Earlier this year, the college’s Political Science Department decided to sponsor a panel discussion on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement aimed at stopping Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, featuring Palestinian and BDS activist Omar Barghouti and US philosopher Judith Butler.
Knowing how easily cowed many university administrators are, an intense campaign emerged demanding cancellation of the event. The New York Daily News this morning decreed that “Brooklyn College is no place for an Israel-bashing lecture” while so-called pro-Israel students are complaining that the event will “condone and legitimize anti-Jewish bigotry” and “contribute significantly to a hostile environment for Jewish students on our campus”. They have “called on the Political Science Department to rescind its sponsorship of this hateful, hurtful and discriminatory event.”
It doesn’t matter what you think of the BDS movement. This is all part of a pernicious trend to ban controversial ideas from the place they should be most freely discussed: colleges and universities. Just last month, a gay student leader at Canada’s Carelton University used exactly the same language as these Brooklyn College students to justify his destruction of a “free speech wall” that contained ideas and sentiments he found upsetting. He decreed: “not every opinion is valid, nor deserving of expression,” simultaneously anointing himself arbiter to decide which opinions are so invalid they cannot be heard. He added: “We are supposed to be creating safe(r) spaces for ourselves, and for other students, but there can be no safe(r) spaces where there is potential for triggering, the invalidation or questioning of the identities of others, and/or the expression of hatred.”
Actually, academia is where one should go to have one’s views and assumptions challenged, disturbed and confronted, not flattered and shielded by a “safe space”. If you find the BDS movement or anti-gay advocacy disturbing, the solution is to debate and debunk it, not ban it. So far, the Brooklyn College administrators are holding firm, but if they cancel the event, I’d strongly consider asking them to cancel mine as well, as I assume when I accept invitations to speak in academic venues that I’m going somewhere that fosters rather than suffocates the free exchange of ideas. Those inclined to do so can contact school administrators - here - and encourage them not to capitulate to these censorship calls.
(8) To say that I’ve had numerous disputes over the years with University of Tennessee Law School Professor Glenn Reynolds (“Instapundit”) is a drastic understatement, but he has a column in USA Today with an intriguing proposal to stop – or at least slow – the “revolving door”, whereby government officials go to private industry and enrich themselves by exploiting their government contacts:
“I propose putting a 50% surtax – or maybe it should be 75%, I’m open to discussion – on the post-government earnings of government officials. So if you work at a cabinet level job and make $196,700 a year, and you leave for a job that pays a million a year, you’ll pay 50% of the difference – just over $400,000 – to the Treasury right off the top. So as not to be greedy, we’ll limit it to your first five years of post-government earnings; after that, you’ll just pay whatever standard income tax applies.
“This seems fair. After all, when it comes to your value as an ex-government official, it really is a case of ‘you didn’t build that.’ Your value to a future employer comes from having held a taxpayer-funded position and from having wielded taxpayer-conferred power. Why shouldn’t the taxpayers get a cut?”
Given that this would have to be enacted by the very people who benefit most from this revolving door – members of Congress and their staffs – its value is more in highlighting the problem than solving it. But this revolving door is what enables corporatist control over government, and anything that can foster a bipartisan and trans-ideological solution should be welcomed.
(9) The Q-and-A session I did with Guardian readers last week was quite enjoyable. The questions were almost uniformly thoughtful and thought-provoking, and I think it’s critical that journalism always be an interactive, two-way conversation rather than a stilted monologue. Numerous readers emailed to say they were particularly interested to hear for the first time the underlying assumptions and motives for the writing I do here. Along those lines, I did a 45-minute interview last year with Berkeley’s Harry Kreisler that contains probably the most extensive discussion I’ve had of the background, goals and assumptions of the journalism I try to do. I’ve posted this before, but for those who are interested and haven’t seen it, it’s here or below:
Video link: http://youtu.be/-qlFjrgGqVA
The second half focuses on the book, but the first half is a general discussion of the objectives I try to fulfill with the work I do.