Cross-posted from The-Protest.com
Both the Democratic and Republican parties have painted Obama as an anti-war president, albeit for obvious political reasons: the Democrats want to mobilize their progressive wing in November’s election, and Republicans stand to gain from portraying him as soft on terror. So why did NATO protesters have such harsh words for Obama at the Art Institute Sunday night? One need look no further than the Obama administration’s horrendous foreign policy and human rights record.
For all Obama’s talk of “drawing down” in Afghanistan, the fact remains that there are nearly three times as many U.S. troops in the country as there were when he took office, and Obama plans to maintain a significant military presence through at least 2014. Approximately 88,000 U.S. troops currently occupy the country. They are supported by 100,000 private contractors in their efforts to protect the hated Karzai government and crush the Afghan resistance movement. Tens of thousands of Afghans have been killed in the decade-long occupation, and the number of civilians killed by U.S. air strikes has increased under Obama.
Obama announced the withdrawal of approximately 40,000 troops from Iraq to great fanfare late last year. But, as National Journal’s Yochi Dreazen pointed outthen, “The troops aren’t being withdrawn because the U.S. wants them out. They’re leaving because the Iraqi government refused to let them stay.” In fact, the Obama administration fought tooth and nail to extend the U.S. military presence, giving up only when Iraqi lawmakers refused to grant U.S. forces legal immunity for the crimes they would inevitably commit if they stayed. Today, 5,500 security contractors remain in Baghdad to guard a militarized U.S. “embassy” the size of Vatican City, and CIA and Special Operations forces continue to prop up the Iraqi police state.
The Obama administration was a driving force behind NATO’s seven-month bombing of Libya, which left at least 72 civilians dead, according to Human Rights Watch. The NATO intervention empowered the U.S.-backed interim government, the National Transitional Council (NTC), to consolidate control of the country and engage in systematic violence against black Libyans, who they accused of being Qaddafi loyalists. The NTC has ties to the ousted Qaddafi regime and reportedly cut oil deals with Western governments and corporations in the midst of the civil war.
The Obama Administration has drastically expanded the drone-bombing campaign in Pakistan, launching 270 drone attacks since taking office, or one every four days. While Obama claimed that his relentless bombing of Pakistan “has not caused a huge number of civilian casualties,” the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has confirmed the deaths of hundreds of civilians in U.S. drone strikes, including at least 174 children. Obama has also expanded drone attacks in Yemen and Somalia, with similarly disastrous consequences for innocents in those countries.
Obama’s defenders often cite his executive order banning torture by American forces as proof that he repudiated Bush-era torture policies. But extraordinary rendition – the practice of kidnapping people overseas and shipping them to U.S. client states to be tortured by foreign intelligence agencies – remains alive and well under the Obama Administration. As The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill reported last year, the CIA continues to operate secret prisons in places like Somalia, where prisoners can be tortured without interference from the International Red Cross.
To date, not one victim of U.S. torture has had their day in court, due to the Obama Justice Department’s invocation of the “state secrets privilege” to dismiss lawsuits on national security grounds. As Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald has noted: “One of the most amazing statistics of the last decade: not a single War on Terror victim — not one, whether foreign or American — has been permitted to proceed in an American court in an effort to obtain compensation for illegal treatment by the U.S. Government; instead, American courts have unanimously dismissed those cases at the outset, without reaching their substance.”
With his signing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last New Year’s Eve, Obama codified indefinite military detention of U.S. citizens as the law of the land. As the Bush administration demonstrated with its torture and three-year imprisonment of U.S. citizen Jose Padilla, due-process-free military detention of citizens was already occurring before the Obama team arrived in Washington. But Obama has made de facto military detention de jure. Indefinite detention remains the norm for non-citizens, as evidenced by the continued imprisonment of foreign nationals without trial in Guantánamo Bay and Bagram prison in Afghanistan.
Obama is waging a war on whistleblowers that is unprecedented in U.S. history. In the course of a single presidential term, the Obama administration has charged twice as many people under the Espionage Act of 1917 as all previous presidential administrations combined. Perhaps the most notable of these is Pfc. Bradley Manning, who allegedly supplied WikiLeaks with classified documents detailing U.S. war crimes. The administration held Manning in solitary confinement 23 hours a day for 11 months, treatment that was condemned as “cruel, inhuman and degrading” by the UN special rapporteur on torture. Manning, 24, now faces more than 50 years in prison.
As Atty. General Eric Holder explained at the Northwestern University law school in March, the Obama administration claims the power to assassinate anyone in the world, including U.S. citizens, without so much as charging them with a crime. To date, three U.S. citizens in Yemen have been assassinated by drone strikes, including New Mexico-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, Denver native Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.
This assertion of absolute, life-or-death power effectively one-ups the Bush Administration, which merely claimed the right to indefinitely imprison people without trial. As Noam Chomsky observed recently: “If Bush, the Bush administration, didn’t like somebody, they’d kidnap them and send them to torture chambers; if the Obama administration decides they don’t like somebody, they murder them.”