Friday, May 24, 2013

More platitudes and empty promises

Yesterday President Obama gave a speech at the National Defense University in which he laid out his policy objectives in the War Against Everything Terrorism. He told us how much he really, really wanted to close down the prison in Guantanamo but that those meanies in Congress prevented him from doing so. He assured us his administration requires a very high level of proof before acting as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner of American citizens abroad. He also said that our own policies weren't responsible for the virulent anti-Americanism we see throughout the world.

He portrayed himself as the good guy - the guy defending the Constitution. He made promise after promise without explaining or laying out a plan on how to get there.

On the targeting of US citizens by drones, the president said:

This week, I authorized the declassification of this action, and the deaths of three other Americans in drone strikes, to facilitate transparency and debate on this issue, and to dismiss some of the more outlandish claims. For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone, or a shotgun – without due process. Nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil. 
But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America – and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens; and when neither the United States, nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot – his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a swat team 
That's who Anwar Awlaki was – he was continuously trying to kill people. He helped oversee the 2010 plot to detonate explosive devices on two U.S. bound cargo planes. He was involved in planning to blow up an airliner in 2009. When Farouk Abdulmutallab – the Christmas Day bomber – went to Yemen in 2009, Awlaki hosted him, approved his suicide operation, and helped him tape a martyrdom video to be shown after the attack. His last instructions were to blow up the airplane when it was over American soil.I would have detained and prosecuted Awlaki if we captured him before he carried out a plot. But we couldn't. And as President, I would have been derelict in my duty had I not authorized the strike that took out Awlaki. 
Of course, the targeting of any Americans raises constitutional issues that are not present in other strikes – which is why my Administration submitted information about Awlaki to the Department of Justice months before Awlaki was killed, and briefed the Congress before this strike as well. But the high threshold that we have set for taking lethal action applies to all potential terrorist targets, regardless of whether or not they are American citizens. This threshold respects the inherent dignity of every human life. Alongside the decision to put our men and women in uniform in harm's way, the decision to use force against individuals or groups – even against a sworn enemy of the United States – is the hardest thing I do as President. But these decisions must be made, given my responsibility to protect the American people.

See, we set a high threshold to meet before we decide who lives and who dies. You just need to trust us. We've seen the evidence but we don't think it's a good idea for y'all to see it. There's just so much there, you might not understand what you're looking at.

To date there has never been any evidence released to prove that Anwar al-Awlaki was in a leadership position in al Qaeda. While Mr. Awlaki expressed his support for the actions of the men involved in the attacks - he never planned them. He gave speeches in which he said that the US government was on a mission to kill Muslims. He called for his followers to resist the United States. He was murdered by our government because he dared to exercise his First Amendment rights as a US citizen.

If the evidence existed, the government should have charged Mr. Awlaki with criminal offenses and tried him before a jury of his peers. He was not given the right to cross-examine the witnesses against him. He was not given the right to put on evidence in his behalf. He was not given the right to a jury trial. In short, President Obama's actions deprived a US citizen of his due process rights.

And, lest we forget, Mr. President, Mr. Awlaki, and his son, were  part of "the American people."

The president then singled out Muslims when he spoke about extremism and home-grown terror.
As I said earlier, this threat is not new. But technology and the Internet increase its frequency and lethality. Today, a person can consume hateful propaganda, commit themselves to a violent agenda, and learn how to kill without leaving their home. To address this threat, two years ago my Administration did a comprehensive review, and engaged with law enforcement. The best way to prevent violent extremism is to work with the Muslim American community – which has consistently rejected terrorism – to identify signs of radicalization, and partner with law enforcement when an individual is drifting towards violence. And these partnerships can only work when we recognize that Muslims are a fundamental part of the American family. Indeed, the success of American Muslims, and our determination to guard against any encroachments on their civil liberties, is the ultimate rebuke to those who say we are at war with Islam.
Let's see, Timothy McVeigh wasn't a Muslim. Neither were the member of the KKK and local citizens' councils in the south who tortured and murdered blacks for trying to exercise their rights as citizens of this country. There aren't too many Muslims in the right wing militia groups in the Pacific Northwest or in the skinhead movement. As far as I can tell, not one of the folks involved in any of the school shootings or the shooting at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado were Muslim. A lot of those folks were Bible-thumping Christians.

Now, according to our president, we have no reason to fear an attack on our privacy rights or the rights of the press.

Indeed, thwarting homegrown plots presents particular challenges in part because of our proud commitment to civil liberties for all who call America home. That's why, in the years to come, we will have to keep working hard to strike the appropriate balance between our need for security and preserving those freedoms that make us who we are. That means reviewing the authorities of law enforcement, so we can intercept new types of communication, and build in privacy protections to prevent abuse. That means that – even after Boston – we do not deport someone or throw someone in prison in the absence of evidence. That means putting careful constraints on the tools the government uses to protect sensitive information, such as the State Secrets doctrine. And that means finally having a strong Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to review those issues where our counter-terrorism efforts and our values may come into tension. 
The Justice Department's investigation of national security leaks offers a recent example of the challenges involved in striking the right balance between our security and our open society. As Commander-in Chief, I believe we must keep information secret that protects our operations and our people in the field. To do so, we must enforce consequences for those who break the law and breach their commitment to protect classified information. But a free press is also essential for our democracy. I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.

How President Obama was able to make it through this part of his speech with a straight face, I'll never know. Under his administration, the government has stepped up its surveillance of Americans to a degree that the Bush administration only dreamed about. Don't think for a moment that your phone calls, e-mails or internet searches are subject to the collection efforts of the government. Under the rhetoric of protecting our safety, the government has hacked away at our right to privacy.

And as for those leaks, where is the hue and cry when sensitive information favorable to the White House is leaked by members of the administration to friendly reporters? How come it's only when the information is embarrassing to the government or shows how the administration has manipulated the populace that the Justice Department seeks out the source of the leak?

And, finally, we come to Guantanamo. Once again Mr. Obama has promised to shut down the detention center in which over 160 men have been held without charge - some for over a decade. Quite frankly, his comments were laughable.

Today, I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from GTMO. I have asked the Department of Defense to designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions. I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries. Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and military justice system. And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee. 
Even after we take these steps, one issue will remain: how to deal with those GTMO detainees who we know have participated in dangerous plots or attacks, but who cannot be prosecuted – for example because the evidence against them has been compromised or is inadmissible in a court of law. But once we commit to a process of closing GTMO, I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.

Okay, okay. You want to release the detainees. Yea! But, if it's so easy to lift the moratorium on transferring detainees to Yemen, then why the hell has it taken you over four years to do it?

As to that legacy problem, the solution is really quite simple. If the evidence would be inadmissible in a court of law because it was obtained by torture - you let them go. It happens in courtrooms across this country every day. I find it hard to conceive of President Obama being a constitutional law professor due to the ways in which he has made a mockery of that document and the Bill of Rights during the course of his administration.

You have fought every habeas petition brought by a detainee tooth and nail. You have violated the human rights of every man in that prison. You have violated the due process rights of every detainee by holding them without charge. It is time that justice is done. Every detainee should be released. Without condition.

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