The Talking Dog

May 23, 2013, When in doubt, give a big speech

That would seem to be the standard operating procedure of Barack Obama's public life for some time... and today's "drone speech" (transcript here c/o HuffPo) fits the bill perfectly: the President is back on his heels because of the multiple scandals, in ascending order of actual adverse political impact on him, being (1) Benghazi, (2) the deliberate targeting of the press for illegal surveillance, (3) the GTMO hunger strike, (4) the IRS fiasco, and (5) the fact that his Administration has done nothing other than lie about the actual state of the economy for the last five years (that would be "moribund or worse"), and now that the actual bill for "Obama-care" is hitting hard (and destroying what's left of small business)... and as predicted, the benefits for anyone except large insurers and financial behemoths will be illusory at best... well, hey... it's time for a big speech!

Well, to be sure, in the big drone speech at the National Defense University, the President droned on about drones, which I guess we can take will now be reduced as a military "first option," although as Fred Kaplan notes in this Slate piece, not so much. Drones are here to stay-- the internal loopholes of "imminent threat" mean that they'll keep being used-- and hell, they provide nice "psychological distance" between their operators in Nevada and the victims... somewhere... else. Plus, they're cool and high tech for those non-assassination assassinations (more accurately "premeditated murder") that the President declined to take any responsibility for. Of course, as Kaplan noted, Obama (thanks to the hunger strike-- let's not kid ourselves that this is anything other than damage control for him) did revive at least discussion of GTMO... though as usual, he declined responsibility and blamed Congress, notwithstanding his own ability to veto any restrictions they placed on him, or his remarkably wide latitude as chief executive and commander in chief as it is... and btw... kudos to Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin for heckling Barack (who I suspect won't be at my-- and his-- 30th college reunion next week)... shouting the obvious truth to power, to wit, the exchange apparently went:

“You are commander in chief! You can close Guantanamo today!” Benjamin shouted. “You can release those 86 prisoners!” “It’s been 11 years!” she said. “Let me finish,” Obama pleaded with her. “I love my country. I love the rule of law!” she said as she was finally removed by security. “Abide by the rule of law. You’re a constitutional lawyer!”

Other than the "constitutional lawyer" part, for which there is no evidence, Medea was dead on... Obama's inter-agency task force has already cleared the majority of men at GTMO for release-- only his own personal intransigence (and political cowardice and opportunism of course) is keeping them there.

Anyway... on GTMO, the President had a fair bit of verbiage... (unexpurgated, and as follows):

And that brings me to my final topic: the detention of terrorist suspects.

To repeat, as a matter of policy, the preference of the United States is to capture terrorist suspects. When we do detain a suspect, we interrogate them. And if the suspect can be prosecuted, we decide whether to try him in a civilian court or a Military Commission. During the past decade, the vast majority of those detained by our military were captured on the battlefield. In Iraq, we turned over thousands of prisoners as we ended the war. In Afghanistan, we have transitioned detention facilities to the Afghans, as part of the process of restoring Afghan sovereignty. So we bring law of war detention to an end, and we are committed to prosecuting terrorists whenever we can.

The glaring exception to this time-tested approach is the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. The original premise for opening GTMO – that detainees would not be able to challenge their detention – was found unconstitutional five years ago. In the meantime, GTMO has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law. Our allies won’t cooperate with us if they think a terrorist will end up at GTMO. During a time of budget cuts, we spend $150 million each year to imprison 166 people –almost $1 million per prisoner. And the Department of Defense estimates that we must spend another $200 million to keep GTMO open at a time when we are cutting investments in education and research here at home.

As President, I have tried to close GTMO. I transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries, or imprisoning them in the United States. These restrictions make no sense. After all, under President Bush, some 530 detainees were transferred from GTMO with Congress’s support. When I ran for President the first time, John McCain supported closing GTMO. No person has ever escaped from one of our super-max or military prisons in the United States. Our courts have convicted hundreds of people for terrorism-related offenses, including some who are more dangerous than most GTMO detainees. Given my Administration’s relentless pursuit of al Qaeda’s leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened.

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.

I know the politics are hard. But history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism, and those of us who fail to end it. Imagine a future – ten years from now, or twenty years from now – when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country. Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? Is that something that our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?

Our sense of justice is stronger than that. We have prosecuted scores of terrorists in our courts. That includes Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airplane over Detroit; and Faisal Shahzad, who put a car bomb in Times Square. It is in a court of law that we will try Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is accused of bombing the Boston Marathon. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, is as we speak serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison here, in the United States. In sentencing Reid, Judge William Young told him, “the way we treat you…is the measure of our own liberties.” He went on to point to the American flag that flew in the courtroom – “That flag,” he said, “will fly there long after this is all forgotten. That flag still stands for freedom.”

Time will tell if actions follow words... but I remember a President with infinitely more political capital than the one we have now coming off a landslide victory and huge majorities in both houses of Congress who made promises to "close Guantanamo within a year..." and he had individualized determinations then... those determinations that concluded (unanimously among the intelligence and defense communities) that the majority of the men he is holding-- and boys and girls-- he, Barack Obama, is personally deciding to keep holding them-- were "cleared for release" as posing no threat to anyone... most of whom are Yemeni... so what is "released on a case by base basis" other than cover to do (more) nothing? Damned if I know.

All I do know is that if John McCain had been elected President, and had (as I suspect he might have) adopted many if not all of the same aggressive, imperial policies as Barack Obama, alleged progressives would be calling for his impeachment, if not his head. But because Barack is on "our team"... we hear crickets chirp, where we should be hearing millions taking to the streets in protest.

Well, well... you'all haven't figured out after 11 plus years that GTMO is a beta-test-- the canary in the coal-mine as to whether our supposed democratic republic can withstand the abuses heretofore reserved for those unfortunates on the fringes of our empire that included things like death squads in Latin America, dictatorships in Africa, assorted dictatorships and "secret bombings" in Southeast Asia and assorted brutality of all kinds in the Middle East and North Africa... well, as we reach whatever stage of empire we are, these "unfortunate" practices are now quite literally being brought home. GTMO has proven once and for all that as long as they are pitched as directed at some sort of racial/ethnic "other" (and foreign Muslims seem to have done wonderfully for this purpose)... well, totalitarianism is a.o.k. Indeed, it no longer takes a 9-11-- just a couple of homicidal (FBI informant?) Chechens, and one of our largest metropolitan areas literally put up with martial law...

Yes... GTMO has been so successful in advancing imperial goals, one does wonder why the President would even joke about shutting it down? [Oops... I guess I've accidentally told you what I thought of the speech there... mybad.]