The issue of torture and Guantanamo Bay has simmered for weeks due to the failure of American leaders. From released memos to the denied release of photos neither was met with forthright conversation on the Bush years and torture and Guantanamo.
Now, with Obama’s speech---after funding for the closing of Guantanamo was stripped from a supplemental bill because the Obama Administration didn’t deliver a plan to Congress---did he provide the kind of speech that will transform the hearts and minds of Americans whose minds have been eroded by the overuse of terms like “terrorists” and “enemy” and “9/11” in the past ten years?
What about Dick Cheney’s speech? What does it mean for the framework with which we discuss this issue?
How we consider both speeches depends on the context with which we read them. The context which the media placed these speeches in would probably lead many to think one side of the debate was what Obama thinks and the other side of the debate was what Cheney thinks. But, is this simply a created dichotomy which served media objectivity more than the morals and values which we Americans seek to uphold and live our lives by?
Quite frankly, Obama’s and Cheney’s speeches were a media event---a showdown or proverbial boxing match (which The Daily Show picked up on last night).
When hosts end segments asking their guests who was the winner, nothing good can come out of the conversation; deep reflection and introspection among the American people falls by the wayside. A chance for America to fix its moral compass was squandered as pundits trivialized an issue that demands blunt, candid, and thorough conversation.
What our nation needs is education not fear when confronting the problem of Guantanamo Bay and the 250-plus detainees. We do not need media engineered duels between political leaders which will only lead Americans to continue to ignore the fact that too many of us have been silent for too long on the issue of torture and Guantanamo.
Obama recognizes this---that education and a need for us to end our silence is vital yet his speech was still predicated on the two things that Cheney predicated his speech on and that the previous administration predicated the scope of their policies on when they were in power.
Although it was a bit more subdued, both speeches were predicated on 9/11 and the perceived threat from al-Qaeda.
There is nothing wrong with considering the potential threat a group of Islamic extremists may pose to our nation, but it is terribly wrong to constantly cite a disastrous event as reason to continue a policy or plan. For the same reason that America does not still cite the Gulf of Tonkin or Pearl Harbor when developing strategies for foreign policy, America should not base all policies and actions on the attacks on 9/11.
We saw what happened under the Bush Administration when 9/11 was the excuse for everything. Civil liberties, freedoms, transparency, accountability, democracy, human rights, and more were all discarded and replaced with forms of repression, suppression, detention, violations of the rule of law, and tyranny.
Cheney made a good point in his speech yesterday when he said:
“You can look at the facts and conclude that the comprehensive strategy has worked, and therefore needs to be continued as vigilantly as ever. Or you can look at the same set of facts and conclude that 9/11 was a one-off event – coordinated, devastating, but also unique and not sufficient to justify a sustained war effort.”
When considering that our military adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and other parts of the world are utterly destroying families and communities, costing American taxpayers trillions of dollars, and creating opposition to American empire, why not examine whether 9/11 was a “one-off event” (maybe something that happened because somebody ignored the memo titled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”)?
Almost eight years after 9/11, is anything really getting past our nation’s security-industrial-complex? What exactly is the “al-Qaeda threat” and how substantial is it?
Unfortunately, Obama’s talk about “taking the fight to the extremists” was like a repackaging of the Bushism, “We’re fighting the terrorists over there so we don’t have to fight them here.”
Doesn’t this tactic of "taking the fight to the extremists" just set up a theater for war and ensure that one entire region is devastated?
For what does this devastation occur and how can we Americans allow this tactic born out of fear to be the way we secure the world from extremism?
America does face extremism and it does face an enemy, but let us consider the fact that we have seen the enemy and the enemy could very well be us.
Obama may say as he did in his speech, “extremist ideology threatens our people and technology gives a handful of terrorists the potential to do us great harm,” but can we really focus on that line of reasoning without considering how American extremism threatens our people and how technology from the American military-industrial-complex gives a handful the potential to do great harm?
Too many seem to have a desire to cling to the neoconservative imperialist policies of the past, and isn’t that desire a bit extreme? And why do we feel the need to maintain what’s left of these policies which were executed with brutal inhumane consequences throughout the Bush Administration? For what?
Today, like Bush, Obama brought up this idea that his “single most important responsibility” was “to keep the American people safe.” This “responsibility” seems to be a creation of the Bush Administration that the people have been trained to accept as the “single most important responsibility.”
In the Associated Press Worldstream on June 12, 2008, when Bush disagreed with “a Supreme Court ruling that [cleared] foreign terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts,” Bush suggested that new legislation may be needed “to keep the American people safe.”
On July 12, 2007, at a news conference which touched on Iraq, Bush said, “As president, my most solemn responsibility is to keep the American people safe. So on my orders, good men and women are now fighting the terrorists on the front lines of Iraq.”
In the same way that Obama said today that he wakes up everyday thinking about how to keep the American people safe, Bush said he wakes up every day thinking about how best to protect America in 2004.
Nowhere does it explicitly state in the Constitution that the President’s “most important responsibility” is “to keep the American people safe.” As Commander-in-Chief of all branches of the military, it can be argued that this means security is of the utmost importance, but really, isn’t a President’s “single most important responsibility” to uphold and defend the Constitution?
This phrase about keeping the American people safe is a loaded phrase left over from the Bush Administration. It is something that was regarded as the highest priority when policies and legislation were being debated, and it is something that was meant to reassure those who were responding to the fear and paranoia created by the Bush Administration’s “war on terror.” (Like Jon Stewart said last night, “I love it when he does the Bush covers.)
Obama isn’t just parroting Bush in some cases; he’s seeking to develop ways that would allow this he and future presidents to continue policies used by the Bush Administration.
In his speech yesterday, Obama said, “After 9/11, we knew that we had entered a new era—that enemies who did not abide by any law of war would present new challenges to our application of the law to our application of the law; that our government would need new tools to protect the American people, and that these tools would have to allow us to prevent attacks instead of simply prosecuting those who try to carry them out.”
Would these “new tools” include military tribunals almost guaranteed from the start to find a detainee guilty? Would these “new tools” involve preventive detention?
Were waterboarding and other techniques “new tools” and how did they work?
Weren’t policies of abuse and torture designed to get around the rule of law and is that the Obama Administration envisions ---“new tools” to justify unlawful and callous actions which may or may not prevent another 9/11?
In 2001, Cheney created the “one-percent doctrine,” which Ron Suskind wrote a book about. He said America now had to consider a new type of threat, a “low-probability high-impact event.”
If there was a 1% chance of it happening, the chance had to be treated as if it was going to happen.
The way al-Qaeda and 9/11 bookended the speech delivered by Obama makes me wonder if the Obama Administration will be making policy based on Cheney’s “one-percent doctrine," based on that sliver of a chance that something happens.
Can’t the Homeland Security-complex created by Bush do better? Can't we get to a point where we can differentiate threats so we have a real reason to respond?
If we continue to let the smallest of threats (perhaps unsubstantiated ones) determine what we do, what does this mean for America? How many of us are willing to let our lives be driven by a 1% chance that something could happen?
Obama’s speech ran the gamut and touched on civil liberties, the Constitution, Truth Commissions, transparency, and the rule of law, but the mindset in Cheney’s speech could be found throughout Obama’s speech too. It was toned down, but al-Qaeda and 9/11 still set the terms for Obama’s case to close Guantanamo.
If Obama really thinks “we cannot keep the country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values,” we the people will have to lead the way in enlisting these values.
We the people have made the current political climate one where politicians and the media are following torture and Guantanamo closely. Let us continue to discuss the way forward so that perhaps we can move forward under a pretext of preserving human rights and civil liberties instead of simply preventing another 9/11 from happening.