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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/22/09

Exclusive Interview with Activist David Swanson

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David Swanson joins us today. A long-time advocate of peace and justice, Swanson still has plenty to do, even with Bush gone from Washington. Welcome to OpEdNews, David.  President Obama is now six months into his administration. How's he doing so far?

Well, his job is to execute the will of the Congress, and as far as that goes, not so well.  President Obama has written five signing statements thus far rewriting the laws he signs into law.  This use of signing statements was a Bush innovation now cemented in place by Obama.  Then there are the crimes he is continuing: illegal wars and military strikes, warrantless spying, rendition, preventive detention, and torture being the big ones.  Then there is the use of the Justice Department to immunize and cover up crimes.  There have been no prosecutions of Bush, Cheney, or their top officials for their crimes, but extensive and unprecedented claims of secrecy powers to cover them up.  But then there is the problem with the question. 

I don't mean this as a criticism of you, Joan.  It's the right question because it is the one everybody is asking each other.  But it is the new Congress that has had six months.  Obama has had only had five.  It is Congress that is supposed to make laws and set policy.  Obama is just one guy who is supposed to be an executive, not an emperor.  When Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky voted to fund wars in June, going back on everything she'd claimed to stand for, she said she was doing so in order to support the president.  But if Congress members behave as courtiers, we might as well give up the game and call this a monarchy.

Let's talk about the disparity between Peace Candidate Obama and President Obama. Those who supported Obama for his promise to get us out of ill-advised adventures overseas have been sorely disappointed.  Is the President caught in a quagmire that would have caught anyone who succeeded Bush?

No. The President is caught in a quagmire he is actively engaged in worsening and prolonging.  While a majority of Americans have long favored ending the occupation of Iraq, a majority of Obama voters favored ending both occupations, Iraq and Afghanistan.  Obama gave speech after speech in which he said he would end the Iraq War, and most people took him to mean that.  But he was also pretty clear about escalating the war in Afghanistan, and if you paid attention to the details he promised to be out of Iraq in 16 months but to leave some undefined permanent occupation behind after that "withdrawal." 

Obama also started out challenging the idea that Bush could make a treaty for 3 years of war with Iraq without Senate consent.  Upon moving into the White House, Obama adopted that treaty (the misdescribed SOFA agreement) as his own and dropped the 16-month withdrawal commitment.  The treaty required being out of all localities by the end of June 2009 and out of the country entirely by December 31, 2011. 

Obama's top military officials have made clear that neither deadline will be met, although some games will be played to suggest compliance, including renaming troops "non-combat troops" and redrawing the borders of cities to exclude the troops that are there and not going anywhere. 

So, this unconstitutional treaty is not valid to begin with, and is not even being obeyed anyway, and yet it serves as the only fig leaf for an illegal occupation.  Iraq's parliament only agreed to the treaty on condition that the Iraqi people get to vote it up or down by the end of July 2009.  But all sides admit the obvious: if the Iraqi people get to vote on prolonging the occupation of their country, they will reject it.  I leave it to you to guess whether the vote will happen. 

Meanwhile, Obama escalated military strikes against houses and families in Afghanistan and Pakistan immediately upon taking office.  Every strike, every increase in troops, every investment in new bases, every prisoner detained outside the rule of law in Bagram (which makes Guantanamo look good) makes Afghanistan a worse place to live and makes the people of Afghanistan hate the United States more.  These people need jobs, food, shelter, healthcare, not bombs.

That's definitely worrisome.  Where's the press? Is it doing its job as public watchdog and casting a spotlight on this?

I know you're kidding and appreciate the joke.  Charlie Savage, formerly of the Boston Globe and now the New York Times, has written more about signing statements than the rest of the media together, and he notes each new one.  But the story gets no play on broadcast media and no echo chamber.  And, of course, most of the citizen organizations that that spoke out against Bush's signing statements have maintained silence on Obama's.  I say "of course" because so many people, especially the heads of organizations, place party loyalty ahead of the future of the nation or the world. 

But that may not be the only explanation.  There's also, I think, a general understanding that this is old news, that having presidents write our laws is just the way it's done now.  The issue has been raised, aired, debated, and the new practice deemed acceptable.  The House Judiciary Committee held a thorough hearing at the beginning of 2007.  Since then, Congress has just let it drop and continued to pass laws that are then rewritten by whoever is in the White House. 

This is one example of many in which abuses that were new under Bush are now old hat because committed by Obama.  There would be more objections to continuing rendition and indefinite detention and warrantless spying and claims of state secrets and executive privilege if McCain were president.  But even then resistance would be gradually diminishing  absent a major push from Congress or courts or the people.  A nation not busy being born is busy dying.

This is a good time to  take a break. We’ll be back with the second part of this interview in which Swanson lays out concrete proposals for our policy makers.  At the same time, he will provide resources for citizens who share his concerns for peace and justice and want to help them bring them about.


David's soon to be released book is Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union, by Seven Stories Press. You can pre-order it at

According to Wikipedia, Swanson's website AfterDowningStreet was named  Most Valuable Progressive by the Nation Magazine's John Nichols in 2005, 2006, and 2007.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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