President Obama at the presidential podium making a speech
So there was President Barack Obama yesterday giving what was described as his "long awaited" speech on counterterrorism at the National Defense University.
It was in his now familiar rhetorical style that first got him noticed at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, was a contributing factor in getting him elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 and winning the presidency in 2008. His re-election in 2012 was simply he wasn't Mitt Romney (who was too extremist and too much to bear for the majority of voters), or maybe just the lesser of two evils.
But rhetoric isn't substance if it doesn't conform to the actual policy and actions taken; it's just empty hot air.
Therefore let's give some analysis to the major points of the president's speech juxtaposed to the actual policies and actions he has taken i.e.
- Drones and targeted assassinations
- Closing Guantanamo and the release of detainees
- Limits to the presidents war powers
- The global war on terror and the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF)
The president said he wanted to curtail the use of drones, shift responsibility for the use of drones to the military and away from the CIA and be open to a secret court overseeing and approving the use of drone strikes.
The reality is Obama has increased the use of drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia whether under the aegis of the military or the CIA and compared to his predecessor, killed more innocents in those countries. It matters nothing whether the CIA or the military are conducting drone strikes. He has become the "assassinator in chief" where he alone gives the order to kill anyone, anywhere in a drone strike. It is he that authorizes all drone strikes without any oversight by the Congress.
Although the president didn't allude directly to the targeted assassination of American Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in September of 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder admitted as much on Wednesday saying Awlaki was a terrorist and his killing was "legally justified". Holder also mentioned three others that were assassinated in drone strikes in Yemen, including Awlaki's son but gave no comment on the legality of these drone killings. Let me recommend Jeremy Scahill's new book, "Dirty Wars" and read his thoroughly researched and investigative reporting of Anwar al-Awlaki. Scahill's book is a real eye opener and contradicts the Obama administrations reasoning for targeting and assassinating Awlaki. As to Awlaki's son he wasn't quite 16 years of age, also born in America and had absolutely no ties to Islamic extremists. So how can they justify his assassination by a drone? His killing reminds one of the movie "The Godfather", where a Sicilian Mafia type after he kills the father goes after the sons to kill them for fear when they grow up they'll take revenge for the father's killing.
Until we see the actual curtailment in the use of drones by the Obama administration the president's rhetoric remains nothing more than that.
As to Guantanamo and Obama's renewed desire to close it down and return almost half of the 166 detainees approved for release to their home countries (mostly Yemen); that hasn't happened yet 3 - years after he vowed to shutter it.
Presently there's an ongoing hunger strike by many of the detainees which has brought renewed focus on their plight. Some may actually die in protest of their indefinite confinement without charges and due process.
Again, let's see the reality of these men actually being released to their home countries giving substance to Obama's rhetoric.
Then there's the matter of what to do with the other detainees not approved for release. They should be charged and prosecuted or released. That's the only legal thing to do.
Again unless corrective is taken by Obama his rhetoric won't match his spoken desire to close Guantanamo.
Obama said he believed there should be limits to a president's war powers. Thus far he hasn't shown where he could unilaterally take it upon himself to actually limit his war powers. If anything he has expanded those powers beyond what Bush authorized with his increase of drone strikes and becoming the judge, jury and executioner in targeting people for assassination.