Obama’s peace rhetoric masks U.S. aggression

A violent, worldwide war against “terror” engenders resistance. These are not just outbreaks of individual rage as in Boston or London this spring. The hunger strike at Guantánamo, where prisoners from all over the Muslim world are using their only weapon, their lives, to resist their unending imprisonment by fasting, reflects this resistance. In Yemen and Pakistan, two countries subjected to an intensification of drone strikes under the Obama administration, there have been mass protests.

When President Barack Obama spoke May 23 at the National Defense University — a Pentagon sponsored institution of “higher” strategic studies — he tried to diffuse this rising resistance. At the same time, he maintained the right of the United States to use force and violence whenever and wherever it wants to and can get away with it.

For an example of a change that is not really a change, Obama said, “Now, going forward, I’ve asked my administration to review proposals to extend oversight of lethal actions outside of war zones that go beyond our reporting to Congress.” (whitehouse.gov, May 23) He says his administration will “extend oversight,” probably by letting the Pentagon control the drones instead of the CIA. He doesn’t say he will stop these attacks.

Later in this speech, he claims these strikes are “effective” and “legal.”

In Pakistan, a new government has just taken office. Pakistani human-rights attorney Shahzad Mirza Akbar told Al-Jazeera that drones will be a big challenge for the incoming government, which will face legal problems if it does not challenge these strikes. Other Pakistani opposition leaders, like Shireen Mazari, a member of Imran Khan’s political party, which is considered as the main opposition to the governing party, criticized Obama’s position as “absurd.” (Washington Post Blog, May 24)

Facing mounting pressure from the Yemeni people and tribal leaders, Obama finally admitted what everybody had assumed for nearly 600 days. That’s the amount of time since U.S. drones killed Anwar Awlaki and three other U.S. citizens in Yemen.

Obama and his Department of Justice tried to justify this killing by claiming Awlaki was the chief of external operations for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and that it was impossible to indict and extradite him from Yemen. But then they didn’t try to indict him under the U.S. justice system and ignored the fact that Yemen kept him in prison for 18 months at U.S. request in 2006 and 2007. (“Dirty Wars,” by Jeremy Scahill, pp. 185-190)

What makes the U.S. justification for this assassination even more suspect is that a few weeks after Anwar Awlaki was killed, so was his son, Abdulrahman Awlaki, along with some of his cousins who were sharing a table with him at a cafe. It’s hard to believe the unnamed U.S. officials that claim this assassination was “unintentional.”

Abdulrahman Awlaki was 16, born and raised in the U.S., with firm ties to his school and all the pursuits of a typical U.S. teenager. He hadn’t seen his father for years, so he came to Yemen to visit his grandparents and to find his father.

Medea Benjamin of the anti-war women’s group Code Pink interrupted Obama’s speech several times to protest Abdulrahman’s murder and the prison camp at Guantánamo. If Abdulrahman’s killing was “unintentional,” which the U.S. claims, there is really no effective control of drone strikes.

If it was intentional, given the context of his life, it says something even worse – punishing the son for what the father did.

Guantánamo, which Benjamin raised as she was being dragged out, was a major issue in the 2008 presidential campaign. Both Obama and John McCain said they would close it. Five years later, it is still open.

In his speech, Obama admitted, “Gitmo [Guantánamo] has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.” And, “We spend $150 million each year to imprison 166 people, almost a million dollars per prisoner.”

But Congress, according to Obama, won’t let him move prisoners, either to the U.S. for trial, or to their home countries. Fifty-six Guantánamo prisoners have been cleared of all charges by military and CIA investigators, but are still being held.

If Obama, as the courts have held, has the right to imprison whomever he wants during war time, he also has the right to release them. The Guantánamo prison has already released around 600 prisoners. Why not the rest?