Nobel Peace Prize Winner Endorses Torture and Assassination

            There was a time when Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama was an outspoken critic of extraordinary rendition.  In 2007, in an article he wrote for the magazine Foreign Affairs, he stated, “To build a better, freer world, we must first behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people…….This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.”   Indeed, in January of 2009, as one of his first acts as president, he ordered the closing of the secret prison system that had been established by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  The CIA used these ‘secret’ prisons to imprison suspects (and others) in America's ‘Global War on Terror’.   In 2007, Obama was a U.S. Senator and presidential candidate, who spoke often of the need for America to “behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people.”  As he prepares to enter his second term, President Obama has embraced the ideas of assassination, extraordinary rendition and warrantless wiretapping. 

            In August of 2012, Ali Yasin Ahmed, 23, Mohamed Yusuf, 29 and Mahdi Hashi, 23 were arrested in Djibouti.  Both Ahmed and Yusef are Swedish citizens; Mr. Hashi is a native of Somalia but a resident of Britian.  The men were all imprisoned in Djibouti for months while they were interrogated by the FBI.  Ultimately, they were charged with supporting al-Shabab, which is a Somalian Islamic militia group.  In 2008, the U.S. Government designated al-Shabab a terrorist group.  On October 18 all three men were indicted by a federal grand jury.  On November 14 the FBI says it took custody of the men.  The three men appeared in a Brooklyn, New York court on December 21, 2012, nearly 5 months after they were first apprehended in Djibouti.   

            A little history on the country of Djibouti will help shed some light on this story.  Djibouti is a very small African nation located in what is known as the horn of Africa.  It borders the nations of Eritrea (to the North), Ethiopia (to the West), and Somalia to the South.  The country has approximately one million people.  Most importantly and of great strategic value to the U.S., is the fact that the country borders the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.  Djibouti is home to the U.S. Naval Expeditionary Base, Camp Lemonnier.  Camp Lemonnier is the headquarters of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.  That makes Camp Lemonnier one of the most important locations in the American global empire.  It is of great strategic importance for activities ranging from conducting drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries, to imprisoning foreign citizens for interrogation. 

            As with most events in America’s war on terror, the case of these three men is shrouded in secrecy.  President Obama has not only endorsed the Bust tax cuts, he has also endorsed the Bush Administration’s use of drone strikes, extraordinary rendition and indefinite detention.  In January, 2011, Obama signed the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill.  Provisions within this bill  restricted the transfer of prisoners from Guantanomo Bay to America for any purpose, and also makes it very difficult for the prisoners to be transferred to other countries.  Currently, there are still 166 prisoners being held in Guantanomo. 

            When President Bush endorsed the use of torture (remember the debate regarding water boarding?) the American left was outraged.  When President Bush began using drone strikes, the American left was outraged.  When President Bush began to imprison suspected terrorists at Guantanomo Bay the American left was outraged.  The left demanded to know how America could justify imprisoning people indefinitely without a trial.  When news of the CIA’s extensive network of secret prisons first came to light, the American left was outraged.  Indeed, lets revisit the words written by Obama in 2007 on the subject of secret prisons, indefinite detention and extraordinary rendition, “This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.”  I would suggest that not only has America lost its way, but so has Obama. 

             America cannot allow the fear of terrorism to justify assassinations.  We cannot allow our fear to indefinitely detain the innocent along with the guilty.  We cannot allow our fear to excuse behavior that we previously condemned.  Right now, the government’s behavior is excused because the suspects might be terrorists.   If the government can state that terrorist suspects have no legal rights, what is to prevent the government from stating that any other group has no legal rights?  The Bush Administration went to great lengths to defend their methods.  The silence of those on the American Left who were critical of the exact same policies used by the Bush Administration, but who are silent regarding the Obama Administration using the same policies is tantamount to an endorsement of these policies.  The Obama Administration does not discuss their methods nor even feel compelled to justify their actions.  When man makes a beast of himself, he removes the pain of being a man.  When we treat others as less than human, we ourselves become less than human.




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Thank you!

NY brit expat's picture

The American left has been openly and strongly critical of various administrations' violations of the geneva conventions, the international convention on torture, the destruction of civil and human rights. It is not the left that has kept silent. Instead it is the majority of americans who believe that might makes right and think that the Geneva conventions only apply to our enemies but not to the actions of Americans, who are willing to sell their liberty for the illusion of security. So, while I agree with what you have written here, it is not the American left or the international left that has kept silent. It is the faux liberals and the centrists that have abandoned international human rights, that have abandoned the Geneva Conventions that have not only kept silent, but justified the actions of the US government, that seem to think that they are above and beyond those silly rules that came out of the most grotesque horrors that human beings have inflicted on each other and on whose doorstep the next inevitable atrocity must be laid. Silence is complicity, but that silence has not been on the part of the left!

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Thank you, expat. This is an important point.

geomoo's picture

Those who indiscriminately support the polices of President Obama and the Dems in Congress should not be confused with "the left".  The left are those who have been called "fucking retarded", purists, ideologues, negative nay-sayers, haters, racists, and much worse. Perhaps most clever and damaging of all was the label which originated from this administration of "professional left".  (I won't go into the insidious damage this meme brings nor into why it conveys a notion precisely at odds with reality.)  If there is a charge of complicit silence to be leveled, it is appropriately leveled at the centralized media which dominates American discussion.  We can debate whether Rachel Maddow is a liberal, but I will tell you that I virtually never hear my views concerning torture being discussed on her program despite the fact that there are many mature, intelligent, well-informed people who would be happy to perform the service.

I believe I can counter this idea with a single example.  By sheer coincidence, this morning I was reading through comments in the Atlantic Monthly in response to a typically smug dismissal of criticisms from the left of Katherine Bigelow's latest film.  These criticisms have been far and wide, coming from many quarters as befits a healthy leftist opposition to torture.  In the article Mark Bowden, a proven liar, is typically slick and convincing in his twisting of reality.  Bowden voices his opinions in The Atlantic Monthly, Vanity Fair, and other mainstream, widely read publications which lend its contributors an aura of authority.  In contrast, the many capable and accurate responders to Mr. Bowden depend on comments sections and blogs like this one, venues which can easily be portrayed as full of crazy folks, such is the disdain of the average American for the mechanisms of actual democracy.

If there is interest in seeing that the left has not been silent, one need only read through the comments section responding to that article, a comments section full of cogent remarks which take down Bowden's propaganda piece from many different angles, from the detailed to the general.  I'll quote the two extremes here, while urging anyone interested in being prepared to respond to the misleading film Zero Dark Thirty with clarity.

Matt Cornell:


"And it is cleverness, coated with kindness, that produces something useful."


Bowden is lying about this scene. Anwar is dragged from his cell and offered a meal of hummus. He is pressured for information. When he demurs, they threaten to torture him some more. Then, he gives up the name.



It's time to move on; the discussion should not be about the movie, but about the facts. And the facts are the following: the US government has effectively abolished habeas corpus through the use of detention centres in its control but outside its territory. It is systematically snooping on everybody, including its own citizens. It has given the US President power of life and death over every person on this planet. No-one has been or can be held accountable for all this.


The fact is also that the US government has been systematically torturing people and, when it felt even harsher methods were necessary, has delivered prisoners into the hands of foreign governments who often tortured them to death. I won't go into the morals of this, which are clear enough. I just want to point out the legal consequences: either the US is consciously breaking both its own laws and international law and violating human rights because it can, which effectively makes it an outlaw, either its acts are legal, which means that other governments can do the exact same thing, including to Americans. And it has become legal under international law to torture people because of the US' own behaviour which, if you accept this reasoning, "shapes" international law. This is what the public debate should be about, not ever more tortured interpretations of a movie.

There are many more equally cogent comments which "the left" took the time to append to this article.  Taken as a whole, they represent a thorough-going indictment of the subtle, smug, and in the end disgusting attempts of Mr. Bowden to make it seem as though there is nothing shameful about defending aspects of torture while claiming not to be supporting it.

There are plenty of us on the left not taken in by attempts to parse the "good" parts of torture from the bad, the legal aspects from the moral and practical ones.  I am glad to say that there are a lot of us.  You just won't hear us on NPR or Rachel Maddow, or certainly not often enough to off-set the impression that few Americans are taking these matters seriously.

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Oh, and I do believe we are ALL complicit

geomoo's picture

So much so that, between Obama's election and inauguration, I spent a couple of weeks studying complicity and how a society might best come to terms with a past of torture.  I was expecting to see a national account taking, with hearings, trials, discussions.  Tragically, it was not to be.

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Exsqueeze me

LaEscapee's picture

what is your definition of the "American left"? Because the only people I see aquiesing to any move of this president regarding death, killing and torture are those that identify as "partisans" and "pragmatists"., and both of those labels ignore every aspect of what their country is doing in support of the rose co;ored glasses view that somehow it is different. IOIYAD is a disease for which there is no cure until become honest with themselves.

There are plenty of us out here that recognize the smell of horseshit. What we can't do it seems is convince the newly formed that it stinks no matter whos' horse dropped it.

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