Obama’s legacy of war, repression and inequality

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10 January 2017

US President Barack Obama’s “farewell address to the nation,” scheduled for tonight, has been preceded by a concentrated media buildup on the theme of Obama’s legacy. This has included fawning tributes portraying the president as a brilliant orator, progressive reformer, visionary and man of the people.

Seeking to mold the narrative of Obama’s presidency, the White House put out a video over the weekend featuring comedians Ellen DeGeneres and Jerry Seinfeld, actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, former basketball star Michael Jordan and other celebrities extolling the “historic moments that prove, yes, we can create progress.” Such absurd and nauseating effusions testify not to the qualities or accomplishments of the 44th president, but to the intellectual, political and moral debasement of the American cultural establishment.

For Obama and the privileged social layers that surround the Democratic Party, a legacy can be crafted with honeyed phrases and clever marketing. Millions of people, however, will judge the administration by its actions.

It would take far more space than is available here to outline in detail the real record of the Obama White House. However, any objective appraisal of the past eight years would have to include the following elements:

1. Unending war

Obama is the first president in American history to serve two full terms in office with the nation at war. This includes the continued bloodletting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the bombing of Libya, the six-year-long war for regime change in Syria, and support for the Saudi-led destruction of Yemen. A recent survey reported that in 2016, US Special Operations forces were deployed in 138 nations, or 70 percent of the countries of the world.

The “wars of the 21st century,” begun under Bush and expanded under Obama, have killed more than a million people and driven millions more from their homes, producing the worst refugee disaster since the Second World War. Obama’s “pivot to Asia” has inflamed tensions from the South China Sea to India and Pakistan. The current president will leave the White House as NATO troops deploy to Eastern Europe in the midst of an anti-Russia war hysteria stoked by the media and the Democratic Party.

Obama is the “drone” president, supervising the killing of some 3,000 people in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya by means of unmanned aerial vehicles, along with several thousand more in Iraq and Afghanistan.

2. Democratic rights

At least three of the individuals killed in drone strikes were US citizens. The declaration of the Obama administration in 2011 that the president has the authority to assassinate anyone, including US citizens, without due process sums up the attitude of the former constitutional law professor to basic democratic precepts.

The US detention and torture center in Guantanamo Bay, which Obama pledged on his inauguration day to close, remains open. Chelsea Manning, who courageously exposed war crimes in Iraq, is serving a 35-year prison sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Obama White House has prosecuted more whistleblowers for espionage than all previous administrations combined. Edward Snowden was forced into exile in Russia under threat of prosecution or worse, while WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange remains trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

The massive spying programs of the National Security Agency exposed by Snowden remain in place, and not a single individual has been prosecuted for clearly illegal and unconstitutional activity. Proclaiming the need to “look forward, not backwards,” Obama gave a free pass to Bush administration officials who institutionalized torture, with some of them, including current CIA Director John Brennan, finding top posts in Obama’s administration.

Obama has expanded the militarization of police departments and intervened in court to uphold police abuses that violate the Constitution.

3. Social inequality

Obama came into office in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, and the focus of his administration has been to restore the wealth of the financial aristocracy. Since their low point in March of 2009 (two months after Inauguration Day), stock values—fueled by the “quantitative easing” policies of the US Federal Reserve—have more than tripled, with the top one percent the overwhelming beneficiary of this new orgy of speculation. Aggregate quarterly corporate profits rose from $671 billion at the end of 2008 to $1.636 trillion in 2016, and the wealth of the richest 400 Americans increased from $1.57 trillion to $2.4 trillion.

At the other pole, eight years of the Obama administration have produced declining wages, rising living costs and growing indebtedness. Nearly 95 percent of all jobs added during the Obama administration’s “recovery” have been temporary or part-time positions, according to a recent study by Harvard and Princeton, with the share of workers in temporary jobs rising from 10.7 percent to 15.8 percent. Obama presided over the bankruptcy of the auto companies early in his administration (imposing an across-the-board 50 percent cut in wages for new-hires). He supported the bankruptcy of Detroit and slashing of city workers’ pensions. In the name of education “reform,” he oversaw a wave of public school closures and attacks on teachers, who were laid off in the hundreds of thousands.

As for Obama’s principal domestic initiative, the Affordable Care Act, its intended and actual outcome has been the shifting of health care costs from corporations and the state to individuals, with corporations slashing coverage and workers forced to pay exorbitant prices for substandard care. One statistic sums up the consequences: For the first time since the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1993, life expectancy fell in the US between 2014 and 2015 due to rising adult mortality from drug overdoses, suicides and other manifestations of social distress.

No account of the legacy of Obama would be complete without noting two additional statistics. Since 2009, approximately 10,000 people have been killed by police in the United States, while the Obama administration has deported about three million immigrants, more than any other US administration in history.

Then there is the man himself. What is most striking is Obama’s emptiness. From his first major speech, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the media has hailed Obama as a great orator. Yet over the span of 12 years in political office at the federal level, including eight in the White House, Obama leaves behind not a single sentence from a speech or interview that will be remembered.

Everything about Obama, who came into office having been named “Marketer of the Year,” is false and contrived. The only thing he consistently conveys is indifference, a strange remoteness, a man without qualities.

The personality is related to the function. More than anything else, Obama has been the president of the intelligence agencies. His political convictions appear to extend no further than his CIA briefing books. To those who care to look more closely into the background, there always seemed to be hands guiding his way to the White House.

For the ruling class, Obama’s particular function was to fuse in his person and his administration identity politics with the absolute domination of Wall Street and the military-intelligence apparatus. The “change” Obama was to represent was in the color of his skin, not the content of his policies.

The nominally liberal and pseudo-left organizations of the upper-middle class that surround the Democratic Party hailed his election as a “transformative” event, seizing upon the elevation of an African-American as an opportunity to abandon their oppositional pretenses. However, his tenure has merely demonstrated that it is class, not race, that is the decisive social category.

Amidst all the commentary on Obama’s “progressive” legacy, no one seems capable of explaining why it is that eight years of the Obama White House paved the way for the election of Donald Trump. Yet the bitter realities of social life, the widespread anger and disappointment, led to a collapse of the Democratic Party vote amidst a general feeling of disillusionment with the entire political establishment.

Obama now bequeaths to the world a ferocious conflict between two right-wing factions of the ruling class: The Trump administration, which is preparing an authoritarian and militarist government of the oligarchy, and its critics, furious that he is reluctant, for the present, to proceed with their preparations to wage war against Russia.

The record of the Obama administration and the character of the individual himself speak, in the end, to the structure of American politics—an ossified and reactionary political establishment that lacks any broad base of support, standing atop a cauldron of seething social tensions. The true legacy of Obama is the deepening of the crisis of American capitalism and the emergence of a new period of social and revolutionary struggles.

Joseph Kishore

Why Millennials Aren’t Afraid of Socialism

 

It’s an old idea, but the people who will make it happen are young—and tired of the unequal world they’ve inherited.

On Wednesday, November 9, at 9:47 am, BuzzFeed News sent out a push notification: “Trump is leading a global nationalist wave. The liberal world order is nearly over and the age of populism is here.” This, from a publication better known for listicles than sweeping political pronouncements. If even BuzzFeed felt it necessary to ring the death knell for the “liberal world order,” then liberalism must be really, really dead.

But what, besides global nationalism, can replace it? The answer is clear if we look at the 2016 election from its inception. The race we should be remembering is not just Clinton versus Trump, but Sanders versus Clinton. For nearly a year, millions of Americans supported an avowed socialist, and many of those people were young—like me.

This new New Left renaissance isn’t confined to the United States: Our British neighbors witnessed a similar wave of enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn. It’s kind of funny, if you think about it: The two most prominent politicians to galvanize young people in the United States and the United Kingdom over the last year are old white dudes. Sanders and Corbyn both look like my dad, except even older and less cool.

And it’s not just them—their ideas are old too. Or so it would seem to anyone who came of age before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Socialism, the redistribution of wealth, providing vital benefits and social services through the mechanism of the state—people were talking about this in the 1960s. And in the 1930s. And in the 19-teens. And now Sanders and Corbyn are recycling those hoary ideas (or so the argument goes), their only concession to the 21st century being the incorporation of racial-, queer-, and climate-justice rhetoric. (We can argue about how earnest they are and how successful that’s been).

And yet, in the 2016 primaries, Sanders won more votes from people under 30 than Clinton and Trump combined. Bernie pulled in more than 2 million of us; Clinton and Trump trailed far behind, with approximately 770,000 and 830,000, respectively.

Corbyn’s signature achievement thus far has been nearly tripling the size of the UK Labour Party. With over 550,000 members, it’s the largest political party in Western Europe. Though Corbyn’s supporters are not as strikingly youthful as Sanders’s—the influx of new members has barely changed the party’s average age—the youngest among them have a similar enthusiasm.

If you spent last year wondering why all these young people (“millennials,” as the headlines love to shout) have flocked to dudes even older and less cool than my dad, consider this: I’m 22. I was born in 1994. Bill Clinton was president. It was the era of the New Democrats in the United States and New Labour in the UK. Five years earlier, Francis Fukuyama had famously declared “the end of history,” and neither September 11 nor the global financial collapse had yet shaken that sense of security. My birth, and that of my generation, coincided with a huge geopolitical shift: For the first time in 50 years, the world wasn’t split in two along the familiar capitalist/communist lines of the Cold War. Seemingly, it had become whole.

George W. Bush was president for most of my childhood. My parents were Democrats in a red state, and at that point primarily defined their politics as being against the Iraq War and for same-sex marriage. Things like class, exploitation, and inequality were never mentioned, let alone a systematic way—like socialism—to think about them. I took up these anti-Republican positions with righteous gusto. In fact, I was co-president of my high school’s Young Democrats chapter, where I organized a screening of Jesus Camp and led discussions about the hypocrisy of the right’s “family values” agenda. Those were my politics.

The first president I voted for was Barack Obama, in 2012. By then, the shiny hope-and-change stuff had worn off a bit. I vaguely knew that drones were bad and that those responsible for the financial catastrophe a few years earlier had gotten off easy, but I didn’t think about it much. I was too busy binge-drinking in sweaty college basements—and hey, I’d voted for a Democrat. That was chill, right?

A child of the ’90s, I knew only neoliberalism. Socialism was brand-new.

It was during Obama’s second term that I began to understand how bad the financial crisis was and who was responsible (hint: the financial sector). Occupy Wall Street started to seem less like agenda-less rabble-rousing, as I had thought when I was co-president of the Young Democrats, and more like people confronting wealth and power in an unprecedented—and incisive—way. Thomas Piketty published his neo-Marxist tome, and its introduction alone fundamentally changed the way I understood economics. There was that viral video, based on a 2011 academic study of Americans’ perceptions of inequality, that used stacks of money to illustrate the wealth gap in United States. I must’ve seen it 30 times.

Four years later, as I finished college, Bernie Sanders shuffled onto the national political stage and offered an analysis: Poverty isn’t a natural phenomenon; it exists because a few people own far more than their fair share. He also offered a solution: The government could act on behalf of those of us just barely treading water. The government’s role, Sanders argued, is to correct the rampant inequality in this country by taxing the rich and using that money to offer real social services.

The erasure of socialist ideas from serious political discourse throughout most of my life wasn’t a historical fluke. The West’s victory in the Cold War—liberal democracy for everyone!—came at the price of iconoclasm, much of it celebratory. In Prague, there used to be a giant socialist-realist statue of Stalin and other communist leaders standing in a line on a hill overlooking the city from the north. Czechs called it the “meat line,” a joke about the long lines they had to wait in to get groceries. Now kids skateboard on the platform where the dictator once kept watch. To visit Prague now—or Budapest, or Sofia, or Bucharest, or Berlin—you might think that communism never happened. All that’s left are a few tacky museums and somber monuments.

So communism was killed, and along with it went any discussion of socialism and Marxism. This was the world of my childhood and adolescence, full of establishment progressives who were aggressively centrist and just as willing as conservatives to privilege the interests of capital over those of labor: think of the reckless expansion of so-called free trade, or the brutal military-industrial complex. For most of my life, I would have been hard-pressed to define capitalism, because in the news and in my textbooks, no other ways of organizing an economy were even acknowledged. I didn’t know that there could be an alternative.

It occurred to me recently that my peers and I will come of age in the era of Trump. It’s a bleak generational landmark, and not one I anticipated, but ideological capitulation and despair are not the answer. In the 1930s and 1940s, many of the most dedicated antifascists were communists. The antidote to radical exploitation and exclusion is radical egalitarianism and inclusion.

So we will be the opposition—but we’re not starting from scratch. The Fight for $15, organized in part by Socialist Alternative, went from a fringe dream to a political reality that has thus far spread to at least 10 cities and two states. Heterodox economists like Ha-Joon Chang, Mariana Mazzucato, and Stephanie Kelton are reshaping their discipline. And while Trump has dominated the headlines, there is still plenty of momentum around the socialist ideas that Bernie used to inspire America. Our Revolution is working hard to take the fight to the states; there it will be joined by groups like the Working Families Party and the Democratic Socialists of America, whose membership has grown by more than 50 percent since November 8. That’s more than 4,000 new members.

When I heard Bernie say, out loud, that the billionaire class was ruthless and exploitative, that sounded groundbreaking. Not only did he name the right problem—inequality, not poverty—he named the culprit. I didn’t know you could do that. To me, and to hundreds of thousands of my peers, Sanders’s (and Corbyn’s) socialism doesn’t feel antiquated. Instead, it feels fresh and vital precisely because it has been silenced for so long—and because we need it now more than ever.

My dad—slightly younger and slightly cooler than Sanders and Corbyn—picked me up from the airport the day before Thanksgiving. In the car, he confessed: “I liked a lot of the things Bernie had to say, but I just didn’t think he could get elected.” He sighed, ran a hand through his white hair, and pushed his glasses up his nose. “I thought Hillary had a better shot, but she couldn’t pull it off. Maybe Bernie could have… Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio…”

My dad sounded humble. Trump’s election, which to so many of us feels like a tragedy, prompted him to consider a new way of thinking. Maybe socialism isn’t a lost cause after all. Maybe it’s our best hope.

Pity the sad legacy of Barack Obama

Our hope and change candidate fell short time and time again. Obama cheerleaders who refused to make him accountable bear some responsibility

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‘Most well-paid pundits on TV and radio celebrated the Obama brand.’

Eight years ago the world was on the brink of a grand celebration: the inauguration of a brilliant and charismatic black president of the United States of America. Today we are on the edge of an abyss: the installation of a mendacious and cathartic white president who will replace him.

This is a depressing decline in the highest office of the most powerful empire in the history of the world. It could easily produce a pervasive cynicism and poisonous nihilism. Is there really any hope for truth and justice in this decadent time? Does America even have the capacity to be honest about itself and come to terms with its self-destructive addiction to money-worship and cowardly xenophobia?

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Herman Melville – the two great public intellectuals of 19th-century America – wrestled with similar questions and reached the same conclusion as Heraclitus: character is destiny (“sow a character and you reap a destiny”).

The age of Barack Obama may have been our last chance to break from our neoliberal soulcraft. We are rooted in market-driven brands that shun integrity and profit-driven policies that trump public goods. Our “post-integrity” and “post-truth” world is suffocated by entertaining brands and money-making activities that have little or nothing to do with truth, integrity or the long-term survival of the planet. We are witnessing the postmodern version of the full-scale gangsterization of the world.

The reign of Obama did not produce the nightmare of Donald Trump – but it did contribute to it. And those Obama cheerleaders who refused to make him accountable bear some responsibility.

A few of us begged and pleaded with Obama to break with the Wall Street priorities and bail out Main Street. But he followed the advice of his “smart” neoliberal advisers to bail out Wall Street. In March 2009, Obama met with Wall Street leaders. He proclaimed: I stand between you and the pitchforks. I am on your side and I will protect you, he promised them. And not one Wall Street criminal executive went to jail.

We called for the accountability of US torturers of innocent Muslims and the transparency of US drone strikes killing innocent civilians. Obama’s administration told us no civilians had been killed. And then we were told a few had been killed. And then told maybe 65 or so had been killed. Yet when an American civilian, Warren Weinstein, was killed in 2015 there was an immediate press conference with deep apologies and financial compensation. And today we still don’t know how many have had their lives taken away.

We hit the streets again with Black Lives Matter and other groups and went to jailfor protesting against police killing black youth. We protested when the Israeli Defense Forces killed more than 2,000 Palestinians (including 550 children) in 50 days. Yet Obama replied with words about the difficult plight of police officers, department investigations (with no police going to jail) and the additional $225m in financial support of the Israeli army. Obama said not a mumbling word about the dead Palestinian children but he did call Baltimore black youth “criminals and thugs”.

 In addition, Obama’s education policy unleashed more market forces that closed hundreds of public schools for charter ones. The top 1% got nearly two-thirds of the income growth in eight years even as child poverty, especially black child poverty, remained astronomical. Labor insurgencies in Wisconsin, Seattle and Chicago (vigorously opposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a close confidant of Obama) were passed over in silence.

In 2009, Obama called New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg an “outstanding mayor”. Yet he overlooked the fact that more than 4 million people were stopped-and-frisked under Bloomberg’s watch. Along with Carl Dix and others, I sat in a jail two years later for protesting these very same policies that Obama ignored when praising Bloomberg.

Yet the mainstream media and academia failed to highlight these painful truths linked to Obama. Instead, most well-paid pundits on TV and radio celebrated the Obama brand. And most black spokespeople shamelessly defended Obama’s silences and crimes in the name of racial symbolism and their own careerism. How hypocritical to see them now speak truth to white power when most went mute in the face of black power. Their moral authority is weak and their newfound militancy is shallow.

The gross killing of US citizens with no due process after direct orders from Obama was cast aside by neoliberal supporters of all colors. And Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Jeffrey Sterling and other truth-tellers were demonized just as the crimes they exposed were hardly mentioned.

The president’s greatest legislative achievement was to provide healthcare for over 25 million citizens, even as another 20 million are still uncovered. But it remained a market-based policy, created by the conservative Heritage Foundation and first pioneered by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.

Obama’s lack of courage to confront Wall Street criminals and his lapse of character in ordering drone strikes unintentionally led to rightwing populist revolts at home and ugly Islamic fascist rebellions in the Middle East. And as deporter-in-chief – nearly 2.5 million immigrants were deported under his watch – Obama policies prefigure Trump’s barbaric plans.

Bernie Sanders gallantly tried to generate a leftwing populism but he was crushed by Clinton and Obama in the unfair Democratic party primaries. So now we find ourselves entering a neofascist era: a neoliberal economy on steroids, a reactionary repressive attitude toward domestic “aliens”, a militaristic cabinet eager for war and in denial of global warming. All the while, we are seeing a wholesale eclipse of truth and integrity in the name of the Trump brand, facilitated by the profit-hungry corporate media.

What a sad legacy for our hope and change candidate – even as we warriors go down swinging in the fading names of truth and justice.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/09/barack-obama-legacy-presidency?CMP=share_btn_fb

The Obama administration and the legitimization of torture

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By Tom Carter
7 January 2017

On December 28, US District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered a complete copy of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2014 report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s torture program during the Bush administration to be delivered to a federal courthouse, where it is to be preserved in a safe by a judicial security officer. Lawyers for torture victim Abd al-Rahim Al-Nashiri requested this extraordinary measure on the grounds that efforts were underway within the other branches of the US government to destroy and erase every copy of the full report.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report, titled “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” was finalized in December 2014 after protracted efforts by the Obama administration and the CIA to obstruct and delay the investigation. At that time, a heavily redacted 525 page “executive summary” was released to the public. The full report, which apparently numbers some 6,700 pages, has been kept secret.

The redacted copy of the executive summary establishes unequivocally that CIA personnel perpetrated war crimes, including torture and murder. Among the more depraved and sadistic torture methods exposed by the report was the practice of so-called “rectal feeding,” which involved forcibly pumping puréed food into the victim’s rectum “without evidence of medical necessity,” in the dry language of the report. These war crimes were carried out systematically with the knowledge of senior figures in the Bush administration from 2001 to 2006, and were followed by an extensive high-level cover-up. (See What is in the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on CIA torture .)

Republican Senator Richard Burr, a vocal Trump supporter, who replaced Democrat Diane Feinstein as Senate Intelligence Committee chairperson following the 2014 midterm elections, has demanded the return of every copy of the report from the Obama administration. The CIA’s copies of the report were “inadvertently” and “accidentally” destroyed by the CIA inspector general’s office in the summer of 2015.

Virtually no one has been allowed to read the full report, and a concerted effort is underway to make sure that nobody is able to read it in the future. No one has been criminally prosecuted for gross violations of international law, American statutes and the US Constitution, and the moves to make the report disappear are aimed at, in addition to censoring history, making sure that none of the criminals involved in the program are ever brought to justice.

It would be hard to find more damning evidence of the utterly rotten state of American democracy than the fate of this report.

The fact that neither the CIA nor the Bush officials who sanctioned the torture program have suffered any negative consequences, despite the presentation by the United States Senate of detailed evidence of war crimes, points to the degree to which authoritarian tendencies have asserted and entrenched themselves in the American state. The only CIA employee who has suffered negative consequences in connection with torture is analyst John Kiriakou, who was prosecuted by the Obama Justice Department and sentenced to 30 months in prison for the “crime” of revealing to the public the CIA’s use of waterboarding.

In America, certain democratic rituals continue to be observed, but the reality is that the military, the intelligence agencies, and the largest business and financial institutions dictate policy to what would once have been called the “civilian” branches of government, including both official political parties.

In order to shield the CIA from accountability for its crimes, President Obama has refused to declassify the report, which he has the power to order unilaterally. He has also refused to incorporate the report into the records of federal agencies, as requested by several lawmakers, a procedural maneuver that would facilitate its preservation and future declassification. In a token measure, he has ordered a copy retained in his official presidential records. This might save a single copy from destruction for the moment, but it would delay its release to the public until at least 2028.

The case of Al-Nashiri was the subject of particular scrutiny in the Senate investigation. Before being transferred to the Guantanamo Bay torture camp, Al-Nashiri was abducted and “rendered” to a series of secret CIA “black sites” in Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland, Morocco and Romania. He was waterboarded, shackled naked and hooded, and threatened with guns and power drills, among other abuses. To prevent evidence of war crimes from coming to light, the CIA destroyed the tapes of Al-Nashiri’s waterboarding in 2005.

Al-Nashiri, a Saudi citizen and alleged Al Qaeda leader, is the subject of ongoing proceedings before a US military commission, in which the Obama administration is seeking the death penalty. Underscoring the absurd character of these supposedly “legal” proceedings, Al-Nashiri will not be released even if he is found to be not guilty.

In July 2014, the European Court of Human Rights found Poland to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights for its complicity in the detention and torture of Al-Nashiri, ordering Poland to pay him €100,000 in damages.

The story of the CIA “enhanced interrogation” program is one of crimes compounded by crimes, lies told upon lies, implicating higher and higher levels of the state, eventually metastasizing into a full-blown constitutional crisis. A full recitation of the scandal’s long development would require several books.

During the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, CIA Director John Brennan ordered agents to break into Senate staffers’ computers in an effort to delete incriminating information. Then the CIA provocatively demanded that the staffers be prosecuted for stealing confidential information, which prompted reciprocal demands for the CIA burglars themselves to be prosecuted, as well as an extraordinary speech on the Senate floor by Feinstein in March 2014. (See Senate Intelligence head accuses CIA of undermining US “constitutional framework” ) During the Senate investigation, the CIA took the position that it could keep information secret from the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is charged with overseeing the CIA.

The Obama administration purported to resolve the crisis with the announcement that nobody on either side would be prosecuted. At the end of 2014, the administration colluded with congressional Republicans in an effort to block the release of the report until the Republicans could obtain control of both houses. As part of these efforts, Secretary of State John Kerry placed a call to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein to urge her to “consider” further delaying the release of the report.

After the report’s release, the Obama administration continued to do everything it could to block and suppress the report. While Obama made “transparency” a plank of his election platform, his administration vigorously opposed efforts to secure the release of the report under the Freedom of Information Act, as in the case of ACLU v. CIA .

The administration’s efforts to cover up torture and shield torturers from accountability have been a significant factor in the legitimization of torture in the US, paving the way for an escalation of the practice under Trump.

A particularly menacing article appeared in the Wall Street Journal last month titled, “Sorry, Mad Dog, Waterboarding Works.” The author, James E. Mitchell, boasts of having been “authorized” to conduct “enhanced interrogation” by the CIA. He proudly describes having “personally waterboarded” three men while working as a CIA contractor.

The Senate report identifies Mitchell as one of the chief architects of the torture program. In at least one lawsuit, he has been charged with engaging in a “joint criminal enterprise” with the US government that involved “torture; cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; non-consensual human experimentation; and war crimes.”

In the article, Mitchell lashes out at the Senate report, calling it “partisan,” and he denounces retired Marine Corps General James “Mad Dog” Mathis, Trump’s appointee for secretary of defense, for his pragmatic statements that torture does not work. Mitchell argues that “harsh” interrogation methods are justified in a “ticking-time-bomb scenario.” However, underscoring the fraud of that oft-cited argument, Mitchell does not allege that any time bombs were ticking when he tortured his victims.

Mitchell is a war criminal and he should have been arrested and prosecuted a long time ago. The fact that he can openly boast of his conduct in the press is the product of the Obama administration’s dogged efforts to cover up torture and shield perpetrators such as Mitchell from accountability. If all of the Bush-era torturers had been sentenced to lengthy jail terms—together with those who authorized the program, lied about it, and tried to cover it up—it goes without saying that conditions would not be as favorable for such an article to appear in the Wall Street Journal, or for Trump to shout about how he will “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”

The fact that the Senate report on CIA torture is now in danger of being destroyed or locked away for more than a decade is a fitting symbol of the legacy of the Obama administration. Obama was elected based on popular illusions that he would reverse the hated policies of the Bush administration. Instead, by any objective standard, the Obama administration was among the most reactionary in American history. Over a period of eight years, Obama oversaw a broad assault on basic democratic rights, the strengthening of the apparatus of a police state, and a massive transfer of wealth to the super-rich. These policies helped lay the foundations for the rise of an authoritarian populist like Trump.

Without presenting a complete list, the Obama administration’s legacy as it pertains to democratic rights includes carrying out and justifying assassinations of US citizens, codifying military commissions and indefinite detention without judicial due process, persecuting whistleblowers and journalists, further expanding the illegal regime of domestic spying, blocking efforts at transparency, deporting immigrants en masse, cracking down on protests and prosecuting political activists on the basis of anti-terror laws, abetting the epidemic of police brutality, further militarizing local police, and asserting immunity on behalf of killer cops in proceedings before the Supreme Court.

When Obama first took office, he made it a priority to shield Bush-era criminals. Bush administration officials, war criminals who carried out torture, and Wall Street financial criminals who crashed the economy all got a free pass under Obama, who pledged to “look forward, not backward.” While he was elected on promises to close the infamous Guantanamo Bay facility, Obama ends his eight years in office with the torture camp still in operation.

Trump, for his part, has declared that “torture works,” and has promised to keep Guantanamo open. “I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantanamo Bay, which by the way, which by the way, we are keeping open,” Trump declared in November. “Which we are keeping open … and we’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we’re gonna load it up.”

Given the boundless sadism and depravity of the CIA torture that has already been exposed, the mind boggles at Trump’s proposal to implement practices that are “a hell of a lot worse.” Trump has also declared that American citizens who are accused of “terrorism” can be transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

WSWS

The Dark Side of Obama’s Legacy

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There is a dark side to President Barack Obama’s legacy on national and international security matters that will enable President-elect Donald Trump to damage America’s political institutions as well as its standing in the global community.  President Obama, a Harvard-trained lawyer and an expert in constitutional law, was insufficiently scrupulous in protecting our moral obligations, creating an ironic and unfortunate page in U.S. history.  Instead of making the “world safe for democracy,” the clarion call of President Woodrow Wilson one hundred years ago, President Obama contributed to the furtherance of a national security state and a culture of secrecy.

The administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama tilted too far in the direction of the military, which already plays far too large a role in the policy process and the intelligence cycle.  Strategic intelligence has suffered from the Pentagon’s domination of a process that is now geared primarily to support the warfighter in an era of permanent war.  The strategic intelligence failures during the Obama administration include the absence of warning regarding events in Crimea and the Ukraine; the “Arab Spring;” the emergence of the Islamic State; and Russian recklessness in Syria.

The militarization of intelligence presumably will worsen in the Trump administration, which will be dominated by retired general officers and West Point graduates at almost all of the key departments and agencies in the foreign policy community. The CIA has become a para-military organization in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, with too much attention given to covert action.

President Obama campaigned on the basis of transparency and openness, but ignored accountability for the CIA’s transgressions and fundamentally weakened the role of oversight throughout the national security community.  A statutory Inspector General was created at the CIA in 1989 due to the crimes of Iran-Contra, but President Obama made sure there was no IG in place at CIA during most of his eight-year presidency and acquiesced in the destruction of the Office of the Inspector General at CIA.

The Senate intelligence committee’s authoritative report on the CIA’s illegal use of torture and abuse could not have been prepared without the work of the Office of the Inspector General, but President Obama tolerated the CIA director’s interference with the committee’s staff and ignored calls for the release of the full report.  As a result, it will be easier for a Trump administration to reinstate the use of torture that violates constitutional and international law, let alone common sense and decency.  With regard to the now-banned practice of waterboarding, Donald Trump stated that “only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work,”

The Obama administration also conducted a campaign against journalists and whistle-blowers that was unprecedented, using the one-hundred-year-old Espionage Act more often than all of his predecessors combined.  In fact, he misused the act, which was designed to prosecute government officials who talked to journalists and not to intimidate legitimate whistleblowers who report crimes and improprieties.  Leonard Downie, a former executive editor of the Washington Post, called Obama’s control of information “the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration.”

President Obama, in his high-minded rhetoric, denounced torture and abuse that “ran counter to the rule of law;” warned that our use of drones will “define the type of nation that we leave to our children;” and that “leak investigations may chill investigative journalism that holds government accountable.”  Nevertheless, he sought no accountability for those who broke laws in conducting torture and abuse; expanded the use of drone warfare; and, according to the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, “laid all the groundwork Trump needs for an unprecedented crackdown on the press.”

As long as Congress defers to the president on the conduct of national security; the courts intervene to prevent any challenge to the power of the president in national security policy making; and the media defer to official and authorized sources, the nation will have to rely on whistleblowers for essential information on national and international security.  Their role will be particularly essential in a Trump administration in view of the president-elect’s reckless statements on nuclear forces, nuclear proliferation, the use of force, and U.S. relations with key allies.  The fact that Trump remains hostile to intelligence briefings and that his first three appointments to the National Security Council are conspiracy theorists creates a horrifying scenario for furthering the dark side of the Obama legacy.

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of “Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA,” “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism,” and the forthcoming “The Path to Dissent: A Whistleblower at CIA” (City Lights Publishers, 2015).  Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.

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No “Peace on Earth” in 2016

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24 December 2016

“Peace on Earth, and goodwill to men”—so goes the line of an oft-sung Christmas carol. The end-of-the-year holidays are a season in which such sentiments are generally expressed, genuinely by broad sections of the population, with utmost cynicism and hypocrisy by various figures in the political establishment.

The actual trajectory of world politics, however, was perhaps best reflected in a tweet from the soon-to-be president of the United States. “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability,” Trump declared on Thursday. This was followed by a statement from MSNBC host Mika Brzezinki on Friday: “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

The statements from Trump, part of an exchange with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which both men boasted of the nuclear arsenals of their respective countries, seems like a fitting close to a year of bloodshed.

In 2016, large portions of the globe were engulfed in military conflict. And those states that were nominally at peace spent their time preparing for war and mistreating refugees from armed conflict.

Although definitive figures have not yet been released, at least 150,000 people have been killed in armed conflicts throughout the world in 2016. There were three “major wars,” with a 2016 death toll of over 100,000:

 The Syrian civil war, in which 46,442 people were reportedly killed this year. Since the US began backing the Islamist insurgency in 2011, up to 470,000 people have died. The war has forced 4.9 million people to flee abroad and displaced 6.6 million people within Syria itself.

 The Iraq war, in which 23,584 people were killed this year. Since the United States invaded the country in 2003, more than a million people have died. As of November, 3.1 million people were internally displaced in the country, and millions more had fled abroad.

 The war in Afghanistan, in which 21,932 people were killed this year. Since the United States began providing arms to the Mujahedeen, the predecessor of Al Qaeda, in 1978, more than two million people have been killed in that country, which was torn apart by the 2001 invasion and occupation.

These three conflicts accounted for two-thirds of global deaths in military conflicts. They have also led to a refugee crisis unparalleled in scale since World War II. According to the United Nations, there were 65.3 million displaced people at the end of 2015, up by 5 million since 2014, and by nearly 25 million since 2011.

The surge in refugees, together with their increasingly cruel treatment by destination countries, has led to the highest number of refugee deaths ever recorded by the International Organization for Migration.

Some 7,100 refugees died last year, up from 5,740 in 2015. Half of the fatalities took place as refugees sought to enter Europe across the Mediterranean Sea from war and devastation in the Middle East and North Africa.

This year, Europe shut its doors to refugees. The EU agreed to pay Turkey to serve as the gatekeeper of Europe and block refugees from entering, as it militarized its border patrol and deployed the navies of its member countries to stop “people smuggling.”

This change is best exemplified by Germany, the region’s most powerful state, which is rapidly militarizing as it asserts itself as the dominant European power. While Chancellor Angela Merkel hypocritically proclaimed a “welcoming culture” toward refugees in 2015, this month she adopted large sections of the program of the fascistic Alternative for Germany, calling for a ban on the full-face veil and demanding a further crackdown on refugees.

Beyond the “hot wars” of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, the drive of the US to militarily encircle China has poured fuel on the world’s regional flashpoints. This year, nearly 300 people died in raids and shelling over the border between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed powers. Meanwhile military tensions between North and South Korea, which also threaten escalation into nuclear war, have dramatically intensified.

A quarter century of unending and expanding war is reaching a new and even more explosive stage. Beginning with the first Gulf War of 1991, which directly preceded the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States has sought, through a succession of adventures abroad, to reverse its long-term economic decline.

Obama will leave office as the first US president to serve two full terms under continuous war. He will go down in history as the man who proclaimed the right of the president to assassinate US citizens without due process, and who personally authorized drone “hits” that led to the deaths of thousands of people.

These unending wars, however, have failed to achieve their desired end. Over the past fifteen years, China has tripled its share of the world export market, while America’s share of exports has declined. US military operations, from Iraq to Afghanistan to Libya, have turned into quagmires and debacles. The defeat of the CIA’s Islamist proxies in Syria this month has hammered home the failure of the United States to impose its will upon the Middle East and the world.

But only a fool would believe that these failures will turn America’s warmongering ruling elite into pacifists. Rather, they have led the American ruling class to focus ever more directly on its larger competitors.

The inauguration of Donald Trump will mark a new phase in global conflict. Trump’s provocations against China and his declaration that he welcomes a new arms race with Russia are only the initial indications of the lengths to which his administration is prepared to go to preserve the interests of the American oligarchy.

The year 2017, the centenary of the Russian revolution of 1917, will once again place the struggle against war as the highest and most urgent political task facing mankind.

Andre Damon

WSWS