"Freedom can be preserved only if it is treated as a supreme principle which must not be sacrificed for particular advantages" - Friedrich Hayek
Dear Mr. Obama,
This letter contains a list of troubling issues that directly or indirectly concern the United States and therefore you as its leader. If you could throw some light on them, it would be greatly appreciated.
1. A non-partisan and independent review panel this week published a report which concludes that '"it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture" and that the nation's highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it'.
Being a former (civil rights) attorney and professor of constitutional law, you are no doubt well aware that torture is illegal under international law and binding international treaties such as the United Nations Convention Against Torture and, for international conflicts, the Geneva Conventions III and IV. Further, given your legal background and expertise, you will certainly appreciate the fundamental necessity of upholding the rule of law as well as the dangers which can result from not doing so - these are basic precepts in the legal profession, after all.
Given also that there is conclusive evidence from neurobiologists that torture is inherently unreliable as enormous stress can profoundly affect brain chemistry and memory, this further renders the so-called 'ticking time bomb' argument for torture moot.
We all know of your 'look forward, not backward' mantra. However, the credibility of the US legal system is at stake here. Will you not initiate criminal proceedings against those culpable 'highest officials', and if not, why not?
2. Everyone in the world has been shocked and greatly saddened at the tragic loss of life in the Boston bombings. However, reports have emerged that the FBI interviewed the older of the two brother suspects in 2011 and the mother of the two states that the FBI has been in contact with them for years. While this, of course, could be the misguided statement of a mother stricken with shock and grief at what happened to her children, there is nonetheless cause for concern because...
As you may or may not be aware, the FBI has staged several terror plots in the post-9/11 era, only to triumphantly foil them at the last moment.
From the linked article by Glenn Greenwald, then at Salon (see original for sources):
The FBI has received substantial criticism over the past decade — much of it valid — but nobody can deny its record of excellence in thwarting its own Terrorist plots. Time and again, the FBI concocts a Terrorist attack, infiltrates Muslim communities in order to find recruits, persuades them to perpetrate the attack, supplies them with the money, weapons and know-how they need to carry it out — only to heroically jump in at the last moment, arrest the would-be perpetrators whom the FBI converted, and save a grateful nation from the plot manufactured by the FBI.
Last year, the FBI subjected 19-year-old Somali-American Mohamed Osman Mohamud to months of encouragement, support and money and convinced him to detonate a bomb at a crowded Christmas event in Portland, Oregon, only to arrest him at the last moment and then issue a Press Release boasting of its success. In late 2009, the FBI persuaded and enabled Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, a 19-year old Jordanian citizen, to place a fake bomb at a Dallas skyscraper and separately convinced Farooque Ahmed, a 34-year-old naturalized American citizen born in Pakistan, to bomb the Washington Metro. And now, the FBI has yet again saved us all from its own Terrorist plot by arresting 26-year-old American citizen Rezwan Ferdaus after having spent months providing him with the plans and materials to attack the Pentagon, American troops in Iraq, and possibly the Capitol Building using “remote-controlled” model airplanes carrying explosives.
As innocent lives (including that of poor 8-year-old Martin Richard) were lost in Boston, these serious questions about the activities of the FBI need to be answered by you as the person ultimately responsible for the actions of all US government agencies.
3. Never having met you, I have not had a chance to congratulate you personally on winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. On receiving the prize, you said that you were 'surprised' and 'humbled' and that you felt you did not deserve the award. Given the record of the United States under your leadership, perhaps you will understand that you are not alone in that assessment. Afghanistan and Iraq were, as you know, part of the mess left by your predecessor, but you have greatly expanded the drone bombing program as well as NATO airstrikes in the sovereign nations of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan as well as Libya and possibly in Mali.
You will no doubt argue that drones are an essential component in the 'War on Terror' (renamed by your administration as 'Overseas Contingency Operations') but I refer you to your comments the other day after the Boston bombs:
"Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror."
Could you please explain why, by your own definition, the United States is engaged in a campaign of terror. You are perhaps unaware of the name Tariq Aziz, a 16-year-old boy who was killed by a drone attack in Waziristan. Clive Stafford Smith of the charity Reprieve wrote as follows:
Last October I was at a jirga in Islamabad where 80 people from Waziristan had assembled to talk about the US Predator drones that buzz around overhead, periodically delivering death by Hellfire missile. A jirga is the traditional forum for discussing and resolving disputes, part parliament, part court of law. The turbaned tribal elders were joined by their young sons on a rare foray out of their region to meet outsiders and discuss the killing. The isolation of the Waziris is almost total – no western journalist has been to Miranshah for several years.
At our meeting I spoke as the representative westerner. I reported the CIA claim that not one single innocent civilian had been killed in over a year. I did not need to understand Pashtu to translate the snorts of derision when this claim was translated.
During the day I shook the hand of a 16-year-old kid from Waziristan named Tariq Aziz. One of his cousins had died in a missile strike, and he wanted to know what he could do to bring the truth to the west. At the Reprieve charity, we have a transparency project: importing cameras to the region to try to export the truth back out. Tariq wanted to take part, but I thought him too young.
Then, three days later, the CIA announced that it had eliminated "four militants". In truth there were only two victims: Tariq had been driving his 12-year-old cousin to their aunt's house when the Hellfire missile killed them both. This came just 24 hours after the CIA boasted of eliminating six other "militants" – actually, four chromite workers driving home from work. In both cases a local informant apparently tagged the car with a GPS monitor and lied to earn his fee.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has documented the deaths of civilians, including hundreds of children, in the drone bombing campaign. Its painstaking methodology can be reviewed here along with all the data. As it has been reported that you personally order drone strikes, I believe the families of the victims would like to hear some kind of explanation.
As a father of two beautiful children yourself, try to imagine how you would feel and react if a drone aircraft belonging to a powerful foreign nation - say, China - bombed an area where they were playing with their friends. One can imagine that the warships would sail on the very next tide however China justified its action, even if it was part of its own 'war on terror'. You are fortunate in that you are in possession of enormous power that enables you to protect your children. The families, especially the parents of the child victims, do not and did not have that luxury.
The level of the threat is also a matter of concern. While the majority of people who see blanket coverage on corporate media channels no doubt believe that terrorism is issue number one, this article makes it clear that the chances of dying in a terrorist attack are about 1 in 20,000,000. Compare this to the 1 in 800,000 chance of drowning in a bathtub. Some words from you are necessary on why such extraordinary resources are expended on a threat that - in terms of numbers - is minor.
4. Let's turn to the domestic front. My use here of military terminology is intentional as successive US administrations appear to favor it. One famous example is the 'War on Drugs' launched by Richard Nixon in 1971. I recently watched a documentary called 'The House I Live In' on this issue and I strongly recommend you watch it, too. You will probably like it as it features David Simon, the guy who created The Wire, a TV series you are on record (warning: barf alert for some of the comments below the article) as saying is your favorite. However, as I know you are busy, I will present below for you the notes I made while watching the documentary. They are obviously in note form so please excuse the casual grammar and style (and the length!):
Note-form summary begins:
The US has more prisoners than any other nation: 2.3 million prisoners in 2012. Russia a bit below in second. China a long way behind in third. Around a million are black Americans, most male, many for non-violent drug offenses.
This is due to the war on drugs. However, drugs are purer, more available, younger and younger kids are available to sell them.
Since Nixon announced the drug war in 1971, it has cost over $1 trillion and resulted in over 45 million arrests. In this period, illegal drug use has remained unchanged.
You can go into a newborn baby hospital ward and predict with near certainty where they are going to end up in life based on race, background and class.
Police find it laughable that drug war can ever be won. Law enforcement officers believe the community is completely corrupt. Community members believe law enforcement is using drug laws to destroy the community. According to a guy familiar with both sides, everyone hates what is going on.
Few normal Americans know anything about the war on drugs IN THE US. They believe it is something going on elsewhere...abroad.
Doctor Gabor Mate (acute accent on last E) talks about criminal issue vs health issue. He says addiction is an EFFECT of human unhappiness and suffering. Question should be why they are unhappy, not why they are addicted.
Drug offenses carry mandatory minimum sentences...judges can’t use JUDGEMENT. 20 years for possession of 50g of crack cocaine. Circumstances, no matter how heartbreaking, mean nothing. One guy grew up around gang members and drug dealers...mum was addicted to drugs. What chance did he have?
US has 5% of world’s population. Has 25% of all prisoners. 500,000 incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes.
Lexington Correctional Center, Oklahoma. Biggest employer in area.
More poor black people incarcerated or on probation/parole than there were slaves in 1850.
Early narcotics squads focused passionately and disproportionately on blacks in 1950s...there was no mass drugs market in those days. Was the jazz man’s vice. Addict population, however, was distinctly biracial.
Drug use exploded in sixties but poverty forced drugs out onto the streets, making blacks even more of a target. Late sixties there was a mass market. 80s was like drive-thru. At this point, it’s not a war against a counter culture – it’s a war against the entire community.
Clear that drug war punishes abusers instead of mounting a serious offense against the problem.
2.7 million kids had a parent behind bars in 2012.
Drug dealers often seen as community leaders...help out someone late on rent etc. Looked up to because when they come round, ‘it’s Xmas'. Presents etc. Ice cream etc. One way to get power is to sell drugs...power from money.
Personal responsibility? Need to remember there are structural impediments...kids are hungry when go to school, broken homes, hearing gun shots and seeing violence. No prospects, no economy. You’ve got to do what you have to do...it’s actually RATIONAL to make money from drugs.
Once you have a felony on your record, almost impossible to get a job. Ineligible for certain educational grants, can’t get certain healthcare benefits. Can’t even live in certain neighborhoods. Can’t vote. Becomes a vicious cycle…almost inevitable to return to crime.
Started by Nixon to push the polls up. Nixon actually had forward thinking...understood need for treatment as well as enforcement. Two-thirds of budget went towards this. However, as 1972 election approached, he went back to 'war' rhetoric.
Even prison guards say it’s a complete mess. Political hay to get elected...being tough on crime is essential.
Rehab programs, essential to helping prisoners stay clean once they get out (learning a trade), are often the first things cut in budget trims.
This messes up good police work. Drug arrest stats make an average cop look good and get promoted over a good cop who will make one good arrest a month for a murder or rape etc. You end up with a dept where no one higher up can do a good job.
Financial incentives exist for police depts. To make more arrests...just the stats...so they will arrest for low-level crimes, non-violent ones.
Historically drug abuse was actually seen as a public health issue.
Then opium smoking was made illegal in California. Reason was many Chinese were there who smoked the stuff and they were hard-working people but they were taking jobs away from Americans. This was a way to round up the Chinese and throw them in jail.
Same for cocaine...used to be legal and was used by rich executives, housewives, white middle class...but then blacks used it...they thought they could work hard all day and all night with it...and were taking jobs from whites.
Then hemp...a very useful and legal crop until it was associated with Mexicans smoking it. Again...they were taking white jobs.
These laws set a dangerous precedent of racial control.
Time and again, drug laws have historically targeted any immigrant threat that threatened the established economic order.
Reagan used the new menace - crack cocaine - for political capital, even though drug crime was falling at the time and only 2% of Americans named drug abuse as the top priority. New tough laws came in - mandatory sentencing. Politicians passed them in record time, virtually no hearings.
Crack cocaine was punished 100 times more severely than powder cocaine use. White execs used powder cocaine, crack cocaine used on the streets.
Judge says a defendant with 5g of crack is given 5 years - the same as someone with 500g of powder cocaine.
In 2005 some discretion was given back to judges in special cases.
Most users of cocaine are white, but 90% of defendants in federal system are black.
Empirical work needs to be used for public policy.
Meth was the new 90s menace...two other despised groups: gay people and white trailer park people.
Judge says average person sentenced for meth is a blue collar worker who has just lost his job and turns to meth production to fund his habit.
One guy has life without parole for three grams of meth...three strikes and you’re out.
Now it applies to all races...usually poor.
The recession made whites lose their jobs and the hopelessness made them drug addicts too. Against the stereotypes of minorities. We’re all the same now.
Prison services are big business. Many corporations - health providers, taser manufacturers, etc. Need prison industry.
In order to keep prisons successful businesses, you need a constant stream of prisoners.
Bottom 15% of society no longer needed so might as well lock them up and make money out of them.
There is a pattern everywhere throughout the world and history:
First: a group is identified as a problem by the establishment. Fellow citizens used to think they were worthwhile, but now they’re evil and worthless.
Second: ostracism...we learn to hate the group, how to take their jobs and make it hard for them to survive. Lose their homes, forced into ghettos, physically isolated.
Third: confiscation – people lose their rights and civil liberties. Once you take people’s property away, you can take the people themselves away.
Fourth: concentration. Put them into prisons or camps. No rights, can’t vote. Can’t have children. Often their labor is exploited.
Fifth: annihilation – could be indirect - withholding medical care, births etc.
This cycle applies to the drug war. Each step is happening.
Prison is no place for rehab - among highest recidivism rates in the world!
Hope is taken away - culture of hopelessness.
Cop says it’s like Nazi Germany 1930s - they rebuilt everything by creating solidarity through hating the communists and the Jews.
Drug abuse is a symptom of a bigger problem. Like saying the problem with pneumonia is that you cough - so we should suppress the cough. You have to deal with the whole picture.
Perhaps, Mr Obama, for the sake of all those non-violent offenders rotting away in prison, it is time for a rethink? You remember Hamsterdam in The Wire, don't you? Could you please explain who people are supposed to vote for in your Paleozoic voting system if they want a change in drug policy? As third-party candidates are ignored and ridiculed by the US media, only the two big political parties have a chance of winning, and as both have identical policy regarding the drugs war, there does not appear to be any democratic choice whatsoever. And while we're at it, could you also provide an explanation for the rules (must read article!) surrounding the farcical presidential debates?
5. You will probably agree that the behavior of the big banks and corporations is out of control. Their reckless and criminal actions directly caused the 2008 global financial collapse, leading to the impoverishment of millions of people and the catastrophic sovereign debt crises now occurring around the world, especially in Europe.
There have been mind-boggling scandals - HSBC actually admitted that they laundered money for the Mexican cartels who have killed 70,000 people in the last few years. That's more than twenty 9/11s in terms of civilian casualties. And then there was the LIBOR rigging scandal. Could you please explain why none of the executives responsible for these atrocious and extremely damaging crimes have faced criminal charges?
The suspicion among vast swathes of the world's population - those not hopelessly distracted by sport, celebrity fluff and manufactured drama in the mainstream media anyway - is that you politicians don't touch the bankers because they have you by the balls; that is, they fund political campaigns and will, naturally, fund opposition candidates if anyone steps out of line (or create a smear - sex scandals etc. - to destroy careers and families). Others believe that you are, in fact, given your own significant wealth, one of them, shall we say. An assurance that this is not the case (with evidence) would be greatly appreciated because, as you will surely agree, no banker has any business telling elected officials what to do as that would utterly negate the very concept of democracy.
6. Inequality is also an extremely serious problem. In 2007, the six members of the Walton family (the original owners of Walmart) had the same wealth as the poorest 30% of the US (around 90 million people). Is that the American dream to you? Because it is a nightmare to anyone who is not rolling in cash. Could you please explain why as president you have allowed this ludicrous wealth gap between the rich and the poor to persist?
7. If you'll bear with me there are a few other issues to note. In your 2008 presidential campaign literature (pdf), you wrote the following on the topic of whistleblowers:
Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled as they have been during the Bush administration. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.
Stirring words, and everyone who believes in democracy would heartily agree with them. However, the citizens of the nation you lead, not to mention millions around the world, will have great difficulty reconciling these noble words with the plight of Bradley Manning and Jeremy Hammond. Bradley Manning's case is quite well-known, but Jeremy Hammond, arrested on suspicion of involvement with the leak of Stratfor emails in 2012, is less well-known. One disturbing element of his case is the fact that Judge Preska, who denied him bail, is in fact married to Thomas Kavaler, whose email and password were hacked in the leak. Despite this crystal clear conflict of interest, Judge Preska has refused to recuse herself.
The information revealed by these whistleblowers fit all the criteria defined in your campaign literature. Numerous criminal acts, including murder and spying on UN officials etc. were revealed in the diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks and provided by Manning. There is an irreconcilable contradiction between your stated promise to 'expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims' etc. and the facts on the ground. It is hard to escape the reality that you have blatantly lied, and an explanation is clearly required.
8. Please provide an explanation of the deeply worrying move towards authoritarianism (NDAA) and invasion of internet privacy (CISPA). Please also explain your utter devotion to Israel in the face of the dreadful suffering of the Palestinian people.
9. Leaving the worst to last, if nothing else moves you, perhaps the looming catastrophe threatened by man-made climate change will. You have children of your own, after all, and they (and their children) are the ones who will have to live in a world of rising sea levels, disappearing lands, mega-hurricanes, desertification, droughts, fires, floods, food shortages and the ensuing social chaos and likely wars. The human race can no longer afford to allow the fossil fuel companies along with their disgusting and pathetic media stooges to confuse and delay the issue any longer.
You are in your second and final term. Defy your paymasters (yes, we know all about it) and do some good. YES, YOU CAN! And if it is legacy you are concerned with, I guarantee history would remember you for such an act of courage and humanity far more than anything else you have achieved.
Written by Simon Wood