Monday, 30. April 2012
The Astounding Hypocrisy of King Obama
“We must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen — because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts, and because so many others stood silent.” – Barack Obama
When President Obama spoke those words at the Holocaust Memorial Museum last Monday, he was referring to atrocities committed by the government of Nazi Germany. He urged nations to learn from the Holocaust and commit to preventing new atrocities. Then, he unveiled a plan for America’s implementation of this “core responsibility.”
“I’ve signed an executive order that authorizes new sanctions against the Syrian government and Iran and those that abet them for using technologies to monitor and track and target citizens for violence. These technologies should not empower — these technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them. And it’s one more step that we can take toward the day that we know will come — the end of the Assad regime that has brutalized the Syrian people — and allow the Syrian people to chart their own destiny.” – Barack Obama
The president made no mention in his speech of torture and extraordinary rendition under his predecessor; no mention of his own administration’s efforts to silence disclosures of government wrongdoing. In the US government lexicon, “evil” apparently means the use of technology by a government to monitor, track and target citizens for human rights abuses except when the government is the United States or when the government is too powerful to risk angering or a US ally. This propagandistic definition of evil provides the framework for US foreign policy and the executive order mentioned in Obama’s speech.
Issued in the dark of night, the April 23 executive order basically bars any person or entity from directly or indirectly enabling the governments of Syria and Iran to use information technology to commit what the administration considers “grave human rights abuses” through such means as “computer and network disruption, monitoring and tracking.” The order authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to block such entities from access to any property they have in the US
The order targets persons who have “materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of” the described government abuses. Persons whose assets are blocked (upon being added to a government list without notice and thus without due process) become pariahs themselves. Anyone who assists them by contributing “funds, goods, or services” for their “benefit” and anyone who receives any “contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services” from them will find their names added to the “blocked” list, also.
And, here’s a provision I didn’t see coming: None of the restrictions described in the order apply to the US government or those who conduct its business. That’s right. The US reserves for itself the right to do exactly what it has accused the Syrian and Iranian governments of doing: using computer and network disruption, monitoring, and tracking to commit human rights abuses. That would be chilling to read except that it is old news.
It is well known, of course, that the US itself has used technology to assassinate civilians, to disrupt networks used by dissidents, and to monitor and track communications for the purpose of imprisoning and torturing people convicted of no crime; and the list of abuses continues to grow. This week, human rights groups prepared to meet in Washington, D.C. to highlight the “human cost” of US drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. Meanwhile, the US is considering expanding its use of drones for “signature strikes” that kill unidentified and potentially innocent people based solely on a pattern of activity. The same day, the Electronic Frontier Foundation released documents obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration that include a list of more than 700 authorizations to use drones in the US.
Less well known is the US government’s promotion of wiretapping in other countries, including Central American nations with histories of human rights abuses.
“The US has been pushing “intelligence-led policing” in Central America over recent years, advocating wiretapping operations across the region, according to a February 2012 US Congress report. With the passing of a wiretapping law in Honduras late last year, all seven Central American countries now have legislation in place that allows the practice.” - Insight
With that history behind him, President Obama, in the Holocaust Museum, denounced the use of surveillance and Internet technologies to commit human rights abuses. News coverage of the event does not tell us how many jaws dropped.
Obama was correct in pointing out that that modern technology makes it easier than ever to orchestrate human rights abuses. Surveillance and communications technology, such as that owned and promoted by the US and allies like the United Kingdom, gives governments the means to conduct violent purges with a speed and efficiency that would have dazzled Goring and Himmler.
Legal firewalls and separation of powers can hinder abuses of technology. But, in the US, many legal firewalls have been eliminated or simply ignored. Presidential power has grown while a key check on that power, Congress, has become increasingly impotent. In this context, the technologies that threaten the people of Syria and Iran clearly pose a threat to people in the US, too. Their houses are already aflame, but ours is filled to the eaves with tinder, waiting for a single match–one unprincipled individual in the White House–to trigger a conflagration, possibly worldwide. The proper response to America’s crisis is the one President Obama prescribed for Syria and Iran: Remove combustibles from the house.
In his speech, Obama claimed for the US the mantle of human rights protector, citing interventions in South Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire, Libya and Central Africa. But, his claim was premature. In order to claim the mantle, the US must first excommunicate the high priests of torture. It must ring in the rule of law, close the manual of enhanced interrogation and turn off the lights in Secret America. Thus nations starve their darkest instincts of the fuel that turns them into hell.
Linda Lewis is a policy analyst with degrees in emergency management and geosciences. Her experience includes 13 years as a policy analyst and planner for the U.S. government. During that time, she brought attention to serious deficiencies in government preparedness prior to the disasters that confirmed her analyses. Those included emergency communications (9/11 terrorist attacks), federal assistance (hurricane Katrina) and decision making (Columbia shuttle disaster).