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Obama talks about the price of freedom before NDU

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Before recalling James Madison’s admonition that “no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare” President Obama reminded us that “a price must be paid for freedom”. Speaking at the National Defense University on Thursday President Obama delivered a speech about a range of US counter terrorism issues. Touching upon everything from his administration’s controversial drone strikes to force feeding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, from the nature of current threats posed by a network of global terrorists to the government’s chilling response to information leaks Obama sought to respond to growing criticism that his administration is unaccountable, secretive and contemptuous of the law.

Obama wasted no time responding to such criticisms: “Over the last four years, my Administration has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists – insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability.”

Rather than clarifying his Administration’s counterterrorism policies and addressing their legality, Obama masterfully demonstrated his ability to wield nice rhetoric about morality, accountability, just wars and their end. But any claims of transparency, accountability and ending the war over are immediately discredited by the Administration’s habitual use of secrecy and the disturbing theory used to justify America’s longest war, “the world as a battlefield” doctrine. This is real and it’s referred to in elite circles as the “Operational Preparation of the Battlespace“.

Without even commenting on Guantanamo the Obama Administration’s record of accountability and transparency is laughable. Even more so in light of Obama’s campaign promise to usher in the “most transparent government” in history. A short list of three alarming developments over the past four years looks something like this:

1. War on whistle blowers and journalists – President Obama has used the Espionage Act to prosecute more governmental whistle blowers than all other US Presidents combined. Since taking office Obama has prosecuted six whistle blowers under the anachronistic act and as stated last night will continue to “keep information secret that threatens our operations”. The 2009 indictment of Stephen Kim, a State Department Adviser who is being prosecuted for allegedly sharing information with Fox News correspondent James Rosen that North Korea would respond to new UN sanctions by performing additional nuclear tests shows the Obama Administrations obsession with secrecy. The information Kim is accused of communicating to Rosen was not even classified. So if a government employee doesn’t share top secret information, steal classified documents and release them to the public or collude with the enemy, that employee, like Mr. Kim can still face up to 10 years in prison for “spying”, also known as talking outside of the Department of Defense. Talking is illegal when the Obama Administration says so. Thomas Drake, John Kirakou, Shami K. Leibowitz, Jeffery Sterling, Bradley Manning and Stephen Kim can all attest to this. The AP leak scandal is further evidence of this disturbing trend. By punishing governmental whistle blowers the Obama Administration effectively freezes the outflow of information about its policies and conduct. This threatens the essence of investigative journalism, the very instrument used to keep power in check. The flow of information is becoming increasingly unilateral. This past weeks mantra: “He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.”

2. Secret Kill List and Strategic Declassifications – Terror Tuesdays have been a weekly ritual carried out by Obama, his top intelligence advisors and cabinet members and apparently, as Obama divulged yesterday with Congressional approval too: “Congress has agreed on every strike that we have made, including Awlaki”. The convenient declassification of documents relating to the “targeted killing” of Awlaki and three other Americans killed in signature strikes a day before Obama addressed the National Defense University follows a strategic pattern of releasing classified information to the public before brief televised statements about the controversial material. The same thing happened earlier this year. A day before John Brennan’s confirmation hearing for CIA directorship was scheduled, NBC magically obtained a copy of the Department of Justice memoranda that purported to justify Obama’s targeted killing program without due process. The staged spectacle was carried out with thespian fervor reaching a climax when protagonist Dianne Finestein boasted about the Senate’s oversight of drone strikes paving the way for the responsible new assassination czar John Brennan. The declassification of documents pertaining to the due-process-free killing of four Americans follows the Obama Administration’s strategy of releasing controversial information for brief, controlled statements about government activities. During his speech Obama referred to codifying oversight and accountability by signing the Presidential Policy Guidance. But the only thing that has been codified by the Obama Administration are the reviled policies of Bush II including warrantless wire-tapping, sprawling surveillance, indefinite detention, and the frightening Bush/Cheyneyesque view that the planet is a massive battle ground that the US must engage. Which brings us to Obama’s assertion on Thursday that all wars must end.

3. The War is Permanent – Obama’s claims that America’s longest war is finite counter previous statements by his Administration. Last Thursday Wired’s Spencer Ackerman reported that Assistant Secretary of Defense, Michael Sheehan while speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing on the AUMF -the statutory basis that makes Obama’s war a “legal war” and with some moral gymnastics, a “just war” – stated that the war would last “at least another 10 to 20 years”. That’s because Obama’s war on terror, like that of his predecessor, is by it’s very design endless. As Obama acknowledged himself “Any U.S. military action in foreign lands risks creating more enemies”. As long as the US “is at war with terrorists” the cycle will continue to reproduce the violence it claims to end. With every Fort Hood, Christmas Bombing attempt or Boston Marathon attack, the Administration reasserts its right and the rationality of executing a war against terrorism. Until the US war effort in all of its manifestations, conventional or space age stops being a “local” phenomenon waged asymmetrically against the most marginalized peoples across the world the words of Obama will ring hollow and the rage of Obama’s victims will be channeled into anti-imperialist, anti-American ideologies. Furthermore there is too much riding on the perpetuation of this war for big interests. Military contractors and the surveillance industry who benefit the most from continual warfare will do everything in their power to keep the nation at war and their ranks are seated in top offices throughout the government.

Obama’s speech on Thursday was characterized by fugues of moralistic posturing and cynical promises. A drone court? A journalist shield law? These non-sequiturs in the Administration’s logic = a FISA court styled rubberstamp factory for assassinations and a piecemeal law that provides the barest protections to journalists while prosecuting with the full weight of law the very people journalists need as their sources, government employees.

The price that “must be paid for freedom” couldn’t be clearer. Americans must accept the “legal” diminshment of their legal rights. Freedom of the press, of speech, of due process, habeas corpus, freedom from assassination by government, privacy in communications, the security of living in a country that doesn’t furnish new enemies and living with the confidence that the government will put its citizens before war profiteers are all dreams of a halcyon past. Americans have been ordered to relinquish any claims to such rights. Challenging the awesome powers of the US government is grounds for prosecution as America’s six brave whistle blowers have demonstrated. Challenging the official narrative that the American execution of global war is anything other than good and just warrants a oneway conversation with the President where you are told, “Why don’t you sit down, and I will tell you exactly what I’m going to do.” This has been the command of choice for authoritarians since time immemorial.

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