Written by Aviva Stahl
Four years ago, when Barack Obama was elected, many of us gained a renewed sense of hope. After all, he promised to protect our civil liberties, close Guantanamo Bay (and end torture), bring renewed transparency to government and approach the Muslim world with compassion and an intimate cultural understanding. Muslims at home and abroad were sure things would get better.
But have they?
Guantanamo Bay remains open.
The Patriot Act was extended.
He signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which permits the Indefinite detention of anyone captured anywhere in the world, without charge or trial.
Under his guidance, the US has expanded its drone program, killing hundreds and potentially thousands of people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. (Audaciously, his administration considers all adult males targeted by the strikes to be militants, unless proven otherwise posthumously.)
He holds weekly meetings where he authorizes “kill lists” – targets for drone strikes – including American citizens and even their children.
His administration has invoked the state secret doctrine in several cases brought against the FBI and government officials, including one case involving the extrajudicial killing of a US citizen by the US military, and another case where the FBI illegally spied on thousands of American Muslims.
The Obama administration had quadruped the use of warrantless wiretaps.
He’s aggressively prosecuted whistleblowers inside the government – sometimes using the draconian Espionage Act – solely to prosecute individual’s brave enough to expose the unconstitutional and illegal behaviour of the American government.
His administration submitted misleading information about conditions of solitary confinement at ADX Florence, thereby facilitating the extradition of Babar Ahmad, Talha Ahsan, and three others to a potential lifetime of torture in America’s most brutal federal prison.
Under his watch, the Justice Department declined to sanction members of Bush’s team who wrote the legal memos justifying waterboarding and other forms of “enhanced interrogation”. The list could go on…
Four years ago, detainees in Guantanamo Bay cheered when they heard the election results. I doubt they felt as elated when they learned about his second term (though I’m hardly claiming Romney would have been better). Seems unlikely that the families of Babar Ahmad, Talha Ahsan, and the other Brits recently extradited to the US were exactly thrilled about his re-election. The victims of his drone strikes? “Infuriated.”
As one blogger rightly commented: “The whole liberal conceit that Obama is a good, enlightened man, while his opponent is a malign, hard-hearted cretin, depends on constructing a reality where the lives of non-Americans — along with the lives of some American Muslims and whistleblowers — just aren’t valued.”
For those of us who care about Islamophobia at home and imperialism abroad, Obama’s second term is nothing to celebrate. It’s time for Obama to get the message that his re-election doesn’t mean that Americans approve of his domestic and foreign policy, particularly with regards to the War on Terror. It’s time for progressives who voted for him as the “lesser of two evils” to provide more than lip service to their critiques of his murderous and unconstitutional policies. As he made abundantly clear in his first term, Obama is “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” – he speaks the language of human rights and international law but his actions reveal he holds the same indifference for the basic precepts of justice as his predecessor. Obama’s second term is only an opportunity insomuch as it offers the rest of us a chance to work together in holding him to account for his many broken promises.