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Two Sides of the Same Coin

by SIBEL EDMONDS

“In politics we presume that everyone who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a city or a state. When we are ill… we do not ask for the handsomest physician, or the most eloquent one.”

— Plato

During the campaign, amid their state of elation, many disregarded Presidential Candidate Senator Barack Obama’s past record and took any criticism of these past actions as partisan attacks deserving equally partisan counterattacks. Some continued their reluctant support after candidate Obama became grand finalist and prayed for the best. And a few still continue their rationalizing and defense, with illogical excuses such as ‘He’s been in office for only 20 days, give the man a break!’ and ‘He’s had only 50 days in office, give him a chance!’ and currently, ‘be reasonable – how much can a man do in 120 days?!’ I am going to give this logic, or lack of, a slight spicing of reason, then, turn it around, and present it as: If ‘the man’ can do this much astounding damage, whether to our civil liberties, or to our notion of democracy, or to government integrity, in ‘only’ 120 days, may God help us with the next [(4 X 365) – 120] days.

I know there are those who have been tackling President Obama’s changes on change; they have been challenging his flipping, or rather flopping, on issues central to getting him elected. While some have been covering the changes comprehensively, others have been running right and left like headless chickens in the field – pick one hypocrisy, scream a bit, then move on to the next outrageous flop, the same, and then to the next, basically,  looking and treating this entire mosaic one piece at a time.

Despite all the promises Mr. Obama made during his campaign, especially on those issues that were absolutely central to those whose support he garnered, so far the President of Change has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor. Not only that, his administration has made it clear that they intend to continue this trend. Some call it a major betrayal. Can we go so far as to call it a ‘swindling of the voters’?

On the State Secrets Privilege

Yes, I am going to begin with the issue of State Secrets Privilege; because I was the first recipient of this ‘privilege’ during the now gone Administration; because long before it became ‘a popular’ topic among the ‘progressive experts,’ during the time when these same experts avoided writing or speaking about it; when many constitutional attorneys had no idea we even had this “law” – similar to and based on the British ‘Official Secret Act; when many journalists did not dare to question this draconian abuse of Executive Power; I was out there, writing, speaking, making the rounds in Congress, and fighting this ‘privilege’ in the courts. And because in 2004 I stood up in front of  the Federal Court building in DC, turned to less than a handful of reporters, and said, ‘This, my case, is setting a precedent, and you are letting this happen by your fear-induced censorship. Now that they have gotten away with this, now that you have let them get away, we’ll be seeing this ‘privilege’ invoked in case after case involving government criminal deeds in need of cover up.’ Unfortunately I was proven right.

So far The Obama administration has invoked the state secrets privilege in three cases in the first 100 days: Al Haramain Islamic Foundation v. Obama, Mohammed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, and Jewel v. NSA.

In defending the NSA illegal wiretapping, the Obama administration maintained that the State Secrets Privilege, the same draconian executive privilege used and abused voraciously by the previous administration, required the dismissal of the case in courts.

Not only has the new administration continued the practice of invoking SSP to shield government wrongdoing, it has expanded its abuses much further. In the Al Haramain case, Obama’s Justice Department has threatened to have the FBI or federal marshals break into a judge’s office and remove evidence already turned over in the case, according to the plaintiffs attorney. Even Bush didn’t go this far so brazenly. In a well-written disgust provoking piece Jon Eisenberg, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, poses the question: “The president’s lawyers continue to block access to information that could expose warrantless wiretapping. Is this change we can believe in?”

This is the same President, the same well-spoken showman, who went on record in 2007, during the campaign shenanigans, and said the following:

“When I am president we won’t work in secret to avoid honoring our laws and  Constitution.”—Presidential Candidate, Barack Obama, 2007

Yes, this is the same President who had frowned upon and criticized the abuses and misuse of the State Secrets Privilege.

On NSA Warrantless Wiretapping

The new Administration has pledged to defend the Telecommunications Industry by giving them immunity against any lawsuit that may involve their participation in the illegal NSA wiretapping program.  In 2007, Obama’s office released the following position of then Senator Obama: “Senator Obama unequivocally opposes giving retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies … Senator Obama will not be among those voting to end the filibuster.” But then Senator Obama made his 180 degree flip, and voted to end the filibuster. After that, along with other colleagues in Congress, he tried to placate the critics of his move by falsely assuring them that the immunity did not extend to the Bush Administration – the Executive Branch who did break the law. Another flip was yet to come, awaiting his presidency, when Obama’s Justice Department defended its predecessor not only by using the State Secrets Privilege, but taking it even further, by astoundingly granting the Executive Branch an unlimited immunity for any kind of ‘illegal’ government surveillance.

Let me emphasize, the Obama Administration’s action in this regard was not about ‘being trapped’ in situations created and put in place by the previous administration. These were willful acts fully reviewed, decided upon, and then implemented by the new president and his Justice Department.

Accountability on Torture

President Obama’s action and inaction on Torture can be summarized very clearly as follows: First give an absolute pass, under the guise of ‘looking forward not backward,’ to the ultimate culprits who had ordered it.  Next, absolve all the implementers, practitioners and related agencies, under the excuse of ‘complying with orders without questioning,’ and then start giving the ‘drafters’ of the memos an out by transferring the decision for action to the states.

After granting the ‘untouchable’ status to all involved in this shameful chapter in our nation’s dangerous downward slide, he now refuses to release the photos, the incriminating evidence, and is doing so by using the exact same justification used repeatedly by his predecessors: ‘Their release would endanger the troops,’ as in ‘the revelation on NSA would endanger our national security’ and ‘stronger whistleblower laws would endanger our intelligence agencies’ and so on and so forth.

Not only that, he goes even further to shove his secrecy promotion down other nations’ courts throat. In the case of Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian citizen and a legal resident in Britain who was held and tortured in Guantanamo from 2004 to 2009, and filed lawsuits in the British courts to have the evidence of his torture released, Mr. Obama’s position has been to threaten the British Government in order to conceal all facts and related evidence. This case involves the brutal torture and so very ‘extraordinary’ rendition practices of the previous administration, the same practices that ‘in words’ were strongly condemned by the President during his candidacy.

Today he and his administration unapologetically maintain the same Bush Administration position on extraordinary rendition, torture, and related secrecy to cover up. Here is Ben Wizner’s, the attorney who argued the case for the ACLU, response “We are shocked and deeply disappointed that the Justice Department has chosen to continue the Bush administration’s practice of dodging judicial scrutiny of extraordinary rendition and torture. This was an opportunity for the new administration to act on its condemnation of torture and rendition, but instead it has chosen to stay the course.” Yes indeed, President Obama has chosen to protect and support the course involving torture, rendition and the abuse of secrecy to cover them all up.

The Revival of Bush Era Military Commission

After all the talk and pretty speeches given during his presidential campaign on the ‘failure’ of Bush era military tribunals of Guantanamo inmates, Mr. Obama has decided to revive  the same style military commission, albeit with a little cosmetic tweak here and there to re-brand it as his own. Many former supporters of Mr. Obama who’ve been vocal and active on Human Rights fronts have expressed their ‘total shock’ by this move and its pretense of being different and improved, “As a constitutional lawyer, Obama must know that he can put lipstick on this pig – but it will always be a pig,” said Zachary Katznelson, legal director of Reprieve.

Thankfully the ‘on the record’ statements of Candidate Obama in 2008 on this issue, contradicting his action today, are accessible to all:

“It’s time to better protect the American people and our values by bringing swift and sure justice to terrorists through our courts and our Uniform Code of Military Justice.”

Suspect terrorists (emphasis on ‘suspect’) cannot have just trials consistent/in line with our ‘courts and Uniform Code of Military Justice’ via military commissions. It’s almost an oxymoron! And if you add to that the other Obama-approved ingredients such as secrecy, rendition, and evidence obtained under torture, what have we got? Anything resembling our courts and Uniform Code of Military Justice system?

On War and Bodies Piling Up

Here is the first paragraph in a New York Times report on May 15, 2009:

“The number of civilians killed by the American air strikes in Farah Province last week may never be fully known. But villagers, including two girls recovering from burn wounds, described devastation that officials and human rights workers are calling the worst episode of civilian casualties in eight years of war in Afghanistan.”

The report also includes the disagreement over the exact number of ‘Civilian Casualties’ in Afghanistan by our military airstrike:

“Government officials have accepted handwritten lists compiled by the villagers of 147 dead civilians. An independent Afghan human rights group said it had accounts from interviews of 117 dead. American officials say that even 100 is an exaggeration but have yet to issue their own count.”

Does it really matter – the difference between 147 and 117 or just 100 when it comes to children, grandmothers…innocent lives lost in a war with no well-defined objectives or plans? If for some it indeed does matter, then here is a more specific and detailed report:

“A copy of the government’s list of the names, ages and father’s names of each of the 140 dead was obtained by Reuters earlier this week. It shows that 93 of those killed were children — the youngest eight days old — and only 22 were adult males.”

Maybe releasing the photographs of the nameless unrepresented victims of these airstrikes should be as important as those of torture. Because, from what I see, they and their loss of lives have been reduced to some petty number to fight about.

When I was around twelve years old, in Iran, during the Iran-Iraq war, my father, a surgeon in charge of a hospital specializing in burns and reconstructive surgery, decided to take me to the hospital to teach me an unforgettable lesson on war. I think one of the factors that prompted him was my new obsession with classic war movies; you know, ones like ‘the Great Escape.’ Anyhow, he took my hand and we entered a ‘transition ICU Unit.’ In that room, on a standard size hospital bunk bed, laid an infant of eight or nine months of age, or what was remaining of her. Over eighty percent of her body was burned; to a degree that the skin had melted and absorbed the melting clothing on top -impossible to remove without removing the skin with it. Instead of a nose two holes were drilled in the middle of her face with tubes inserted allowing breathing, the upper eyelids were melted and glued to the lower ones, and…I am not going to go further – I believe you get the picture.

This baby was the victim of an air strike, a bombing that killed her entire family and leveled her modest home to the ground. My father pointed at this heartbreaking baby and said, “Sibel, this is war. This is the real face of war. This is the result of war. Do you think anything can justify this? I want to replace the glamorous exciting phony images of those war movies in your head. I want you to remember this for the rest of your life and stand against this kind of destruction…”

And I do. This is why I am offended by those petty numbers when it comes to civilian deaths. This is the reason I believe some may need pictures of these atrocities as much as those of torture to replace those ‘Shock & Awe’ footages fed to them by our MSM.

All this death and destruction is carried out while the administration’s Afghan policy is still murky and confused, and it’s strategy ambiguous. Sure, our so-called ‘New’ Afghan Strategy includes more troops and asks for a much larger budget allocation; nothing new there. It is another war with no time table. It is the continuation of the same abstract ‘War on Terror’ without any definition of what would constitute an ‘accomplished mission.’ One minute there is pondering on possible ‘reconciliation’ with the Taliban, and the next minute seeking to topple it. In fact, to confuse the matter even further, we now hear this distinction between ‘Good Taliban, Bad Taliban, and the Plain Ugly Taliban.’ As stated by Karzai on Meet the Press on May 10, 2009, not all Taliban are equal!!

I can go on listing cases of Mr. Obama’s change on change. Whether it is his reversal on protection for whistleblowers, despite his campaign promise to the contrary, or his expansion of the Un-American title of ‘Czardom,’  where we now have more czars than ever: Border Czar, Energy Czar, Cyber Security Czar…Car Czar…maybe even a Bicycle Czar!. Or…But for now I’ll stick with the major promises that were ‘Central’ to him getting elected, all of which  he has flipped on in less than 150 days in office, a track record indeed.

What I want the readers to do is to read the extremely important cases above, step back in time to those un-ending campaign trail days, and answer the following questions:

How would Senator McCain have acted on these same issues if he had been elected? How would Senator Hilary Clinton? Do you believe there would have been any major differences? Weren’t their records almost identical to Senator Obama’s on these issues? If you are like me, and answer ‘same,’ ‘same,’ ‘no,’ and ‘yes,’ then, why do you think we ended up with these exact same candidates, those deemed ‘viable’ and sold to us as such?

With too much at stake, too many unfinished agendas for the course of our nation, and too many skeletons in the closet in need of hiding for self-preservation, the ‘permanent establishment’ made certain that they took no risk by giving the public, via their MSM tentacles, a coin that no matter how many times flipped would come up the same – Heads, Heads.

“Politics will eventually be replaced by imagery. The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favor of his image, because the image will be much more powerful than he could ever be.” –Marshall Mcluhan

SIBEL EDMONDS is the founder and director of National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC). Ms. Edmonds worked as a language specialist for the FBI.  During her work with the bureau, she discovered and reported serious acts of security breaches, cover-ups, and intentional blocking of intelligence that had national security implications. After she reported these acts to FBI management, she was retaliated against by the FBI and ultimately fired in March 2002. Since that time, court proceedings on her case have been blocked by the assertion of “State Secret Privilege”; the Congress of the United States has been gagged and prevented from any discussion of her case through retroactive re-classification by the Department of Justice. Ms. Edmonds is fluent in Turkish, Farsi and Azerbaijani; and has a MA in Public Policy and International Commerce from George Mason University, and a BA in Criminal Justice and Psychology from George Washington University. PEN American Center awarded Ms. Edmonds the 2006 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award.

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