It’s not that I really object to lies about Obama. Most people lie about Obama to make him look good, for the same reason they lie about death or God — because they can’t handle the truth. Others lie about Obama because Fox News told them to or because he’s black, but they mostly make him look better too (“socialist!” “pacifist!” “government healthcare!”). What does disturb me is the entire 16-page afterword to John Yoo’s book in which he criticizes Obama for all the wrong things, praises him for all the wrong things, and packs both procedures so full of lies that only a Fox News viewer could claim to understand it on a first reading.
Yoo describes the state of the world as Obama became president:
“Al Qaeda, which, along with its Taliban allies, continues to destabilize nuclear-armed Pakistan, remains a threat.”
A threat to whom? A threat justifying wars and crimes? The Taliban and al Qaeda are allies?
“North Korea, the most brutal totalitarian dictatorship on the planet, successfully tested a nuclear weapon and continues its quest for a long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States.”
I’m sorry, but didn’t the United States’ president threaten Korea, Iran, and Iraq, and proceed to slaughter and displace more people in Iraq than the entire population of Pyongyang? Doesn’t the United States have more people behind bars than that same entire population? Doesn’t the United States have death camps around the world and openly defend the use of lawless kidnapping, imprisonment, and torture? Doesn’t the United States have a larger military than the rest of the world combined, including bases and ships and missiles targeting North Korea?
And Iran, another consistent foe of the United States, continued its own efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology in defiance of international sanctions.”
If “international sanctions” refers to punishing trade policies enforced by the same nation illegally occupying the nations to the east and west of Iran, then yes. But who ever heard of behaving “in defiance” of such things? This sounds more like Iran is acting “in defiance” of laws or treaties, and it is not — as far as we know — doing so. The United States, in contrast, clearly and unambiguously is violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, not just Article I on not sharing technology (how does Yoo think Pakistan got nukes and Iran got plans to build them?) but also Article VI:
“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
How is that coming along? And since when is Iran a “consistent foe” of the United States? Granted, we’ve overthrown their government, we’ve funded a war against them, we’ve threatened to destroy their country. But what exactly has Iran ever done to us, or anyone else for that matter?
Yoo lists Reagan as a “great” president and claims that Reagan won a sufficient percentage of the popular vote in his elections to have a mandate to radically change the nation’s policies. Obama’s popular vote victory was smaller, and therefore he does not have the same “legitimacy” in trying to “realign” anything. This is curious coming from a former employee of the president who most drastically realigned things in Washington, who was never legitimately elected to that office, and who didn’t even claim a popular vote victory at all prior to asking Yoo to write memos legalizing aggressive war and torture. But this whole argument is shaped around Yoo’s conception of executives as people whose role has almost nothing to do with executing the laws passed by Congress and everything to do with single-handedly running the world, almost as a “totalitarian dictatorship” you might say. Yoo buttresses his claim of Obama’s illegitimacy by arguing that California voted overwhelmingly for Obama while also voting for initiatives including one to prohibit same-sex marriage. But the issues involved had almost nothing to do with the presidential election, the vote on Proposition 8 (same-sex marriage) was very probably corrupted, according to the Election Defence Alliance, and reshaping the laws of our country is a job for Congress, not for interpreters of whether public opinion gives a particular president a mandate to abuse power.
Yoo is mostly concerned that Obama not change U.S. foreign policy, and he praises Obama’s selection of Hillary Clinton, James Jones, and Robert Gates to continue charting our course to disaster. Yoo is heartened by Obama’s failure to withdraw from Iraq and his decision to escalate in Afghanistan, and expresses strong hope that Obama will be willing to attack Iran and North Korea as well.
Yoo both warns Obama not to change anything and encourages him to get around Congress in order to run the nation from his throne:
“While avoiding the Scylla of overconfidence in his mandate, Obama almost [also??] must skirt the Charybdis of Congress.”
Yoo raises his suspicions that Obama won the Democratic primary over Clinton by cutting deals and promising favors to super-delegates. Yoo is perfectly right to denounce the anti-democratic nature of the delegate selection process in the Democratic Party’s primaries (although that is not actually Yoo’s concern). And he is right to suspect that Obama cut deals with congress members. We’ve seen him cut lots of deals with congress members since he became president. But Yoo’s fear is of “a President who obey[s] congressional wishes.” Now, nobody wants a president who obeys secret pacts made to corrupt our open government. But obeying congressional wishes is actually the Constitutional mandate every president holds. Yoo actually admires the anti-democratic nature of Democratic primaries, which he says serves to
“head off insurgent candidates like a George McGovern or a Jimmy Carter who might be crushed in the general election.”
Never mind that the Democratic primaries have been conducted this way since before Carter was nominated, and never mind that Carter won. Yoo is not trying to slip into honesty here, he’s trying to argue that rightwingers are a majority and that Congress interferes with the service of that majority performed by deserving Republican emperors.
Yoo complains when Obama does not write every word of a bill for Congress and actually allows the legislative branch to play a minor role in the legislative process. And Yoo blames this imperial failure on the corrupt hold Congress has over Obama:
“Obama would fulfill the role set out for him by the Framers by checking Congress’s instinct to overregulate and hand out benefits to interest groups, rather than asking for stimulus bills and letting Congress fill in the details.”
Of course, in reality, presidents tell Congress what to do far more than the reverse. In June 2009, Obama wanted yes votes on a bill for war money and IMF bailouts for bankers. He threatened a loss of election funding, the backing of challengers, removal of chairmanships, blockage of earmarks and bills, and promised money, advertising, PR events with big-shot White House staffers, and economic goodies for districts. Congress fell into line. Yoo, you can be sure, was not disturbed by the backroom corruption.
When Yoo turns to matters of illegal wars, assassinations, lawless imprisonment, and torture, he writes of his initial worry that Obama might be straying back toward the rule of law, and his relief in observing Obama’s Bushlike trajectory. Yoo credits this to Obama becoming aware of the real and scary world out there. Others credit it to a combination of Obama’s initial feints in the direction of decency having been dishonest, and the influence of the permanent Washington war machine having taken over. Regardless of the explanation, however, Yoo is pleased, the law is trashed, and either the majority of us are displeased (as some polls suggest) or “the left wing of the Democratic Party” is upset, as Yoo alleges.
Who knew the Democratic Party had a left wing?
What upset Yoo were Obama’s early PR stunts announcing an end to torture and the closure of the death camp at Guantanamo, his decision to give “enemy combatants” a new label, and his release of secret memos, most of them involving the handiwork of John Yoo himself. Yoo is ever the disinterested party whom you’d never realize risks dying in prison if established laws are enforced against him. While Obama’s misguided actions, Yoo says
“certainly pleased the left wing of the Democratic Party, they also threatened to handicap our intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks.”
And yet no one has shown any possible way in which any of the memos that have been made public have endangered the people of the United States, with the possible exception of people like John Yoo and Jay Bybee who wrote the criminal memos. The same argument was made by Obama to the United Kingdom in demanding that a court there not reveal that our “intelligence agencies” had extensively tortured an innocent man named Binyam Mohamed. Obama threatened to cut off “intelligence sharing.” He freed the innocent prisoner, a step our Yoovian government resists above all others. But in the end, the court made public its brief summary of what our “intelligence agencies” had shared, and there was nothing in there to endanger anyone other than CIA officials who prefer to stay out of prison.
Yoo is, in fact, very concerned that some “terrorists” might be charged with crimes and tried in courts of law. And he is frightened by the mythical dangers arising from fraudulent claims to have eliminated torture:
“The CIA must now conduct interrogations according to the rules of the Army Field Manual, which prohibits coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop, bad-cop techniques used in police stations throughout America.”
The Army Field Manual (see Appendix M) does no such thing, and the CIA is actually forbidden to torture people by the Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the U.S. Code, Title 18, Part I, Chapter 113C, which made all acts of torture and conspiracy to torture felonies under our law before President Cowboy and his gang of lawyers moved to Washington. And why doesn’t Yoo like Obama pretending to “ban” torture be executive decree?
“President Bush already banned torture or physical abuse in 2002.”
We can’t have every president re-banning torture, now can we? Sooner or later someone might notice that it was already illegal under a real law. And, besides, Obama’s ban on torture goes too far, at least when the marijuana smoke drifts up the Berkeley hill on which Yoo lives:
“President Obama’s new order amounts to requiring — on penalty of prosecution — that CIA interrogators be polite.”
Yoo goes on to lie that “coercive measures” protect the country from dangers and are the only way to get “timely information from captured al Qaeda terrorists.” Never mind that such a thing has never been accomplished, only lied about. Yoo claims that all prisoners will completely refuse to talk, contrary to extensive evidence that prisoners talk more, and more honestly, when not tortured. On top of this frightening fantasy, Yoo suggests, accused criminals given trials will force the government to make public all information related to them even if some of that information endangers the country. Of course, Yoo provides not a single example of this having ever happened.
Then Yoo turns to praising Obama and finds much to be misguidedly pleased with. Yoo is delighted by Obama’s willingness to keep warrantless spying programs going, and to continue and expand upon the use of unmanned drones to murder people around the world — something Yoo accurately describes as
“a far greater deprivation of civil liberties than detention, interrogation, and trial by the military.”
Yoo means that as a compliment. Depriving people of civil liberties is high praise from Professor Torture. Yoo is also pleased with Obama keeping Guantanamo open, imprisoning people without charge, and trying people with military commissions. Yoo concludes, and again this is high praise:
“None of these policies would be legal unless the United States were at war.”
In reality, of course, there’s nothing legal about any of this, and the United States is not “at war”, especially not with random victims of our abuses around the world or here at home. But Yoo’s point is that Obama is using powers that no one has ever asserted a president had without claiming that they were magical powers that appear when there is a war on, even if it is an eternal global war.
Yoo then seems to admit that such abuses of power and human rights are not actually popular with Americans. He compares Obama to former president Eisenhower,
“another President whose personal popularity outstripped the public support for his policies.”
Eisenhower campaigned, Yoo argues, as less of a militarist and warmonger than he served as once elected. He became Truman, and Obama has become Bush. Again, remember, these are meant as compliments:
“Similarly, President Obama has come to have more in common with the ends of the Bush administration’s terrorism policies than did Candidate Obama. It should be clear, further, that this would not be possible were it not for a broad view of presidential power.”
Yoo stresses that he supports that “broad view.” He’s being modest. He INVENTED it. He bestowed as many new powers on the current and every future president as anyone in history. Together with Jay Bybee he counseled the White House on how to get away with war crimes, wrote memos authorizing aggressive war at the whim of presidents, claimed the power to decree that the federal statutes against torture, assault, maiming, and stalking do not apply to the military in the conduct of war and to announce a new definition of torture limiting it to acts causing intense pain or suffering equivalent to pain associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure or permanent damage resulting in loss of significant body functions will likely result. Yoo claimed in 2005 that a president has the right to enhance an interrogation by crushing the testicles of someone’s child. Yoo currently teaches California’s children at the University of California – Berkeley.
DAVID SWANSON is the author of Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union by Seven Stories Press. He can be reached at: email@example.com