Obama’s Dodges Hard Truths About War on Terror in Major Speech


President Obama managed to deliver a speech on Thursday in many ways reminiscent of the rhetoric employed by candidate Obama, condemning the recklessness of the previous administration, hailing the rule of law, and citing James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

But whereas Obama made the right sounds, history shows his words fall far short, and often contradict, his actions as president. When he wasn’t using such rhetoric, he was dodging the truth on issues including drone warfare, Guantanamo Bay and indefinite detention, the AUMF, and how to prevent terrorism so as to not always be fighting it.

The Drone War

According to the president, when the option of “detention and prosecution of terrorists…is foreclosed” because “they take refuge in remote tribal regions” where “the state lacks the capacity or will to take action,” his administration chooses to secretly use drones to bomb targets as opposed to deploying boots on the ground to apprehend the suspects.

We’ve heard this justification for the drone war before, but there are two main problems to start with. First, this explanation simply assumes the validity of the targeting process. It is quite plainly inconsistent with the rule of law for the unchallenged executive branch accusations against mostly unnamed suspects to be sufficient for a death warrant by covert assassination.

As Rosa Brooks, Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, told a Senate committee last month, “When a government claims for itself the unreviewable power to kill anyone, anywhere on earth, at any time, based on secret criteria and secret information discussed in a secret process by largely unnamed individuals, it undermines the rule of law.”

According to reports, of the 3,000-4,000 people killed in drone attacks under Obama, less than 2 percent were described by the government’s own classified documents as senior members of al-Qaeda. The rest were either mid-level operatives, unidentified clumps of people killed in “signature strikes,” or civilians.

Secondly, just because President Obama identifies some logistical obstacles in apprehending mere suspects doesn’t give him the right to bypass the rule of law. What limited legal restrictions on Executive power we do have are not measly options for him to either take or not. They aren’t suggestions. They are the law.

Obama also mentioned his decision this week to declassify the targeted killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, with the familiar justifications. But he papered over the killing of three other American citizens, including Alwaki’s 16-year old son. He professed respect for due process but didn’t say a word about what kind of accountability he should be subject to for the killings, accidental or otherwise, of four Americans.

The 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force

But “America’s actions are legal,” Obama insisted. “We were attacked on 9/11. Within a week, Congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force. Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces.”

This is another dubious claim.

The AUMF empowered the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.”

In Senate hearings last week, top Pentagon lawyer Robert Taylor kept using the words “associated forces” to justify the legality of the drone war under the 2001 AUMF. Until Senator Angus King of Maine told him those words never appear in the text of the AUMF.

“You guys have invented this term, associated forces, that’s nowhere in this document,” King said. “It’s the justification for everything, and it renders the war powers of Congress null and void.”

Even as Obama used the AUMF to justify his dramatic expansion of the drone war, he warned of its dangers:

The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.

I don’t think the President can have it both ways here. Either the AUMF is an overly expansive blank check for perpetual war, or it is the foremost legal instrument of the completely lawful drone war. Which is it?

It will be interesting to see in the near future if President Obama follows up on his pledge to “refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate,” or whether it will become another unfulfilled promise, like closing Guantanamo Bay within one year of his election in 2009.

Guantanamo Bay and Indefinite Detention

Here is Obama’s case on Gitmo:

As President, I have tried to close GTMO. I transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries, or imprisoning them in the United States. These restrictions make no sense…

Today, I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from GTMO. I have asked the Department of Defense to designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions. I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries. Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and military justice system. And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee.

This was another example of the pretty rhetoric that doesn’t match up with actions. Yes, 67 detainees were transferred by the administration early on. But there are currently 86 detainees cleared for transfer that the administration has refused to release because of “security conditions.” The moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen was self-imposed by the administration and their Democratic colleagues in Congress largely participated in the effort to block the closure of Gitmo altogether.

Additionally, Obama seems to have no plan for the rest of the detainees who have not been cleared for release but whose alleged guilt is not admissible in court (because the Bush administration illegally tortured them – and then got away with it thanks to Obama’s refusal to impose any accountability for crimes committed). Meanwhile, he continues to order the forced feeding of scores of detainees starving themselves in protest of their injustice, which is a form of torture in itself according to UN human rights officials.

Combating Terror Without Combat: Retreat?

Obama urged Americans to recognize that terrorist threats “don’t arise in a vacuum.”

And then he offered an explanation for the motivation of terrorists almost as empty and inaccurate as Bush’s claim that they hate us for our freedom:

“Most, though not all, of the terrorism we face is fueled by a common ideology – a belief by some extremists that Islam is in conflict with the United States and the West, and that violence against Western targets, including civilians, is justified in pursuit of a larger cause,” he said. “Of course, this ideology is based on a lie, for the United States is not at war with Islam…”

If Obama refuses to publicly acknowledge the real motivations behind Islamic terrorism, there isn’t any chance to fulfill his urge to “addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism.”

Forget drone strikes and deploying Special Forces in remote areas of the world. If the United States withdrew its military assets from the Middle East, ended its support of Israeli apartheid and dispossession of Palestinian land and rights, stopped propping up military dictatorships with the aim of maintaining as much control over the region for the sake of its valuable geo-political characteristics and resources, and quit meddling in the internal affairs of nearly every Muslim-dominated country, Islamic terrorism would no longer be a threat to Americans.

But Obama rejected this reality before even giving voice to it today. “This is the price of being the world’s most powerful nation,” he said. “I firmly believe that any retreat from challenging regions will only increase the dangers we face in the long run.”

The opposite is true. “Retreat” from the region would mean less power for Washington. But America would be safer. And all of the moral and legal problems associated with the drone war and indefinite detention would disappear.

9 thoughts on “Obama’s Dodges Hard Truths About War on Terror in Major Speech”

    1. President Obama managed to deliver a speech … citing James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

      So is he complaining about continual warfare, or making an excuse for not preserving freedom?

  1. He still thinks that "9/11 changed everything." Those of us who let that paradigm stand are watching our liberties fall. Obama wears the same seal of approval that Bush did. He is not upsetting anyone but Medea Benjamin, and maybe that's just for show.

  2. Musings hit the nail on the head. Neocons and neo-libs both are blinded by the short-sightedness of 9-11 changing EVERYTHING. Obama has no intention to lead America back to the pre-patriot-act liberty we once knew.

  3. Due process which in Obama/Holder speak means whatever he wants it to mean. Why do I not find that reassuring?

  4. Only Achievement is that Weapon Industrial Complexes became bigger and Richer. Rothschild Estate Grew to 16 Trillions Dollar. Zionists are Wealthiest Now. Who Else is benefiting From these wars.Not the People of America For Sure.

  5. This speech was a feeble attempt to circle the wagons to stave the upcoming scandals that embroil the White House.Much of his liberal base, excluding Blacks, have deserted him.

  6. what should happen next

    is independent patriotic groups seeking out the pentagon brass from the senate armed services committee hearing and prosecuting them for treason. BO is just a phony cover for the security industry and his smug speeches will not protect him from eventual warcrimes prosecution

  7. In this speech, he attempted to disengage himself from his deep involvement in Guantanamo and drone bombing, and says (I paraphrase) "we are at a crossroads, we need to do something different," as if he were never involved, as if he were not the person calling the shots, as if he were still trying to blame it all on Bush. I have noticed this on another occasion, as if he were talking about those people over there, making those bad/questionable decisions, that have nothing to do with me, the President. Of the United States.

  8. Medea Benjamin stole the show with her heckling, especially at the end when she called out Obama for drone bombing the American teenager, Abdulrahman Awlaki, as her voice trailed away…she showed more courage than he did.

  9. If democracy respected and based on its principals then we all are free and democrats.., now something is missing here.., that is.., for democracy to function, it needs to have a functioning tools, a instrument both in economic and social justice.., USA is a long way from either.., the tools that exist in USA economic is vulture capitalism.., the tool for a functioning social justice is militarism.., again USA is a long way from freedom.., but hey.., we all can "hope", hope is the only thing that is given to people by Obama thus far.

  10. Obama saying, "I make the decisions", sounds a lot to my ears like, Bush's, "I am the decider".
    But I do like that provision of the AUMF that mandates force against, "nations that aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." Carried out logically, there would be US bombers in the skies over Tel Aviv.

  11. Guantanamo, Guantanamo
    Does anyone notice what a farce of misdirection this has become?

    It will soon become comparable to being against the wars, so long as we "support the troops".

    Wake up people.
    Obama has ALREADY said he would like to close Gitmo.
    But for all the WRONG reasons.
    NOT because torture, detention without fair trial, etc. are illegal or immoral.

    But because Gitmo has become a public embarassment.
    Because Gitmo may be used a a "recruiting tool" for opponents.

    Should Obama now close Gitmo, it would doubtless be to undeserved acclaim,
    as Bagram and who knows how many other "black sites" would continue.

    It won't be about changing any policy.
    It will only be about greater secrecy for the same policies.
    It will only be about keeping the public from learning about the victims.

  12. OBAMA
    “Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions…”

    Paid actor Obama speaking for his master the corporate rich, so what is he saying? For the rich know full well that our doomed existence gives the self-absorbed majority no choice but to seek all pleasure and avoid all pain.

    A brainwashed society, deeply in love with the rich man’s gold and all of High Society, and another day kicks on down.

  13. Obama is a better speaker and thus a better con-man that GWB ever was, but that does not change the fact (proven beyond any reasonable doubts by all credible evidence ever presented) that the "war on terror" is a hoax and a fraud based upon a false flag attack that occurred on 9/11.

    1. I've now been asking for nearly 12 years for proponents of the "inside job/false flag" hypothesis to present even one piece of credible evidence to support the claim, and it has yet to happen, so I'm interested in the "credible evidence" you refer to. Where can I find it?

      1. an open mind is like a parachute

        go to whatreallyhappened.com, search dralansabrosky of the us army war college. WTC 7 free fall is the clincher

        1. Well, WTC 7 free fall would be interesting, had it happened. But in point of fact, the collapse was noticed beginning a little after 2pm and didn't complete until after 5pm. I'm not a math head, but my scientific wild-ass guess is that for a free-fall collapse to take three hours plus, the building would have to be tall enough that you could step off its roof and onto the moon.

          1. your guess on the bbc announcer claiming wtc7 collapse before the event by some 30 min

          2. A BBC announcer claimed the wtc7 collapse at 1:30pm? Never heard of that one.

            It's also important to keep in mind that evidence of Not-X (for example, evidence that the "official story" is inaccurate) is not necessarily evidence for some specific Y (for example, "inside job"). I've seen quite a bit of reason to question the "official story," but there's a difference between debunking the "official story" and proving any particular alternative theory.

            Staying with WTC 7 for a moment, even if there was any actual evidence of a contrived demolition (there may be; if so it would be interesting to see it produced), there are a number of possible explanations for it, only one of which is "inside job."

            I've been begging "inside job" advocates to produce so much as a crumb of evidence for their theory (as opposed to just evidence against other explanations) since September 12th, 2001. Good thing I didn't hold my breath.

          3. did you catch the wtc7 collapse video on whatreallyhappened.com. you are still denying the timeline with brazen evidence, facts dont just get spunoff

          4. The beginning of the collapse was noticed a little after 2pm as the penthouse began to cave in.

            The collapse completed about 5:20pm.

            That's not "free-fall speed."

            The collapse was into the building's own footprint, but it was not symmetrical as is typical of a demolition in place.

            Those are facts. They'll remain facts whether you find them convenient to your pet hypothesis or not.

            I'm not "determined to cave to official sources." I am not convinced of the veracity of the official account. But I put the same requirement on alternative theories as I do on the official account: To me, a theory needs to be proven with evidence, not just a bunch of foot-stomping and a claim that anyone who doesn't agree to be your dupe must perforce be someone else's dupe.

          5. logic fails your post. do you accept the timing of the fall after the bbc announcement. so that is a huge strike NO official source can rebut and that is an indictment. cant deny that fact

            other details suggest a controlled demolition. completion hour ?. sorry I dont have independent verification of 520p end. it appears that is just a malleable index, easier to fudge

        1. I watched the original version of "Loose Change," as well as the later re-vamp.

          "Speculation, loosely sprinkled with factual claims, some of which are true and some of which aren't," is not "evidence."

          1. it seems you are determined to cave to official sources. are wesley clark alan sabrosky johnkiriakou and nearly all whistleblowers risking their lives and families for nadda but rummy and cheney are totally credible. sadistic to deny an unfolding global collapse based on neocon wetdreams

  14. Sokme times I doubt president of the most powerful nation is not better than a man in busch. We have seen Busch an idiot and Obama is not better.
    Whitehouse has become a place for killers liers decievers ifidels. they have no profile or character. They have only a mind set to kill innocent people especially Muslöims around the worl and they are not fed up with lies. I don,t how they sllep with drug addict or so other wise a normal person can,t with such dreams.

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  16. ” his administration chooses to secretly use drones to bomb targets as opposed to deploying boots on the ground to apprehend the suspects.

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