In case you haven't heard, Obama made a big speech on Thursday. Making big speeches is something Obama's pretty good at and, despite criticism from some quarters, the big speech was well-received by big media, overall. The New York Times, for instance, hailed it as "the most important statement on counterterrorism policy since the 2001 attacks, a momentous turning point in post-9/11 America." Unfortunately, the speech was pretty much utter BS, much like some other big Obama speeches I could name.
I waded through the muck for you, dear reader, to pull the 5 biggest cow patties from a sea of crap. Here they are:
1. When He Took Credit For Ending the Iraq War
Obama's always been happy to take credit for getting us out of Iraq. On the White House's web site, there's a statement reading "The end of our mission in Iraq marks the fulfillment of a promise Barack Obama made to the American people even before he became President." In his National Security Speech, the President said "We ended the war in Iraq, and brought nearly 150,000 troops home."
Of course, when he said "we," what he really meant was "George W. Bush." That's right: Bush ended the war in Iraq.
This goes against conventional wisdom — how could Bush have ended the Iraq war when he wasn't even president?
The answer lies in a little-discussed document called the "Status of Forces Agreement" signed by then-President Bush and Iraqi officials in 2008. The document states unequivocally that "All U.S. forces are to withdraw from all Iraqi territory, water and airspace no later than the 31st of December of 2011."
Obama, in fact, fought hard to keep U.S. troops in Iraq after the deadline had passed, but Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki rejected his proposal to keep military bases in the country, forcing Obama to abide by the full troop withdrawal agreed to by Bush.
Despite all this, U.S. forces are still in Iraq, with as many as 5,000 armed contractors remaining in the country.
2. When He Claimed He Wants to Close Guantanamo
It's not exactly a lie, but it certainly ain't the truth. "As President, I have tried to close GITMO" — a classic example of classic political doublespeak.
It's true that Obama tried to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. But he clearly has no interest in ending the indefinite detention system.
Obama's actual plan was to relocate the Guantanamo detainees to a prison in Illinois, effectively bringing secret trials and indefinite detention to American soil. As journalist and Constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald points out, it's not the location of Guantanamo that makes it objectionable, it's the practices of the prison, such as indefinite detention.
"I have asked the Department of Defense to designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions," the President said in his speech. So it can't be any clearer: Obama doesn't want to close Guantanamo, he just believes it should be located closer to home.
3. When He Said 12 Years of War Has Made Us Safer
Obama seems to actually believe that bombing the hell out of as many countries as possible is a good way to lower the likelihood of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Referring to 12 years of waging war abroad, Obama flatly stated "We are safer because of our efforts."
The problem is that the opposite is empirically true. Early in the speech, Obama specifically mentioned Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attempt to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 with a bomb hidden in his underwear. Abdulmutallab concisely explained his motive when he pled guilty: "I attempted to use an explosive device which in the U.S. law is a weapon of mass destruction, which I call a blessed weapon to save the lives of innocent Muslims, for U.S. use of weapons of mass destruction on Muslim populations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and beyond," he said.
Obama also brought up the Ft. Hood shootings and the Boston Marathon bombing. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Ft. Hood shooter, told a superior officer that "maybe Muslims should stand up and fight against the aggressor." And Boston bombing mastermind Dzhokhar Tsarnaev left a handwritten note in a boat espousing the idea that "when you attack one Muslim, you attack all Muslims."
To be clear, I'm not at all suggesting that these attacks were Obama's fault. Nothing, repeat nothing can justify the indiscriminate murder of civilians, and these attacks are reprehensible, as are all terrorist attacks.
But when you have a marked increase in terror attacks and attempted terror attacks inside the United States, and every single terror suspect says they were motivated by the U.S.'s indiscriminate killing of civilians, it starts to become clear that a U.S. policy of global mass murder is not, in fact, making us safer.
4. When He Argued That Assassination is Legal
Obama's policy of assassination — erm, I mean, "targeted killing" — is illegal. Not that the President sees it that way. In fact, quite the opposite. In another straight-to-the-point statement, Obama said of drone strikes "America's actions are legal."
But just because he says it don't make it so. I don't have space here to go into detail about the illegality of assassinating Yemeni citizens or Pakistani citizens, although I firmly believe this is illegal too. In the interest of debunking Obama's claim as quickly as possible, I'll stick to the assassination of U.S. citizens.
Obama himself admitted in his speech that 4 U.S. citizens have been killed in drone strikes. In the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, Obama admitted he was specifically targeted for assassination and no attempt was made to capture him.
But the president simply can't legally order the murder of a U.S. citizen. This is one of the most basic precepts of the Constitution. The Fifth Amendment reads in part "No person shall ... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Attorney General Eric Holder, in a speech brilliantly lampooned by Stephen Colbert, claimed that "due process is not the same as judicial process."
But of course it is. There's no other possible definition for due process. The Constitution was created to protect the citizens from the excesses of government, and there's no excess more exceptional, no power more tyranical, than the oversight-free murder of your own citizens.
Obama's targeted killing of al-Awlaki was therefore not just illegal — it was unconstitutional.
5. When He Acted Like He's Concerned About Press Freedom
Contrary to his statement in the speech, Obama is not "troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable." This "chill" is, in fact, the very reason for leak investigations.
Obama has used the 1917 Espionage Act to go after leakers twice as many times as all previous administrations combined. The majority of these cases, if not all of them, are trivial leaks having nothing to do with national security, where the intent is obviously to punish whistleblowers for exposing government wrongdoing.
For example, one person prosecuted under the Espionage Act was John Kiriakou, an ex-CIA agent who leaked information about the U.S.'s secret torture program. As many of you will remember, nobody has as yet been prosecuted for actually comitting the crime of torture, but Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison for exposing the crimes of others.
More disturbing still is the aggressive pursuit of Wikileaks for committing the same crime as Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, now considered a national hero.
A disturbing detail in this case arose in March during the ongoing trial of Bradley Manning, who is facing life imprisonment for "aiding the enemy" on the theory that, although he didn't provide information directly to Al-Qaeda, the terrorist group was able to read the information leaked by Manning after it was published.
During the trial, the prosecutor was asked if he would have pursued the same "aiding the enemy" charge if Manning had leaked to the New York Times instead of to Wikileaks. The answer? An unequivocal "yes."
So there you have it: leaking information about government crimes and wrongdoing is considered by Obama's lawyers to amount to "aiding the enemy," even if the only organization you're directly aiding (besides the American people) is the New York Times.