Sunday September 25, 2022

Kill lists

November 25, 2020

The first volume of former President Barack Obama’s memoirs, A Promised Land, has recently been published. Most of the commentary about these memoirs has contrasted the former constitutional law professor’s polite and consensual approach to government to the mayhem that has taken place under his successor, President Donald J Trump.

Reviews of the book have carried little criticism, except for some rather fatuous commentary in the British press about Michelle Obama’s breach of royal protocol when she put her arm around Queen Elizabeth II on the couple’s first state visit to London.

Very little has been said about Obama’s immoral and counterproductive approach to the so-called “war on terror” – which has set human rights back a long way, and only encouraged his successor to behave even more reprehensibly.

I should preface any discussion by saying that I voted for Obama twice, and I do not regret this, given the alternatives – just imagine John McCain dying, leaving Sarah Palin in the White House. Also, it must be said that, in the unlikely circumstance that I was somehow installed as president, I would have a great time running the most powerful nation on earth, but I would get plenty of decisions wrong.

It would, though, be important to recognise my mistakes and try to correct them. Obama spends plenty of pages on challenges and achievements, but less on accepting his eOn his very first day in office, as Obama proudly writes, he made two commitments: “One … was closing Gitmo, the military prison at Guantanamo Bay – and thus halting the continuing stream of prisoners placed in indefinite detention there. Another was my executive order ending torture.” Both were indeed important announcements although, instead of being closed in 12 months, Guantanamo remains open 12 years later, and my clients continue to be abused there.

Obama writes that his “highest priority was creating strong systems of transparency, accountability, and oversight – ones that included Congress and the judiciary and would provide a credible legal framework”. All the sadder, then, that Obama sided with Republicans to suppress Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Senate torture report, so that much of the truth remained behind the sealed doors of the CIA. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Perhaps even more important, in a little-noted but extraordinary development, Obama ramped up the use of “kill lists” where he acted as judge and jury in the White House and imposed a secret death sentence on people who had hitherto been taken to prison, albeit Guantanamo.

Excerpted: ‘Kill lists: Barack Obama’s blind spot’