By Adam Johnson
I largely identify with the Democratic Party, but I will not vote for President Obama. I cannot endorse his vision for America. A Republican making this argument might cite the economy, taxes, healthcare and other domestic factors as reasons for this position. My argument, however, is grounded in the fact that many of Obama’s national security policies, from indefinite detention without trial to drone strikes, have little to no regard for human rights.
Take, for instance, the Obama administration’s persecution of whistle-blowers. Despite campaigning on the notion that a government employee speaking out was an “act of courage and patriotism,” in the past four years the Obama administration has charged six people under the Espionage Act of 1917 for revealing classified information to journalists. This number may not seem like a lot, but all past administrations combined had only charged three government officials for providing classified information to the media. One of the six people charged is John Kiriakou, the former CIA officer who in 2007 exposed the CIA’s use of waterboarding to interrogate al-Qaida prisoners. As Jesselyn Radack, a director on the Government Accountability Project, said, “pursuing whistle-blowers as spies is heavy-handed and beyond the scope of the law.”
Certainly not all leaked information is diligently investigated by the administration; no one has been charged for leaking classified information to The New York Times about the drone program and Obama’s “kill list.” Nor has anyone been charged regarding the detailed leak, also to The New York Times, from top administration officials regarding the “highly classified” use of the Stuxnet computer worm against Iran. It appears, then, that Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder only aggressively pursue leaks that are deemed harmful to the administration. These political prosecutions, along with considerable increases in government surveillance of phone and email communication, inevitably result in a substantial chilling effect on free speech and the exposure of governmental wrongdoing.
The Obama administration’s hawkish policies do not end there. On Dec. 31, 2011, President Obama signed into law the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which allows for the indefinite detention without trial of anyone (including American citizens) suspected of supporting hostile or “associated forces.” Although Obama claimed in public that he had reservations about these controversial provisions, his administration has fervently defended the act in response to court challenges and, from the start, has maintained that the “detention authority [is] essential to our ability to protect the American people.” This logic, though, is hardly distinguishable from the Bush-era argument that “enhanced interrogation techniques” were a necessary tool to save American lives.
And then there are the drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, which have substantially increased under the Obama presidency. Obama claims to be a scholar on just war theory, which places considerable emphasis on distinguishing enemy combatants from civilians. And yet, not only are hundreds of innocent women, children, and first-responders being killed and injured by these strikes, but all military-aged males targeted and killed in drone strikes are assumed to be enemy combatants unless proven otherwise posthumously. Regardless of whether one views drone strikes as morally acceptable (many do not), they underestimate the number of civilians killed and violate the rights of innocent foreigners to live their lives free from terror.
President Obama defends these and other questionable practices as necessary for the security of this nation. One has to wonder, however, if such policies are actually in America’s best interests. At the very least, we have little claim to being a world leader on human rights. And there is a strong case that these policies increase sympathy for, and membership in, anti-American efforts. As the Stanford/NYU report “Living Under Drones” concluded, “evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks.”
If a Republican president were behind these policies, Democrats would be up in arms. To be fair, many on the left do criticize Obama for his record on human rights, but these critiques are outweighed by admiration of his strong national security tactics. We should not give Obama a free pass on human rights just because he is a Democrat. And Romney, whose foreign policy positions are influenced by a host of neocon advisers, will likely do no better. There are, however, a few third party candidates who agree that a pervasive disregard of human rights is not the way forward. None of them will win this election. But since your vote will, in all likelihood, not matter, you might as well use it on whichever candidate you feel best exemplifies your vision for America’s future, whatever that may be.
Adam is still undecided which third party candidate, if any, he will vote for. Try to persuade him at [email protected].