Obama and the Fourth Geneva Convention

Rebecca Solnit writes for TomDispatch that,

So here I want to lay out an insanely obvious principle that apparently needs clarification. There are bad things and they are bad. There are good things and they are good, even though the bad things are bad. The mentioning of something good does not require the automatic assertion of a bad thing.[1]

This is, fairly blatantly, a response to those, who like me, find some actions of the Obama administration so reprehensible that we find ourselves compelled to withhold our support. In a recent appearance on Democracy Now!, Marcy Wheeler cited the death, apparently due at least to recklessness, at Guantanamo, of Adnan Latif from an untreated head injury that had led him to Pakistan for treatment where he was swept up in the dubious circumstances that swept up many who wound up in U.S. custody; the failure to close “indefinite detention prisons” (not just Guantanamo) where Latif apparently languished for years without proper medical treatment; the Obama administration’s appeal of a ruling striking down the indefinite detention provisions of the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA); and the Bradley Manning case.[2] Glenn Greenwald criticizes election year coverage for overlooking “the actually consequential acts of the U.S. Government and the permanent power factions that control it — covert endless wars, consolidation of unchecked power, the rapid growth of the Surveillance State and the secrecy regime, massive inequalities in the legal system, continuous transfers of wealth from the disappearing middle class to large corporate conglomerates” that he notes are now bipartisan policy, leading him to speak favorably of Ron Paul’s candidacy, if not the candidate himself, simply because that candidacy raises issues that progressives routinely ignore, now that their man, Obama, does the very things that they criticized when Bush did them.[3] Greenwald writes (quoting at length):

The candidate supported by progressives — President Obama — himself holds heinous views on a slew of critical issues and himself has done heinous things with the power he has been vested. He has slaughtered civilians — Muslim children by the dozens — not once or twice, but continuously in numerous nations with drones, cluster bombs and other forms of attack. He has sought to overturn a global ban on cluster bombs. He has institutionalized the power of Presidents — in secret and with no checks — to target American citizens for assassination-by-CIA, far from any battlefield. He has waged an unprecedented war against whistleblowers, the protection of which was once a liberal shibboleth. He rendered permanently irrelevant the War Powers Resolution, a crown jewel in the list of post-Vietnam liberal accomplishments, and thus enshrined the power of Presidents to wage war even in the face of a Congressional vote against it. His obsession with secrecy is so extreme that it has become darkly laughable in its manifestations, and he even worked to amend the Freedom of Information Act (another crown jewel of liberal legislative successes) when compliance became inconvenient.

He has entrenched for a generation the once-reviled, once-radical Bush/Cheney Terrorism powers of indefinite detention, military commissions, and the state secret privilege as a weapon to immunize political leaders from the rule of law. He has shielded Bush era criminals from every last form of accountability. He has vigorously prosecuted the cruel and supremely racist War on Drugs, including those parts he vowed during the campaign to relinquish — a war which devastates minority communities and encages and converts into felons huge numbers of minority youth for no good reason. He has empowered thieving bankers through the Wall Street bailout, Fed secrecy, efforts to shield mortgage defrauders from prosecution, and the appointment of an endless roster of former Goldman, Sachs executives and lobbyists. He’s brought the nation to a full-on Cold War and a covert hot war with Iran, on the brink of far greater hostilities. He has made the U.S. as subservient as ever to the destructive agenda of the right-wing Israeli government. His support for some of the Arab world’s most repressive regimes is as strong as ever.

Most of all, America’s National Security State, its Surveillance State, and its posture of endless war is more robust than ever before. The nation suffers from what National Journal‘s Michael Hirsh just christened “Obama’s Romance with the CIA.” He has created what The Washington Post just dubbed “a vast drone/killing operation,” all behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy and without a shred of oversight. Obama’s steadfast devotion to what Dana Priest and William Arkin called “Top Secret America” has severe domestic repercussions as well, building up vast debt and deficits in the name of militarism that create the pretext for the “austerity” measures which the Washington class (including Obama) is plotting to impose on America’s middle and lower classes.

The simple fact is that progressives are supporting a candidate for President who has done all of that — things liberalism has long held to be pernicious. I know it’s annoying and miserable to hear. Progressives like to think of themselves as the faction that stands for peace, opposes wars, believes in due process and civil liberties, distrusts the military-industrial complex, supports candidates who are devoted to individual rights, transparency and economic equality. All of these facts — like the history laid out by Stoller in that essay — negate that desired self-perception. These facts demonstrate that the leader progressives have empowered and will empower again has worked in direct opposition to those values and engaged in conduct that is nothing short of horrific. So there is an eagerness to avoid hearing about them, to pretend they don’t exist. And there’s a corresponding hostility toward those who point them out, who insist that they not be ignored.[4]

Solnit, to be fair, is not advocating that we ignore the evil. She advocates that we should bear in mind the good that Obama does along with the bad. In response, and without attributing my interpretation to Greenwald, who, I suspect, will, in the end, vote for Obama, I would point out that what Greenwald is arguing amounts to a condemnation of collaboration. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, it is as if, in the Nazi era, we should bear in mind that Adolf Hitler also brought about the Volkswagen and the Autobahn along with the Holocaust. Perhaps Solnit does not equate Obama’s achievements with the Volkswagen and the Autobahn, or his war crimes with the Holocaust or other Nazi-era horrors. But the Obama administration has apparently not responded satisfactorily to United Nations questions about the wars he conducts with drones that have killed numerous civilians,[5] and thus appears to be in violation of Article 3, Section 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, not only on grounds of the drone wars, but on grounds of targeted assassination, and indefinite detention, to wit:

Art. 3. In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) taking of hostages;
(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

Any violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which makes no exception for asymmetric warfare, is, inescapably, a war crime. Obama, in adopting, embracing, and extending Bush administration policies, appears to be a war criminal. Knowingly voting for a war criminal—as Solnit would apparently encourage us to do—can only be viewed as collaboration with war crimes.

This is not an endorsement of Obama’s major opponent, Mitt Romney, who would, by all appearances, extend these policies even further. But any action which condones war crimes or crimes against humanity cannot be moral action. Moral action requires an entirely different stance, one of absolute, uncompromising opposition to any regime that commits these crimes.

  1. [1]Rebecca Solnit, “The Rain on Our Parade: Letter to My Dismal Allies,” TomDispatch, September 27, 2012, http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175598/tomgram%3A_rebecca_solnit%2C_we_could_be_heroes
  2. [2]Democracy Now!, “From Guantánamo to NDAA: Obama Admin Bids to Preserve Indefinite Detention at Home and Abroad,” September 18, 2012, http://www.democracynow.org/2012/9/18/obama_admin_appeals_ndaa_ruling_in
  3. [3]Glenn Greenwald, “Progressives and the Ron Paul fallacies,” Salon, December 31, 2011, http://www.salon.com/2011/12/31/progressives_and_the_ron_paul_fallacies/
  4. [4]Greenwald, “Progressives and the Ron Paul fallacies.”
  5. [5]Elizabeth Hewitt, “U.N. Questions Obama’s Use of Drone Strikes,” Slate, June 19, 2012, http://slatest.slate.com/posts/2012/06/19/un_questions_drone_strikes_report_calls_on_obama_to_justify_frequent_use_of_unmanned_aircraft_to_target_terror_suspects_.html; Frank Jordans, “UN investigator: US dodging questions on drones,” Associated Press, June 20, 2012, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/un-investigator-us-dodging-questions-drones

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