Leaking the Truth: Obama Reveals More of His True Values
Leaking the Truth: Obama Reveals More of His True Values
© Austin Cline

The real values of Barack Obama and the Obama administration have become clear: if you commit war crimes you will receive immunity and won’t even be investigated; if you tell the public about American war crimes you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. These are the explicit positions of a president whose platform while a candidate was to restore the rule of law in America and restore America's moral standing around the world.

This isn't spin or hyperbole, they are the simple facts of how the Obama administration has been behaving. Barack Obama stated unambiguously that he preferred to "look forward and not backwards" when he learned that Spanish prosecutors would be investigating Bush administration officials for sanctioning torture at Guantanamo. Bradley Manning, in contrast, won't be receiving that sort of privileged treatment and is instead facing 52 years in prison for releasing classified tapes of Americans shooting unarmed civilians.



Whistle-blowers vs. Classified Material

It has to be admitted up front that it is important for governments to be able to keep some material classified and hidden from public view. It would be absurd to demand that every government document be open to everyone. The critical difference between material that deserves to be kept classified and material that deserves to be released lies in why someone wants it classified in the first place. Who or what is being protected? What interests or goals are being furthered?

If the "who" is a spy in Iran and the "what" is the ability to understand the true motives and capabilities of the Iranian government, then you've got a great case for keeping the information classified. If the "who" is people who may be guilty of crimes and the "what" is protecting the image of the government, then you've got no case for keeping the information classified. Which do you suppose applies in the case of the Apache attack video which Bradley Manning turned over to WikiLeaks?


Barack Obama vs. Whistle-blowers

It's instructive that Barack Obama didn't just campaign on restoring the rule of law in America, but also on protecting whistle-blowers. Obama stated clearly that whistle-blowers' "acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled." This was consistent with his acts as an Illinois senator when he helped pass legislation to protect government employees who reveal waste, crime, and corruption.

Now that he's president and has gotten a taste of the imperial power accumulated by George W. Bush, though, Barack Obama's tune has changed dramatically. The Obama administration has targeted journalists to reveal their sources for stories on America's policies and military activities. Barack Obama also added a signing statement (remember how he criticized Bush for those?) to a spending bill in which he unilaterally declared he had the authority to bypass whistle-blower protections to act against executive branch employees to dare to tell Congress what the president is really doing.


Barack Obama vs. Thomas Drake

At least as bad as, if not worse than, the case of Bradley Manning is the case of Thomas Drake. Obama has pushed the prosecution of Thomas Drake who exposed the government's warrantless domestic spying operations... back during the Bush administration. Yes, Obama's trying to punish someone who blew the whistle on crimes that took place under Bush, not his own administration. Why is this prosecution only occurring now? Because George W. Bush didn't indict Drake.

That's right, the only action taking against Drake by the Bush administration was to revoke his security clearance. It was Barack Obama who is responsible for launching a criminal prosecution here — he doesn't even have the excuse that he's simply continuing something started by Bush.

This is an even more egregious violation of Obama's stated principle that he'd rather "look forward rather than backwards" — even when it comes to activity that occurred years ago rather than weeks ago, Obama only wants to look forward when it means ignoring the violent crimes of government officials. When it comes to those who dared to tell the public about those crimes, his keen gaze reverts backwards faster than you can blink.


Barack Obama's Police State

To allege that a country is a "police state" is a pretty serious accusation, but more and more we are being handed evidence that that is exactly where America is going — if it isn't already there. Supporting such an accusation isn't easy because the definition of "police state" isn't simple and, like any political system, it exists along a spectrum such that a nation will be "more or less" a police state, not simply "is or is not" a police state.

Gonzalo Lira makes a good case for the claim that America has become a police state and defines a police state in this way:

A police-state uses the law as a mechanism to control any challenges to its power by the citizenry, rather than as a mechanism to insure a civil society among the individuals. The state decides the laws, is the sole arbiter of the law, and can selectively (and capriciously) decide to enforce the law to the benefit or detriment of one individual or group or another.

In a police-state, the citizens are “free” only so long as their actions remain within the confines of the law as dictated by the state. If the individual’s claims of rights or freedoms conflict with the state, or if the individual acts in ways deemed detrimental to the state, then the state will repress the citizenry, by force if necessary. (And in the end, it’s always necessary.)

What’s key to the definition of a police-state is the lack of redress: If there is no justice system which can compel the state to cede to the citizenry, then there is a police-state. If there exists a pro forma justice system, but which in practice is unavailable to the ordinary citizen because of systemic obstacles (for instance, cost or bureaucratic hindrance), or which against all logic or reason consistently finds in favor of the state—even in the most egregious and obviously contradictory cases—then that pro forma judiciary system is nothing but a sham: A tool of the state’s repression against its citizens. Consider the Soviet court system the classic example.

A police-state is not necessarily a dictatorship. On the contrary, it can even take the form of a representative democracy. A police-state is not defined by its leadership structure, but rather, by its self-protection against the individual.

Prosecuting people who reveal evidence of crimes, but not prosecuting the people who actually commit the crimes, sounds utterly bizarre, yet it suddenly makes a lot of sense if the government is using the law as a means to control challenges to its power rather than as a means for protecting the citizens. It makes sense if the government is selectively applying the law in order to protecting a ruling class (i.e., current and former holders of high government posts) and to repress those who challenge the actions of members of that class.

Really, think about whose interests are truly being served when wealthy, powerful people like Cheney are virtually guaranteed that they'll never face even an official inquiry while people like Drake and Manning face decades of prison (if they are lucky). Your interests and security aren't being protected. It isn't even partisan interests that are being protected, because it's Democrats who are pushing the furthest and hardest on behalf of powerful Republicans.

President Obama has asserted the authority to kill you at any time, anywhere in the world, if he personally decides that you're a terrorist — and you will never have any recourse to challenge that decision. The Supreme Court has granted the Obama administration the authority to unilaterally declare any group a "terrorist" organization and thus anyone who does anyone to help them is automatically guilty of providing "material support" to terrorism — even including facilitating legal speech by that group. You have no right or ability to challenge such a decision. Such policies are nothing if not arbitrary and they make a sham out of any pretense that you're protected by an impartial judiciary.

Barack Obama didn't create this situation — it's been developing for years, and it's precisely because the changes have been so gradual that so many Americans are in denial about how bad the fundamentals are. Even George W. Bush didn't create this situation. Both Bush and Obama, however, are guilty of pushing the problem along much further and making it much worse than it would have been otherwise.

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February History Calendar