This will not be one of my more eloquent posts. I struggle how to fit all of my thoughts on this subject into one blog post.
I voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but I cannot at this point endorse his record on civil liberties, whistleblowers, and war crimes. It does not matter that Romney can be expected to be worse on those issues. Romney has not committed war crimes yet. Obama has.
I’ll begin with the Geneva Conventions, Article 146.
Art. 146. The High Contracting Parties undertake to enact any legislation necessary to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing, or ordering to be committed, any of the grave breaches of the present Convention defined in the following Article.
Each High Contracting Party shall be under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts. It may also, if it prefers, and in accordance with the provisions of its own legislation, hand such persons over for trial to another High Contracting Party concerned, provided such High Contracting Party has made out a prima facie case.
Under Obama, the Justice Department has declined to prosecute torture, even in cases where CIA detainees died. The administration has pressured countries such as Spain to prevent investigations into torture by the Bush administration.
Not only has Obama failed to punish torturers, he has instead chosen to prosecute whistleblowers, at a pace unknown in American history. He has charged more people under the Espionage Act than all other administrations combined, and some of those charges are for revealing evidence of torture such as waterboarding. Some alleged whistleblowers, such as Bradley Manning, haven’t even been charged. Manning has now been held in military custody, often under conditions we would call torture if another country did it, for 900 days.
The treatment of Manning is not likely to be a unique case. President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), codifying indefinite military detention without charge or trial into American law for the first time in our history. His administration continues to defend indefinite military detention in court.
Back to war crimes. It is also a war crime to target civilians, or to fail to discriminate between civilians and legitimate targets in attacks. It is a particularly grievous crime to use secondary strikes, meaning attacks on people who are attempting to rescue or assist those wounded after an attack. Those tactics are being used in Pakistan. The people in those areas are also living under threat of strikes 24 hours per day.
There is no judicial review of these attacks. Obama and his staff decide whom to kill without any oversight from another branch. They also admit to counting all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.
I don’t know what the answer is — how an ethical citizen should behave in an alleged constitutional republic when our top leaders are free of impunity for crimes against our own laws as well as international law. Yes, Obama is better on a woman’s right to control her body. He is supposedly better on gay rights, but that is mostly rhetoric which has not been backed up by concrete action. Still, what is our responsibility when international crimes are committed in our name? Why do Obama supporters believe that crimes committed by a Democratic President are less bad than similar crimes committed by George W. Bush? I think back to a post I wrote in 2007 in which I talked about the firebombing of Dresden. If many Americans feel those civilians warranted the horrible death we and the British inflicted upon them, what is our deserved punishment for continuing to vote for these leaders without loudly protesting their actions?