Sunday, March 8, 2009


Thomas Riggins

"Obama Ponders Outreach to Elements of the Taliban" by Helene Cooper and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, Sunday March 8, 2009.

This is an interesting article as we can see some of the pitfalls awaiting our new president as he drifts towards the right. The NYT reports that in an interview the president conceded we are not winning the war in Afghanistan and so maybe "the American military would reach out to moderate elements of the Taliban." Moderate elements of the Taliban? Are these the ones who use hydrochloric instead of sulfuric acid to throw in little girls' faces for going to school?

The Taliban is an extreme religious fundamentalist group, there are no "moderate" elements to reach out to. This is just a cover to prepare the American people for another inglorious defeat (a la Vietnam) and withdrawal.

"The president spoke at length about terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere, staking out positions that at times seemed more comparable to those of his predecessor than many of his liberal supporters would like." Of course, if you decide to adopt Bush's war as your own, an ill conceived and poorly executed war causing thousands of unwarranted civilian deaths,
your positions will slowly morph into those of Bush.

We don't torture but, "He did not rule out the option of snatching terrorism suspects out of hostile countries." And what is a hostile country? Obama is quoted: a "country with whom we don't have an extradition relationship or would not be willing to prosecute." So we may continue the extra judicial kidnappings and violations of sovereignty if we feel like it. And how many of these people have been released because we were wrong or had no evidence. This looks like a great program to contemplate. Maybe the Cubans should go to Miami and snatch some CIA terrorist "suspects" and airplane bombers because the U.S. is "not willing to prosecute."

The president also said, quote, "we don't torture [Bush said the same thing],... we ultimately provide anybody that we're detaining an opportunity through habeas corpus to answer to charges."

Oops! Not so fast. Later the White House corrected the president (who is telling him what he can say or not?). We were told "Mr. Obama did NOT mean to suggest that everybody held by American forces would be granted habeas corpus or the right to challenge their detention." What! You can't even challenge your arrest? You can't say what did I do, why am I being arrested, kidnapped or whatever, let me explain! "Shut up, how dare you challenge the U.S.!"

It seems that Obama agrees "with the Bush administration position that 600 prisoners in a cavernous prison on the American air base at Bagram in Afganistan have no right to seek their release in court." They have no right to a trial, to face their accusers, to give evidence in their defense-- "to challenge their detention." These are 600 lost souls, how many are really guilty, how many innocent? President Obama should be reminded that the Bastille was torn down in 1789.

What Obama meant to say, the NYT tells us, was the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay would get habeas corpus and that is because the right wing Roberts Supreme Court ruled that they would.

"Mr. Obama signaled that those on the left [is it only the left?] seeking a wholesale reversal of Mr. Bush's detainee policy [i.e., seeking the rule of law] might be disappointed." Lets not have another president who is above the law!

Don't get me wrong. I still have high hopes for President Obama, but these are disturbing symptoms of what kind of policies must be pursued in order to prosecute no win wars. It's up to his progressive base to keep him honest.