In a New York Times piece last week, “Election 2012 Pop Quiz!” (June 27, 2012), on US elections, Nicholas Kristof asked Mitt Romney, the Republican Party’s presidential nominee: “Who are you?” A similar question is also being asked of President Barack Obama, given his radical transformation since he entered the White House.
For years, President Obama presented himself as a moderate Democrat who rejected his predecessor’s disdain for citizens’ rights and contempt for international law. However, since coming to office, he has pursued policies — both at home and abroad — that have dismayed his supporters. Former president Jimmy Carter’s scathing piece in The New York Times, “A Cruel and Unusual Record” (June 24, 2012) highlighted the damage that President Obama’s policies have done to the country’s core values. Writing with great conviction, Carter recalls that the systematic violation of human rights that began under former president George Bush has greatly expanded under President Obama, with the result that the US is now “clearly violating” many provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including “prohibition against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
The impact of these policies is being felt not only in the US but worldwide, with the indiscriminate use of drone attacks on Pakistan. Carter has strong reservations about this, warning that “the great escalation in drone attacks has turned aggrieved families toward terrorist organisations, aroused civilian populations against us and permitted repressive governments to cite such actions to justify their own despotic behaviour”. Characterising it as “America’s violation of international human rights”, Carter fears that this “abets our enemies and alienates our friends”.
Carter’s fears cannot be dismissed under the plea of “national security” — a much abused term, especially in authoritarian states. What this administration is doing by granting arbitrary powers to federal and state agencies, while curbing or reducing the powers of the judiciary, may end up abridging the fundamental rights of its own citizens. This would further reinforce the growing tendency in the US to ignore those international laws or conventions viewed inconvenient or awkward.
Pakistanis are right to worry about the indiscriminate use of drone attacks — which dozens of reputable lawyers, as well as the UN Special Rapporteur, have affirmed to be a violation of the UN Charter and could be regarded as war crimes. The sheer abandon with which the US and Israel have spawned two sophisticated computer viruses and inserted them in Iran’s nuclear programme has caused consternation even among powerful countries. Both Russia and China have urged the US to start global negotiations to manage this menace, stressing its lethal and uncontrollable reach and impact. In fact, experts have pointed out that the US has the most to lose from these attacks, as “no other country has so much of its economy linked to the online world”. President Obama would surely not want to be remembered for having introduced a cyber-arms race.
Jo Becker and Scott Shane, recently wrote in The New York Times, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will” (May 29, 2012), of their amazement at “the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture” but is now insisting on approving every new name on an expanding kill list. This remark took me back to my time in America when the Church Committee set up to probe charges of CIA involvement in the assassinations of foreign leaders, concluded with the observation that “whether or not respective presidents knew or authorised the plots, as the chief executive officer of the US, each must bear the ultimate responsibility for the activities of his subordinates”. The national revulsion at this revelation prompted former president Gerald Ford to issue an executive order specifically prohibiting the CIA from carrying out assassinations. No wonder President Obama’s Harvard Law professor, Roberto Unger, recently urged that President Obama “must be defeated”, because his policies “constitute a concerted attack on the bedrock values and laws of the US”. Sadly, many would want to echo this sentiment.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2012.
More in PakistanWildlife and parks: ‘Recreation on govt’s priority list’