In this post, Part 3 in a series on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Emilio da Costa describes actions taken by President Barack Obama and Clinton (in her roles as Secretary of State and Senator) in the realms of civil liberties and foreign policy. Emilio, who holds a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from Stanford, argues that the two of them embraced many of the very same policies Democrats decried under George W. Bush. In fact, the State Department under Obama and Clinton has in some cases been more hawkish than its Republican predecessor.
Part 2 of the series, which focused on the likelihood that Clinton would meaningfully regulate Wall Street, can be found here.
Emilio da Costa
Obama, Guantánamo, and Indefinite Preventive Detention
Obama’s most egregious hypocrisy has to be his 2007 campaign promise and subsequent 2009 executive order to close the Guantánamo Bay detention camp within a year. While expecting a politician in our country to deliver on a campaign promise may in some ways be the paragon of naivete, the disconnect between Obama’s statements and his actions relating to Guantánamo and related human rights issues is absurd. Obama and his defenders claim that Congress blocked the portion of Obama’s budget proposal intended to close Guantánamo, and this is accurate. Similarly, it is true that Obama verbally renewed his commitment to closing Guantánamo in both the 2014 and the 2015 State of the Union addresses. Yet, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of allowing these events to absolve him. Obama’s proposal to close Guantánamo that was blocked by Congress was predicated upon his plan not to, for example, finally give the prisoners fair trials, but instead to just transfer them to a different prison in Thomson, Illinois. Essentially, as Conor Friedersdorf wrote for The Atlantic, “Yes, he wants to close Guantánamo Bay, in the sense that he wants to shutter the island facility in Cuba. But he wants to continue indefinitely detaining people without charges or trial.” Writing for Salon, Glenn Greenwald reminded us that it was not the location of Guantánamo that made it controversial:
What made Guantánamo such a travesty — and what still makes it such — is that it is a system of indefinite detention whereby human beings are put in cages for years and years without ever being charged with a crime. President Obama’s so-called “plan to close Guantánamo” — even if it had been approved in full by Congress — did not seek to end that core injustice. It sought to do the opposite: Obama’s plan would have continued the system of indefinite detention, but simply re-located it from Guantánamo Bay onto American soil.
Considering the details of Obama’s proposal along with the 2013 closure of the State Department office tasked with closing Guantánamo, Obama’s vows to close Guantánamo, like most of his populist presidential rhetoric, were empty political gestures.
But, even though Obama has not been able to close Guantánamo, the notoriously obstructionist Congress cannot take credit for blocking all of his venerable policy goals. For example, Obama has successfully managed to codify legislation permitting indefinite detention without trial. Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 directly violates the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, according to the ACLU. It nullifies the right to be informed of criminal charges, the right to a speedy and public trial, and the right to trial by an impartial jury. Obama’s assurances that “[his] administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens” are not particularly comforting.
Whether or not Obama sticks to his word, the provisions remain for future administrations to take full advantage of, and each of the three NDAAs passed since 2012 have continued to authorize indefinite detention. Highlighting the absurdity of the sweeping authority granted by 2014’s NDAA in a piece for Salon, Natasha Lennard wrote: “we can all be concerned when it is Tea Party blowhard Sen. Ted Cruz who best expresses civil liberties concerns on an issue.” As one of fifteen senators who voted against the Fiscal Year 2014 version of the NDAA, Cruz stated:
I am deeply concerned that Congress still has not prohibited President Obama’s ability to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens arrested on American soil without trial or due process… Although this legislation does contain several positive provisions that I support, it does not ensure our most basic rights as American citizens are protected…I hope that next year the Senate and the House can come together in a bipartisan way to recognize the importance of our constitutional rights even in the face of ongoing terrorist threats and national security challenges.
Among his peers in the Senate, presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders also voted against the NDAA in 2014, but Sanders was one of only three members of the Democratic caucus that did so. The other two were Oregon’s Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden whereas, conspicuously, progressives such as Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken voted to pass the legislation.
To fully appreciate just how ludicrous this legislation is, it helps to look at the way preventive detention is applied in other places. In a 2009 article entitled “Facts and Myths about Obama’s Preventive Detention Proposal,” Glenn Greenwald touched on the political climate surrounding prevention detention and the limits that are applied to this authority in some of our peer countries:
In the era of IRA bombings, the British Parliament passed a law allowing the Government to preventively detain terrorist suspects for 14 days — and then either have to charge them or release them. In 2006, Prime Minister Tony Blair — citing the London subway attacks and the need to “intervene early before a terrorist cell has the opportunity to achieve its goals” — wanted to increase the prevention detention period to 90 days, but MPs from his own party and across the political spectrum overwhelmingly opposed this, and ultimately increased it only to 28 days.
In June of last year, Prime Minister Gordon Brown sought an expansion of this preventive detention authority to 42 days — a mere two weeks more. Reacting to that extremely modest increase, a major political rebellion erupted, with large numbers of Brown’s own Labour Party joining with Tories to vehemently oppose it as a major threat to liberty. Ultimately, Brown’s 42-day scheme barely passed the House of Commons. As former Prime Minister John Major put it in opposing the expansion to 42 days:
It is hard to justify: pre-charge detention in Canada is 24 hours; South Africa, Germany, New Zealand and America 48 hours; Russia 5 days; and Turkey 7½ days.
By rather stark and extreme contrast, Obama is seeking preventive detention powers that are indefinite — meaning without any end, potentially permanent.
I won’t delve into a critical history of Tony Blair, but it should come as no surprise that he was a proponent for preventive detention. On the other hand, it should be eye-opening that Russia, a country that the American media is constantly criticizing for its human rights record, limits its preventive detention power to a period of 5 days.
That Obama initiated indefinite preventive detention while acting as though he wanted to close Guantánamo so as to give its detainees fair trials is one of many reasons why Glen Ford, executive editor of the Black Agenda Report, refers to Obama as “not the lesser of evils, but the more effective evil.” In a 2012 interview with Amy Goodman for Democracy Now, Ford said:
He’s, first of all, created a model for austerity, a veritable model, with his deficit reduction commission. He’s introduced preventive detention, a law for preventive detention. He’s expanded the theaters of war in drone wars, and he’s made an unremitting assault on international law. And I think that possibly the biggest impact, his presidency—and I’m not talking about his—all this light and airy stuff from the convention, but actual deeds—I think probably what will go down as his biggest contribution to history is a kind of merging of the banks and the state, with $16 trillion being infused into these banks, into Wall Street, under his watch, and the line between Wall Street and the federal government virtually disappearing.
Clinton and Military Intervention in the Middle East
Having supported military intervention every time she’s had an opportunity, we can only expect Hillary Clinton to continue with increased American aggression and erosion of civil liberties in the name of imperialism under the guise of the bogeyman national security threat posed by “terrorism.” In a piece for TIME, Michael Crowley discussed Clinton’s “unapologetically hawkish record” in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and Iran and includes analysis that brings former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War into the conversation:
In one of the book’s most quoted passages, Gates writes that he witnessed Clinton make a startling confession to Barack Obama: she had opposed George W. Bush‘s last-ditch effort to salvage the Iraq war, the 2007 troop “surge,” because the politics of the 2008 Democratic primaries demanded it…
As Secretary of State, Clinton backed a bold escalation of the Afghanistan war. She pressed Obama to arm the Syrian rebels, and later endorsed air strikes against the Assad regime. She backed intervention in Libya, and her State Department helped enable Obama’s expansion of lethal drone strikes. In fact, Clinton may have been the administration’s most reliable advocate for military action. On at least three crucial issues—Afghanistan, Libya, and the bin Laden raid—Clinton took a more aggressive line than Gates, a Bush-appointed Republican.
Returning to Iraq, nowadays, Clinton is dedicated to clarifying that she considers her vote for the war a mistake. In her 2014 book Hard Choices, she wrote, “As much as I might have wanted to, I could never change my vote on Iraq. But I could try to help us learn the right lessons from that war and apply them to Afghanistan and other challenges where we had fundamental security interests.” However, writing for The Nation, Anatol Lieven argued that Clinton’s ongoing record puts that assertion into question:
Neither in her book nor in her policy is there even the slightest evidence that she has, in fact, tried to learn from Iraq beyond the most obvious lesson—the undesirability of US ground invasions and occupations, which even the Republicans have managed to learn. For Clinton herself helped to launch US airpower to topple another regime, this one in Libya—and, as in Iraq, the results have been anarchy, sectarian conflict and opportunities for Islamist extremists that have destabilized the entire region. She then helped lead the United States quite far down the road of doing the same thing in Syria.
As opposed to just verbally expressing regret or saying that she made a mistake, there was a rare instance regarding the PATRIOT Act in which Clinton actually changed her vote. Whereas in 2001 Clinton voted to pass the legislation, in 2005 she supported a general filibuster against the PATRIOT Act’s renewal. It’s hard to give her credit for this change, however. Describing her stance on supporting the filibuster, Jeff Bliss and James Rowley wrote for Bloomberg that “Democratic New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said she opposes the legislation because it doesn’t guarantee her state a large enough share of money for anti-terrorism.” Quelling any uncertainty that her vote may have also had to do with some sort of moral conviction for the protection of civil liberties and privacy rights, Clinton voted to extend the PATRIOT Act in 2006.
Like a true war hawk, there is one issue Clinton has never flip-flopped on; no matter the circumstances, her support for Israel has never wavered. In a 2007 review of Clinton’s record on human rights and international law for Foreign Policy In Focus, Stephen Zunes documented how, as a senator, she went as far as to fly in the face of the UN to fight for special treatment for Israel. When, in 2004, the UN’s judicial body, the International Court of Justice, ruled against the Israeli West Bank Barrier, Clinton responded by, as the Bush administration did with Iraq, seeking to unilaterally oppose the international community:
The ICJ ruled that Israel, like any country, had the right to build the barrier along its internationally recognized border for self-defense, but did not have the right to build it inside another country as a means of effectively annexing Palestinian land. In an unprecedented congressional action, Senator Clinton immediately introduced a resolution to put the U.S. Senate on record “supporting the construction by Israel of a security fence” and “condemning the decision of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the security fence.” In an effort to render the UN impotent in its enforcement of international law, her resolution (which even the then-Republican-controlled Senate failed to pass) attempted to put the Senate on record “urging no further action by the United Nations to delay or prevent the construction of the security fence.”
Eventually, even the Israeli Supreme Court was reasonable enough to admit that, along one route, the wall was disproportionately harmful to the Palestinians relative to its intended purpose, but not Clinton:
The Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the government to re-route a section of the wall bisecting some Palestinian towns, because the “relationship between the injury to the local inhabitants and the security benefit from the contraction of the Separation Fence along the route, as determined by the military officer, is not proportionate.” And yet, Clinton’s resolution also claims that Israel’s barrier is a “proportional response to the campaign of terrorism by Palestinian militants.”
If the Israeli Supreme Court is capable of reconsidering the impact of the wall, and even mandating that a section of it be re-routed, why can’t Clinton begin to temper her ardent support of Israel’s continued subjugation of the Palestinian people? Instead, she takes pride in the wall as a symbol of the unchecked and ever-growing authority of the US and its allies to ignore human rights and international law in the name of terrorism:
A longtime supporter of Israel’s colonization and annexation efforts in the West Bank, Senator Clinton took part in a photo opportunity at the illegal Israeli settlement of Gilo last year, in which she claimed – while gazing over the massive wall bisecting what used to be a Palestinian vineyard – “This is not against the Palestinian people. This is against the terrorists.”
While I drew a similarity earlier between Clinton and Bush’s shared disdain for the deliberations of the UN, it bears mentioning that, regarding Israel, even Bush’s actions were too cooperative for Clinton: “She opposed UN efforts to investigate alleged war crimes by Israeli occupation forces and criticized President Bush for calling on Israel to pull back from its violent re-conquest of Palestinian cities in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.”
More recently, Clinton vehemently defended Israel’s 2014 Operation Protective Edge during which Palestinians suffered the highest number of civilian casualties since the 1967 Six-Day War. Writing for The Huffington Post, Shadee Ashtari offered an insightful comparison of Clinton’s conclusions, made less than three weeks apart, on assigning responsibility for two catastrophic events:
Here’s Hillary Clinton, on the downing of a Malaysia Airlines plane in Ukraine: “I think if there were any doubt it should be gone by now, that Vladimir Putin, certainly indirectly…bears responsibility for what happened.”
And here’s Clinton, on the bombing of a United Nations facility in Gaza: “I’m not sure it’s possible to parcel out blame because it’s impossible to know what happens in the fog of war.”
As Ashtari, rather aptly, puts it in the article’s opening line, “the fog of war may be more of a Rorschach test.” Never mind that Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the UNRWA, the main UN agency in Gaza, stated that UN representatives had informed Israeli forces of the school’s exact location 17 times. To a tirelessly devoted career politician like Hillary Clinton, overwhelming evidence is an afterthought. It is in the interest of the US federal government and corporate oligarchy for Russia to look bad and for Israel to look good, and how Clinton decides what to state publicly is as simple as that.
Unfortunately, though her dedication does go above and beyond the norm, Clinton stands with the majority of American legislators when it comes to backing Israel. Yet with respect to her history of supporting armed conflict on a broader scale, in the same article referenced earlier by Zunes, he noted that (fortunately?) this is not the case:
Indeed, she has supported unconditional U.S. arms transfers and police training to such repressive and autocratic governments as Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Pakistan, Equatorial Guinea, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Kazakhstan, and Chad, just to name a few. She has also refused to join many of her Democratic colleagues in signing a letter endorsing a treaty that would limit arms transfers to countries that engage in a consistent pattern of gross and systematic human rights violations.
Further emphasizing Clinton’s blatant disregard for human suffering, Zunes wrote:
Not only is she willing to support military assistance to repressive regimes, she has little concern about controlling weapons that primarily target innocent civilians. Senator Clinton has refused to support the international treaty to ban land mines, which are responsible for killing and maiming thousands of civilians worldwide, a disproportionate percentage of whom have been children.
She was also among a minority of Democratic Senators to side with the Republican majority last year in voting down a Democratic-sponsored resolution restricting U.S. exports of cluster bombs to countries that use them against civilian-populated areas. Each of these cluster bomb[s] contains hundreds of bomblets that are scattered over an area the size of up to four football fields and, with a failure rate of up to 30%, become de facto land mines. As many as 98% of the casualties caused by these weapons are civilians.
The Role of the Clinton Foundation in the Global Arms Trade
There is a distinct paper trail connecting donations to the Clinton Foundation to weapons deals from Clinton’s State Department. In the International Business Times, David Sirota and Andrew Perez described how “17 out of 20 countries that have donated to the Clinton Foundation saw increases in arms exports authorized by Hillary Clinton’s State Department” and, on the other side of the deals, “the Clinton Foundation accepted donations from six companies benefiting from U.S. State Department arms export approvals.” Leading the list for defense contractors was Boeing with a donation of $5 million. Perhaps that has something to do with why Boeing was the lead contractor in a deal that resulted in $29 billion worth of advanced fighter jets being delivered to Saudi Arabia, a country that has beheaded 100 people just this year. While it seems obvious that widely publicizing their beheadings gives ISIS more reason to continue carrying them out, the mainstream media of the US is constantly releasing footage of them to help fuel civilian support for the destruction of those brutal savages. So why is there no uproar over the fact that Saudi Arabia beheads its citizens for nonlethal crimes such as adultery, “sorcery,” and “drug receiving?” In a Newsweek article by Janine Di Giovanni, Lina Khatib of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut has an answer that Hillary would never repeat but that is likely in alignment with her values: “Violence by the state is permissible, while violence by non-state actors is not.”
Returning to the numbers, in total, the dollar amount of arms exports to Saudia Arabia authorized grew 97% during Clinton’s tenure at the State Department. Some other countries not known for a sterling human rights record that were part of Clinton’s de facto donations for death machines program included Algeria, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE. Algeria saw its total exports authorized grow 274%, Bahrain 187%, Oman 221%, Qatar 1,482%, and the UAE 1,005%. Not only do Sirota and Perez compile an array of appalling figures, but they also shed light on how fickle the State Department can be with just a little bit of coaxing:
In its 2010 Human Rights Report, Clinton’s State Department inveighed against Algeria’s government for imposing “restrictions on freedom of assembly and association” tolerating “arbitrary killing,” “widespread corruption,” and a “lack of judicial independence.” The report said the Algerian government “used security grounds to constrain freedom of expression and movement.”
That year, the Algerian government donated $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation and its lobbyists met with the State Department officials who oversee enforcement of human rights policies. Clinton’s State Department the next year approved a one-year 70 percent increase in military export authorizations to the country. The increase included authorizations of almost 50,000 items classified as “toxicological agents, including chemical agents, biological agents and associated equipment” after the State Department did not authorize the export of any of such items to Algeria in the prior year.
Obama, Clinton, and the US-Funded 2009 Coup of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya
In the name of the war on drugs, President Obama and Secretary Clinton funded a military coup of the Honduran government. Compared to past US-orchestrated coups in Latin America, we apparently felt no reason to cover this one up: “The US ambassador to Honduras, Lisa Kubiske, said, ‘We have an opportunity now, because the military is no longer at war in Iraq. Using the military funding that won’t be spent, we should be able to have resources to be able to work here.’” While Honduras has had some of the highest murder rates in the world since the 1990s, shortly after the 2009 coup, Honduras surpassed El Salvador to claim the number one spot, which they have held onto since then. 2012 figures from the UN showed that, apart from Venezuela, which had a rate of 53.7 murders per 100,000 people, Honduras’s rate of 90.4 was more than double the rate of any other country for which the UN had data. While the coup itself did not cause the high murder rate, writing for The Nation, Dana Frank explained the accompanying conditions that did:
The coup, in turn, unleashed a wave of violence by state security forces that continues unabated. On October 22, an enormous scandal broke when the Tegucigalpa police killed the son of Julieta Castellanos, rector of the country’s largest university and a member of the government’s Truth Commission, along with a friend of his. Top law enforcement officials admitted that the police were responsible for the killings but allowed the suspects to disappear, precipitating an enormous crisis of legitimacy, as prominent figures such as Alfredo Landaverde, a former congressman and police commissioner in charge of drug investigations, stepped forward throughout the autumn to denounce the massive police corruption. The police department, they charged, is riddled with death squads and drug traffickers up to the very highest levels…
A vicious drug culture already existed before the coup, along with gangs and corrupt officials. But the thoroughgoing criminality of the coup regime opened the door for it to flourish on an unprecedented scale. Drug trafficking is now embedded in the state itself—from the cop in the neighborhood all the way up to the very top of the government, according to high-level sources. Prominent critics and even government officials, including Marlon Pascua, the defense minister, talk of “narco-judges” who block prosecutions and “narco-congressmen” who run cartels. Landaverde declared that one out of every ten members of Congress is a drug trafficker and that he had evidence proving “major national and political figures” were involved in drug trafficking. He was assassinated on December 7.
“It’s scarier to meet up with five police officers on the streets than five gang members,” former Police Commissioner María Luisa Borjas declared in November. According to the Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (Cofadeh), more than 10,000 official complaints have been filed about abuses by the police and military since the coup, none of which have been addressed…
…Cofadeh and prominent voices in Honduran civil society are calling loudly for a suspension of US and other countries’ aid to the Honduran military and police. “Stop feeding the beast,” as Rector Castellanos famously demanded in November…
As Tirza Flores Lanza—a former appeals court magistrate in San Pedro Sula, who was fired with four other judges and magistrates for opposing the coup—put it: “The coup d’état in Honduras destroyed the incipient democracy that, with great effort, we were constructing, and revived the specter of military dictatorships that are now once again ready to pounce throughout Latin America.”
Despite unprecedented levels of corruption and impunity and heads of state throughout the region having refused to recognize Porfirio Lobo’s presidency, Secretary Clinton and President Obama both turned a blind eye to the nightmarish conditions on the ground and had nothing but praise for the leader of the regime they inserted into power: “The United States hailed him for ‘restoring democracy’ and promoting ‘national reconciliation.’ The State Department and Clinton continue to repeat both fictions, as did President Obama when he welcomed Lobo to the White House in October.” For a more thorough understanding of the events leading up to the coup and the interactions between the Honduran and American government through 2013, Eric Zuesse offers an exhaustive review of coverage on Honduras along with what he considers to be Clinton’s other major foreign policy achievement, her disastrous record in Afghanistan.
Continuing to cover Honduras in 2015, this time for Foreign Policy, Dana Frank argued that, sadly, Lobo’s successor, Juan Orlando Hernández “is a far more brutal and Machiavellian figure than his predecessor” and “is perpetuating an ongoing human rights crisis while countenancing a cesspool of corruption and organized crime in which the topmost levels of government are enmeshed.” Nevertheless:
…despite overwhelming evidence of Hernández’s dangerous record on human rights and security, the Obama administration has decided to lock down support for his regime, and even celebrate him. U.S. development, security, and economic funds are pouring into Honduras, and the White House is going full-court press to push for hundreds of millions more…
Why? Frank offers three reasons: 1) to send a message to the democratically elected center-left and left governments that had come to power in Latin America in the previous 15 years that they could be next, 2) to solidify and expand the U.S. military presence in Central America, and 3) to serve transnational corporate interests in the region. For more detail on the third objective Frank offered, Lauren Carasik wrote a piece for Foreign Affairs describing the details of the “Model Cities” project that would create zones where Honduran law would not apply and, instead, at the expense of workers and the environment, local elites and foreign investors would set conditions to maximize profits. Essentially export processing zones, these sorts of arrangements have been a common facet of international trade since the 1990s, and for good reason, Naomi Klein criticized them extensively in her incredibly informative 1999 book, No Logo. That the project was called “Model Cities” is particularly ironic considering that was also the name of an incredibly ambitious, though widely maligned, federal urban aid program administered as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.
Click here to read Part 4 of the series.