Amidst all the pageantry and spin of the US presidential election, you may have missed the news of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif’s untimely death. The 36-year-old Yemeni citizen died in September, languishing in solitary confinement after spending eleven years in Guantanamo Bay. Amnesty International reported in 2009 that he had suffered from “a number of physical health problems, including a fractured cheekbone, a shattered eardrum, blindness in one eye, a dislocated shoulder blade, and a possibly dislocated knee.” Adnan endured almost eleven years of this torture, embarking on a number of hunger strikes in protest against his treatment. He was never charged with any crime.
Latif’s grim death cell, to which he was consigned without even the semblance of due process, seemed a world away from the nationalistic, patriotic, flag-waving fanfare surrounding Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony last month. Comments in support of gay rights during his speech were held up as evidence by the liberal media as having shown the president’s “progressive” tendencies. The presidency of Barack Obama, however, has been anything but progressive.
Throughout American history, there has been a remarkable continuity in foreign and domestic policy among successive administrations. Domestically, the economic system was skewed heavily in favour of those who already enjoyed enormous wealth to the detriment of those who had least. The vast prison system devoured the lives of millions of US citizens while, on the foreign front, the American Empire’s “right” to bomb, pillage, loot, occupy, torture, murder and maim wherever in the world it wished went unchallenged – a modern adoption of Manifest Destiny.
Despite his promises of “hope” and “change” back in 2008, part of a deceiving PR campaign for which Advertising Age named him marketer of the year, this continuity remains unbroken under Obama. Since day one, his administration has been packed with Bush-era war criminals and Wall Street lobbyists who helped crash the world’s economy. What’s clear is that even when the figurehead changes, the system ticks as normal, regardless of any soft piecemeal reforms. Contrary to the image portrayed in all the phony television debates and public personality clashes which surround each tedious election, there are many more issues which unite the Democratic and Republican parties than divide them.
The sinister nature of the Obama administration can be seen on a number of fronts; from the children murdered by his drone attacks in Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan to the sponsoring of Israeli terror and an array of military dictatorships. At home, repression has increased on a massive scale. No case highlights this more strikingly than that of Bradley Manning, the alleged Wikileaks whistle-blower. He was accused of having leaked footage of a US Apache helicopter massacring at least 18 unarmed people – including two Reuters journalists. For this, Bradley Manning faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison. The soldiers who murdered 18 people, of course, are lauded as “our boys” and “heroes”.
Locked in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, deprived of sleep and refused access to clothing, the treatment of Bradley Manning is testament to the cruelty of the American state against even its own people. Juan Mendez, who investigated Manning’s case for the UN, told the Guardian: “I conclude that the 11 months under conditions of solitary confinement (regardless of the name given to his regime by the prison authorities) constitutes at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture. If the effects in regards to pain and suffering inflicted on Manning were more severe, they could constitute torture.” Manning’s treatment, according to Obama, is “appropriate”.
Abroad, Obama has continued and expanded Bush’s wars of aggression. His enthusiastic embrace of Bush’s drone strategy, according to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, has led to the murders of as many as 891 civilians in Pakistan. Of these, 176 were children – some as young as three – blown to pieces by machines controlled through a computer screen in Nevada. “The same person who attacked my home has gotten re-elected,” said Mohammad Rehman Khan, a 28-year-old Pakistani who lost his father, three brothers and a nephew in a U.S. drone attack a month after Obama first took office.
The false dawns offered by political liberalism are apparent – mild reforms at home, mass terror abroad. Invasion, occupation, violation of national sovereignty, summary executions, internment, torture and murder. These things all occurred under Obama, yet the reaction has been minimal. Where are the mass protests which erupted onto the streets after similar outrages perpetrated by Bush? Where are the calls for his arrest, which were so common during Bush’s terms? Disturbingly, Obama’s apparent sophistication and ‘hip’ liberalism appear to have absolved him of war crimes in the eyes of many.