The Obama administration is already experiencing those second-term lame-duck blues, as they have been deluged in a torrent of scandals as of late. However, there are actually many other lesser known scandals (or perhaps issues that should be scandals) that have been largely ignored by the mainstream Western media.
There are enough of these to make this piece a recurring segment, but let’s examine a few of these other little-known scandals that fail to garner the media coverage they deserve.
Gutting the Child Soldiers Prevention Act
Wanna know something good the Bush administration did? In 2008, President Bush signed into law a groundbreaking piece of legislation designed to protect children from being forcibly recruited into military conscription across the world. Wanna know something not-so-good the Obama administration has done? They’ve gutted that law.
The law, which Obama supported when he was in the Senate, known as the Child Soldier Prevention Act, makes it a federal crime to recruit or use soldiers under the age of 15 and allows for the prosecution on US soil of anyone across the world engaging in such activity. The law also prohibits any US military arms, equipment or training to be offered such offending countries.
Senator Dick Durbin, one of the original sponsors of the bipartisan act, said of the law:
The use of children as combatants is one of the most despicable human rights violations in the world today and affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of boys and girls who are used as combatants, porters, human mine detectors and sex slaves. The power to prosecute and punish those who violate the law will send a clear signal that the U.S. will in no way tolerate this abhorrent practice.
For three years in a row, the Obama administration has issued presidential memorandum to waive the application of this law as it applies to certain countries.
The countries currently issued waivers from the Obama administration are Libya, South Sudan, Yemen and the Democratic Republic of the Congo—all countries currently on the State Department’s list of nations using child soldiers.
The United Nations has condemned the Obama administration’s gutting of this law, and issued a report urging the administration:
to enact and apply a full prohibition of arms exports, including small arms and light weapons as well as any kind of military assistance to countries where children are known to be, or may potentially be, recruited or used in armed conflict and/or hostilities. To this end, the [United States] is encouraged to review and amend the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act with the view to withdrawing the possibility to allow for presidential waivers to these countries.
Obama’s memos offer little insight as to why specifically these waivers have been sought, only suggesting that “it is in the national interest of the United States”. Further State Department documents signed by Obama and obtained by Foreign Policy suggest the administration has issued these waivers year after year because “working closely with troubled militaries is the best way to reform them and that U.S. security depends on such relationships.”
Whatever the reasoning behind the Obama administration’s decision to ask for these waivers, one has to conclude, at the very least, that apparently it’s more important than protecting children from being forced to act as soldiers for countries with histories of human rights abuses.
The Case of Abdulelah Haider Shaye
So, did you hear the one about President Obama keeping a prominent journalist in prison who exposed U.S. crimes in Yemen? Such is the case of Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a highly respected Yemeni investigative journalist convicted on seemingly trumped up charges and currently slaving away in a prison cell in Yemen.
Shaye was known for his diligent reporting on the Yemeni government, US counterterrorism policies and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The story of his imprisonment basically starts on December 17, 2009, when an airstrike hit the village of al-Majalah in the Abyan province in the southern coastal region of Yemen. The strike killed 14 alleged members of AQAP, along with 41 innocent people including 14 women and 21 children.
The Yemeni government originally took responsibility for the attack. However, photos taken of the rubble of missile parts were shown to Amnesty International who was able to have munitions experts confirm that the strike was carried out by Tomahawk cruise missiles. Guess what? Yemen doesn’t have any Tomahawk missiles. You know who does? It might help to know that the pictures also showed the missiles labeled “Made in the USA”.
Cables released to Wikileaks were finally able to provide information confirming that the strike was, in fact, carried out by the US. And the journalist who originally took those photos that were sent to Amnesty International? It was Abdulelah Haider Shaye.
Shaye was arrested in August of 2010 and was sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly collaborating with AQAP in a what was regarded by many as a sham trial. His trial and subsequent imprisonment has been condemned by numerous human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists. Philip Luther from Amnesty International told The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill (who has done phenomenal reporting on this subject):
There are strong indications that the charges against [Shaye] are trumped up and that he has been jailed solely for daring to speak out about US collaboration in a cluster munitions attack which took place in Yemen.
After vocal public outcry from the international community, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was said to be prepared to issue a pardon and release Shaye in February of 2011, according to Shaye’s attorney. However, before the pardon was signed, President Obama personally called Saleh to express strong concerns over his release, and so it is that Shaye remains languishing away in a Yemeni prison to this day.
Shaye made it very clear whom he blames for his imprisonment ina letter he recently wrote from his jail cell:
It’s inaccurate to say the Americans imprisoned me because some of them defended and supported me and opposed my detention. Actually, the only person responsible for kidnapping and detaining me is Obama. So, I don’t want the media to say America or Americans have incarcerated me because it’s obvious [who is responsible].
If the Obama administration does have credible evidence that Shaye was colluding with AQAP then they need to make such evidence available to the public rather than relying on Shaye’s conviction from Yemen’s kangaroo court.
‘Double Tap’ Drone Strikes
By now we all know the Obama administration has been carrying out drone strikes. And we all know that Obama admitted for the first time recently that such strikes have killed four American citizens. And it’s probably safe to assume we’ve all heard reports that drone strikes have killed hundreds of civilians. But did you know that we occasionally carry out drone attacks that strike the same place twice which have resulted in the deaths of first responders, rescuers and funeral mourners?
It’s true; they’re often referred to as “double tap” drone strikes, and many believe such strikes may constitute war crimes.
A report by the Stanford International Human Rights & Conflict Resolution Clinic called “Living Under Drones” concludes:
There is now significant evidence that the US has repeatedly engaged in a practice sometimes referred to as “double tap,” in which a targeted strike site is hit multiple times in relatively quick succession. Evidence also indicates that such secondary strikes have killed and maimed first responders coming to the rescue of those injured in the first strike.
The report has confirmed the findings of a previous investigation by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, which found that not only were first responders being killed but that such “double tap” strikes have also killed funeral mourners. One such strike killed at least 60 people, including more than 40 civilians, at a funeral in Pakistan in 2009.
The practice has had a chilling effect on first responders and rescue workers who become reluctant to tend to the wounded out of fear of a secondary strike. From the Stanford report:
Crucially, the threat of the ‘double tap’ reportedly deters not only the spontaneous humanitarian instinct of neighbors and bystanders in the immediate vicinity of strikes, but also professional humanitarian workers providing emergency medical relief to the wounded. …
Not only does the practice put into question the extent to which secondary strikes comply with international humanitarian law’s basic rules of distinction, proportionality, and precautions, but it also potentially violates specific legal protections for medical and humanitarian personnel, and for the wounded.
A United Nations’ panel is currently conducting an investigation of the US drone program and its effects, and one area of concern will be these “double tap” strikes. The panel will present its finding to the UN general assembly sometime this fall.
The Real Guantanamo Bay Scandal: Indefinite Detention
So, we’ve all heard the sad old song that poor President Obama really, really wants to close that military prison at Guantanamo Bay, but those jerks in Congress just won’t let him do the right thing. However, Obama has not only contributed greatly to making the prison difficult to close, but the reality is that he doesn’t want to close Gitmo as much as he just wants to reopen a brand new Gitmo on American soil.
Twice in recent weeks, Obama has restated in unequivocal terms his desire to close the controversial prison, saying:
It is expensive, it is inefficient, it hurts us in terms of our international standing, it lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts, it is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.
OK, sounds nice for the cameras, Mr. President, but it is your own administration that has fought through the courts the release of some of these prisoners and determined 46 of the detainees to be “too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution,” which is a fancy way of saying there isn’t enough evidence to charge them with any crimes. Holding these 46 detainees indefinitely is the official policy of this administration, regardless of anything Congress has done.
Obama’s original plan was simply to transfer the detainees to a vacant prison in Thomson, Illinois. Congress made this move impossible when it passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which has declared that no money can be spent to transfer the detainees to the mainland United States. Obama had originally threatened to veto the NDAA, but then he decided to sign it into law anyway, tacking on a toothless signing statement as his only protest.
Let’s make one thing very clear: The real issue is not about Guantanamo Bay itself; the issue is about indefinite detention. It doesn’t matter whether you transfer the detainees from Gitmo to a converted federal prison in Thomson, Illinois or to a Ramada Inn in Toledo, Ohio. The point is not their surroundings; it’s that they’re being held indefinitely without charge.
Obama’s soapbox sermonizing on this issue feels a bit frustratingly disingenuous, like an older brother doing the “stop hitting yourself” routine. And so, unfortunately, as long as the administration is married to the policy of holding detainees indefinitely then Obama’s sad old song about closing Gitmo is really just a river of crocodile tears.