Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy/National Security’ Category

New CNN Poll: Americans okay with Bush administration’s enhanced interrogation methods

May 6, 2009

CNN has an article up on poll results of Americans on enhanced interrogation methods. In a CNN research poll, 60% of Americans believe that some of the enhanced interrogation methods used by the Bush administration, such as waterboarding, qualify as torture, while 36% disagree. At the same time, half of Americans believe that using these enhanced interrogation methods was okay, while 46% thought it was not okay. 57% of people think that Bush administration officials should not be prosecuted and 42% thought that they should not be.

Closing Gitmo: Easier said than done

May 6, 2009

One of President Barack Obama’s first actions as president was to sign an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorist detainees in Cuba within a year. There have been many allegations of mistreatment of prisoners and one of Obama’s campaign promises was to immediately close down the facility. As it is with most campaign promises, however, saying the facility will be closed is much easier than actually closing it. There are still many questions about what to do with prisoners and whether some prisoners should still be held. The longer these questions go unanswered, the more the pressure builds on Democrats to take care of their promises.

President Obama had requested from the House $81 million to take care of the closing of the facilities, but House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey, a Democrat from Wisconsin who had a big hand in the stimulus bill, refused to give the White House the money because of a lack of details in Obama’s plans. Now without financial backing, there are lots of questions about what Obama can do and Republicans have jumped all over the confusion amongst Democrats.

Nobody seems to know what to do with these prisoners. Terrorists are not normal criminals and they should not be brought to the United States. They are enemy combatants out to destroy everything America believes in and they have no business being held in prisons across America. It is highly unlikely that Americans would be comfortable with terrorists being transported into areas near them. Once they are moved to America, the ACLU will file lawsuit after lawsuit on behalf of the terrorists and national intelligence secrets will be compromised. At the same time, Obama has promised transparency and he had no problem releasing the enhanced interrogation method memos.

There is a reason that these detainees have been kept at Gitmo. They are flat out dangerous and insane. No other countries want to take any of the prisoners, as Obama found out when he asked leaders at the G-20 meetings last month to hold a few of the prisoners in their own countries. If prisoners are released, it is entirely possible that the released terrorists will meet up again with al-Qaeda operatives and commit more acts of terror and violence. If a released detainee were to come back and harm Americans, Obama would be in a serious p.r. nightmare, something he has yet to experience.

Americans believed in Obama’s promise that he would close Gitmo. He talked a big game about reforming America’s image with Gitmo’s closure. Let’s see if he will be able to back up his talk.

Obama meets with leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan

May 6, 2009

President Barack Obama met with the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan Wednesday afternoon to discuss what steps were necessary to take in order to combat the Taliban. An AP article has the whole story here. Basically, Obama needed to have Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari make a stronger commitment to fighting Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, as both group have stepped up the intensity of violence in the region. Pakistan has an array of nuclear weapons in Islamabad and the Taliban seems to be making a march to the city. Without stepping up defense in the area, the Taliban could capture those weapons in what would be a complete game changer.

President Obama has taken over the war in Afghanistan as his own. The result of the war will be on his shoulders. At the same time, recent civilian deaths in Afghanistan because of U.S. airstrikes have stolen some of the attention from the meeting. Obama was a huge critic of the rumored civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan when he was a senator. Now that he is president, the responsibility for those attacks goes to him. He is walking a fine line right now because it is absolutely mandatory that the Afghan and Pakistani forces completely co-operate with American forces. The war on terror will take a frightening turn if the Taliban is able to storm into Islamabad and take possession of nuclear weapons. Check out more on the civilian deaths story on the Wall Street Journal website.

UPDATE: GOP leaves social issues behind on new council

April 29, 2009

 

Virginia Representative Eric Cantor is said to be the mastermind behind the new GOP initiative, National Council for a New America

Virginia Representative Eric Cantor is said to be the mastermind behind the new GOP initiative, National Council for a New America

UPDATE (4/30): Fresh off Ben Smith’s blog on Politico, the new GOP council created by Eric Cantor, called the National Council for a New America, has released the set of issues they will be speaking about in the town-hall meetings across the nation in the upcoming weeks. The list includes the economy, health care, education, energy and national security. Notably missing are the social issues that have been a problem for Republicans, like same-sex marriage, abortion and immigration. I would have to say this is a fabulous decision by Cantor, showing the signs of a young, promising decision by one of the new leaders of the Republican Party. While many people agree with the GOP on these social issues, just as many people disagree on the left and both sides are prone to getting heated and defiant on these issues. The point of this council is to listen to all people, which includes conservatives, liberals and, most importantly, independents. Social issues are not very high on the priority list of the majority of Americans. They want to hear the solutions that the GOP has to the economy, energy independence and health care. If the GOP can regain the trust of Americans on these issues, they will be able to talk about social issues at a later date. The council needs to be able to not only come up with alternatives to the liberal agenda taking place in Washington right now, but they need to present them in an articulate, simple fashion. At the same time, Republicans cannot come across as disagreeing with the president just to disagree. Obama is still three times as popular as any important GOP politician so Obama will get the benefit of the doubt from the people if the council members present anything less than stellar ideas. Cantor understands this and has made a wise decision to focus on the relevant issues. 

ORIGINAL STORY (4/29): After taking shots from President Obama, seeing a veteran Republican senator defect to the Democratic party and basically seeing their image and named destroyed, the GOP looks like they have finally stood up and began their attempt to recreate the Republican brand. With the full report coming from CNN’s John King, the GOP will announce Thursday their intentions to began an initiative called the National Council for a New America. This council will include a “National Panel of Experts”, which include some of the biggest names in the Republican Party.

 

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour will all be members of the panel, as well as Arizona Senator John McCain and former Florida Givernor Jeb Bush, brother of former President George W. Bush. The panel will hold town-hall meetings across the nation with the America people to listen to them and reconnect with voters, as well as pass on legitimate alternative solutions promoted by the GOP. The panel will report to the Republican congressional leaders, including House Minority Whip Eric Cantor. Cantor is said to be the mastermind of this project.

Will this be the start of the Republican Party’s movement to reshape its image? Will it be effective? How will Democrats respond? I am looking forward to the official announcement of this panel and how it will affect Washington.

Recap of the Obama conference

April 29, 2009

 

President Barack Obama at tonight's prime-time press conference

President Barack Obama at tonight's prime-time press conference

Although most of the questions went as expected and there was not much of outright significance that was said, the prime-time press conference for President Obama was a very interesting display of Obama’s idea of where the country lies and what he expects from it in the coming years. Obama started off talking about the growing concerns on swine flu, simply instructing Americans to do simple things like wash your hands, cover your mouth while coughing and staying home from work and school if you are sick. Obama, in his always calm, comforting demeanor, told the American people that everything the government could do to combat the illness was being done and even gave credit to the Bush administration (gasp!) for doing a good job of building up resources to fight this illness. Obama had no plans of quarantining Mexico, even though many believe that is where swine flu originated from.

 

While the conference got off to a rather subdued start, it took conservatives’ favorite reporter, Jake Tapper of ABC News to ask the tough questions. Tapper was able to elicit a straight-forward condemnation of the Bush administration’s enhanced interrogation policies from Obama, specifically labeling waterboarding as torture and something that America will no longer participate in under his watch. Obama made the strange analogy of Churchill not torturing WWII prisoners while London was bombed to “smithereens”, because it was not good for the character of Britain. I am curious to hear if Americans would really care if CIA interrogators got a little tougher with prisoners while our nation was being bombed left and right and civilians were dying.

Obama also said that the same information could have been extracted from detainees using other methods. Obama offered no specifics of how this would have been done and conveniently ignores the fact that the memos state that every other interrogation method had been used and Khaled Sheikh Mohammed would reveal nothing. Another reason Obama is against waterboarding is that it was a recruiting tool for al-Qaeda to establish how evil Americans were and that it damaged us in the view of people around the world. Al-Qaeda did not know about waterboarding before 9/11. Terrorists didn’t know about waterboarding when they attacked the U.S.S. Cole. Waterboarding was not on their minds when countless other terrorist attacks took place around the world. Al-Qaeda operatives now know how far CIA interrogators will go to get information from them. Why will they ever give up information now?

With the defection of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter to the Democratic Party, Obama was able to get in a shot at the Republican Party, saying “Simply opposing our position on every front is probably not a good political strategy,” going on to mention that the American people voted for him and Democrats in November. The thing is, poll numbers clearly show his policies are far less popular than he is. Americans voted for Obama and his image in November, not his policies. Obama’s articulation and majestic way of speaking was able to seduce many independent voters, as well as the fact that Obama was not President Bush or a Republican, which had their identities and image ruined in the media. In regards to the Republican Party opposing every one of Obama’s policies, it is hard for conservatives to go along with the most far-left president in our nation’s history. Republicans are betting that if they continue to stand tall to Obama and stick to their principles, they will come out looking great when these economic policies fail to resurrect our economy. It is a very risky maneuver, one that Arlen Specter wanted no part of. At the same time, it seems to be the only option. Republicans still won’t make any headway going toe-to-toe with Obama because the American people still believe in him, but it might not be that way forever.

Obama continues to promise that we will see economic progress because of his policies, pointing out that 150,000 jobs have already been created because of his stimulus bill. How does he have the ability to measure that statistic? Where are we getting these numbers from and how do we know it is the stimulus package that did this? He will continue to preach for patience for Americans, but it won’t last forever. Obama has wagered that expanding the role of government will appeal to people and help our economy, but he has said that he will withdraw the government from the operations of car company GM as soon as possible. I will have to believe it when I see it. Although he models himself after Lincoln, Obama is far more similar to FDR. Both believe that the government needs to be large to help people and that spending money is the way to get out of a recession. While many credit FDR’s plan with getting us out of the Great Depression, many economists argue that it actually lengthened the depression and that industrial expansion due to WWII got us out of the Depression. 

Overall, Obama had a typical Obama performance. He flowed in his opening statements and he just sounds intelligent and confident, something the American people want right now. If his economic plans don’t start producing results, however, Americans might start looking in a different direction. Political power is something that can change very quickly in Washington. How much patience will Americans have with Obama before they look for a different kind of change?

What’s wrong with this picture?

April 25, 2009

 

President Obama meeting with Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez at the Summit of the Americas

President Obama meeting with Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez at the Summit of the Americas

So what is wrong with this picture? President Barack Obama shaking hands with notorious Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez doesn’t hurt anybody, does it? Obama told us he would do this during his campaign, promising to speak to Chavez, the Iranian government and the Castro brothers of Cuba. His goal was to improve relations with these governments and to move a step closer to living in a harmonious, peaceful world. Does anyone see anything wrong with that? These leaders have just been misunderstood by the Bush administration and just want respect from the U.S. Obama wants to extend an offer of peace and communication to these leaders. Who in their right mind would oppose that? Why is there anything wrong with this approach? Before we answer that, let’s talk about who Hugo Chavez is.

Hugo Chavez first came into the spotlight in Venezuela after leading a failed military coup against President Carlos Andrés Pérez on February 4, 1992. After being captured by the government, Chavez was forced to announce on national television that his coup had failed and to order all rebels to stop fighting. Chavez then famously remarked on air that they had only failed, “por ahora” (for now). After being in prison for two years, Chavez received a pardon from the new president, Rafael Caldera. Chavez then started the Movimiento Quinta Repúblicana, or MVR, which was a left-wing, Socialist political group. Much of Chavez’s ideology stemmed from revolutionary Simón Bolívar. Income redistribution, social welfare programs and a government-run health care system were all integral parts of Chavez’s platform. Chavez ran for president in 1998, largely on a platform of sticking up for the people of the working and middle classes and the poor. His flamboyant speaking style won him many fans and he went on to win the election with 56% of the vote. From there, things have gone downhill for the people of Venezuela.

After Chavez was inaugurated in 1999, he began reworking the Venezuelan constitution and on December 15, 1999, the constitution was changed to allow a six-year presidential term, a new two-term limit for presidents, new provisions for recalling presidential elections and an expansion of presidential powers. Chavez established his desire to nationalize the oil companies in Venezuela, the country’s biggest and most important export. After reducing the rate of oil production to attempt to drive up the price of oil and boost Venezuela’s oil revenue, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) oil workers went on a massive strike. Chavez had attempted to increase the government’s control over PDVSA and was met with strong resistance from the company, as well the private media, the business community and upper-class families. The strike of workers led to an attempted coup of Chavez, where he was momentarily taken out of power but quickly regained control. Chavez went on to accuse the United States of organizing and condoning the coup, straining U.S.-Venezuelan relations.

In August 2003, an attempt to recall Chavez began, where a grassroots voter rights organization called Súmate collected and presented 3.2 million signatures asking for a recall. Chavez condemned the group and signatures, claiming fraud. Opposition and international media sources accused Chavez of acting punitively towards those who had signed the petition and in November 2003, another petition, this time with 3.6 million signatures, was presented to the National Electoral Council (CNE). More claims of Chavez penalizing petition signers came from PDVSA, Caracas Metro, the state-run water company and public hospitals operated by allies of Chavez. Opposition also accused the government of granting citizenship to illegal immigration in a citizenship-for-votes program. On August 15, 2004, the recall vote was held and a 59% vote of “no” kept Chavez in power. Some critics alleged fraud took place in the elections, but Chavez remained president.

In 2005, Chavez passed laws that carried 40-month prison sentences against media member who defamed the character of public officials. In 2007, Chavez refused to renew the license of a popular television station, instead replacing it with a state-run station. Many protests and marches were held both against and in favor of Chavez’s decision. Since 2007, Chavez has requested an end to presidential-term limits and in a November 2008 vote, Chavez got his wish, as 54% percent voted in favor of abolishing term limits. Chavez has strongly associated himself with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who denies the Holocaust took place, and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, who has run a communist government for nearly 40 years.

Chavez has a record of human rights violations, as well as being the only Latin American country group to expel the Human Rights Watch group. The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom ranks Venezuela as 152nd out of 157 countries, one of 12 countries that could be called “repressed”. English magazine The Economist believes that Chavez’s refusal to use the private sector of Venezuela has resulted in a crumbling infrastructure and a decrease in housing. Chavez has earned himself his own criticism page on Wikipedia. 

So why would President Obama want to associate himself with Hugo Chavez? Let’s look at the similarities between the two leaders. Both are exceptional speakers. Both want a government-run health care option. Both want to redistribute the wealth of their respective countries. Both ran on a platform of change and to end poverty. Both want to or have attempted to nationalize private sector companies. Both are divisive presidents, with loyalists being in full support and critics offering close to no support. So although there is a fair amount of outrage over this picture and handshake, there shouldn’t be much surprise, given the similarities behind the two leaders.

The problem with the handshake is that there were no requirements before there was a call for relations. There was no demand to change the culture of government-run media in Venezuela and to restore the right to free speech. There was no demand to have Chavez change the culture of human rights violations in Venezuela. As Venezuelans cry out for democracy and freedom and liberty, the President of the United States, the country that has been the leader for democracy, freedom and liberty since 1776, wants to build a relationship with the very dictator that has denied Venezuelans these rights. This is the wrong message to send to those Venezuelans who look to us for hope and change.

My Takes on Enhanced Interrogation Methods

April 23, 2009

 

Former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney approved the usage of enhanced interrogation methods of terrorist detainees in 2002

Former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney approved the usage of enhanced interrogation methods of terrorist detainees in 2002

Since the beginning of the Bush administration’s War on Terror campaign, there have been many debates and discussions about how America should treat uncooperative prisoners from al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups and whether using enhanced interrogation methods on them to extract information about terrorist operations is acceptable for our country. Many conservatives believe that these methods protect our country and have saved lives, while most liberals believe “enhanced interrogation methods” can be translated to torture, which is unacceptable under the Geneva Conventions and should not be used by Americans. To be able to have a discussion about this, we first need to establish what exactly “torture” is.

 

The United Nations Convention Against Torture has defined torture as:

Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a male or female person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

Although this definition gives us a basic idea of what torture is, it still seems to be a little vague. Who can define what severe pain or suffering would be? If I crash my car and my parents scream and yell at me, demanding to know where I was going, and I wind up being very emotionally hurt for a period of time, did my parents torture me? Although it seems silly, that scenario technically fits in with the definition of torture. Although there are many types of torture, the method of torture that had drawn the most criticism, before intelligence memos had been released this past, was waterboarding.

Waterboarding is an interrogation method where the prisoner is immobilized on his back and has his face covered with a cloth. Water is then poured onto the prisoner’s face and creates a simulation of drowning. In a story in the New Yorker, a former CIA officer, who has been waterboarded in training with the CIA, described waterboarding as an effective method of interrogation but not as horrible as it sounds. “Waterboarding works,” the former officer said. “Drowning is a baseline fear… When you’re waterboarded, you’re inverted, so it exacerbates the fear. It’s not painful, but it scares the shit out of you.” We can all agree that waterboarding is an intense method of interrogation, but is it truly torture? We know under the Geneva Conventions, prisoners of war are not allowed to be tortured. Torture is against American values under normal circumstances and I think this is something that conservatives and liberals can agree on. If you want to place waterboarding under the category of torture, it is important to understand when and why waterboarding took place.

Waterboarding was only used very early on in the War on Terror, starting in 2002 with the detainee Abu Zubaydeh, who the CIA believed was a high ranking member of al-Qaeda and was withholding information about future terrorist plots after refusing to cooperate with interrogators. CIA officials suggested the usage of waterboarding as an enhanced interrogation method to break Zubaydeh down and members of Congress and Bush administration officials approved the request. Although waterboarding was given a green light, it was not a free for all by the CIA. Then Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee wrote in an August 2002 memo that the CIA had repeatedly assured officials that “the procedures will be stopped if deemed medically necessary to prevent severe mental or physical harm”. In other words, CIA interrogators allowed doctors to stand by during interrogation sessions to make sure there was no torturing of a detainee.

CIA interrogators also waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the mastermind of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center towers. Although the number of times KSM was waterboarded is unclear, it is undisputed now that his interrogations yielded vital information to a terrorist plan called the ‘Second Wave’, with the plot centering around the hijacking of an airliner by East Asian operatives. The operatives were to fly the airplane into a building in Los Angeles. KSM also gave up information that led to the capture of a terrorist known as Hambali, who was the leader of al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia. The enhancd interrogation methods worked and were the guiding force behind 6,000 intelligence reports and over half of CIA’s reporting on al-Qaeda. We can safely say that because of the enhanced interrogation methods, which were only used on detainees who had been completely uncooperative, thousands of American lives were saved and we need to give credit to the CIA for protecting our homeland.

The current issue is now whether or not Bush administration officials should be prosecuted for approving of “torture” methods. While President Obama had originally said that he only wanted to move forward and not prosecute the prior administration, Obama changed his mind this past week and left open the chance that prosecution would take place, instead deferring to Attorney General Eric Holder on whether or not he would take legal action. The fact that Holder will now be in charge of determining if legal action should be taken against officials who have been accused of not upholding the Geneva Conventions for detainees is very ironic.

In January 2002, close to when waterboarding first began and Americans were demanding that terrorists be brought to justice quickly, Eric Holder was interviewed on CNN and asked about whether or not detainees were prisoners of war, which would grant them certain protections under the Geneva Conventions. Holder replied:

“One of the things we clearly want to do with these prisoners is to have an ability to interrogate them and find out what their future plans might be, where other cells are located; under the Geneva Convention that you are really limited in the amount of information that you can elicit from people. It seems to me that given the way in which they have conducted themselves, however, that they are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. They are not prisoners of war.

Now the far-left is pressuring Holder to prosecute people for actions that made sure interrogations were within the boundaries of what Holder suggested were appropriate.

Bush administration officials acted in a responsible manner that respected the Geneva Convention standards and also made sure the CIA was able to extract life-saving information from detainees. Although there have been examples throughout history where regimes over performed extreme cases of waterboarding and are certainly examples of torture, the CIA went to great lengths to make sure that there was always medical help available and that the detainees were never put under severe mental or physical pain. These examples do not constitute torture and only describe how CIA officials made the protection of our homeland their number one priority and saved the lives of American civilians.

If the point of using enhanced interrogation methods still doesn’t seem like the right thing to do, think about a scenario posed yesterday by Rush Limbaugh. Imagine al-Qaeda operatives had a family member of yours hostage. They were threatening to kill your family member and CIA officials did not know the location of your family member. But the CIA did have a detainee that knew the whereabouts of your family member. Wouldn’t you want the CIA interrogators to do everything in their power to extract the information from the detainee that would potentially help save your loved one? Although there was nobody that we knew of at being held at gunpoint, any one of our loved ones could have been harmed in a terrorist attack. Thankfully, the CIA was able to stop these potential threats with the aid of enhanced interrogation methods. President Obama should stop worrying about taking legal action against Bush administration officials and keep focusing on keeping our homeland safe.