Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.

“Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction,” said George W. Bush in his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003.

Illustration by Kenny Cole - kennycole.com

 

About six months earlier, Dick Cheney had made a similar declaration, and in March, 2003, a few days after the U.S. invaded Iraq, General Tommy Franks and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld echoed the unfounded allegation. After that, during the early days of the war against Iraq, government officials made the same assertion over and over again — but, in fact, there never existed any evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. A June 2008 report on intelligence manipulation from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded that administration officials exhibited a “higher level of certainty than the intelligence judgments” on which they based their claims, and that statements by Bush and Cheney prior to the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq’s chemical weapons production capability and activities “did not reflect the intelligence community’s uncertainties as to whether such production was ongoing.” In his memoir earlier this year, former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that he made a “mistake” in claiming Iraq had such weapons, (while the Bush Administration’s primary informant admitted that he lied when he said Iraq had a secret biological weapons program). But Rumsfeld did not admit that when the established intelligence agencies could not find any evidence linking Iraq to al-Qaida or weapons of mass destruction, he set up a separate, shadowy agency called the Office of Special Plans to manufacture such intelligence and steer the United States into war. All in all, thousands of lives, billions of dollars, and an untold number of human rights have been sacrificed as a result of the weapons-of-mass-destruction lie.

 

Mission Accomplished.

On May 1, 2003, Bush, decked out in a full flight suit, made a grandiose appearance aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln when he co-piloted a jet that landed daringly on the aircraft carrier. Bush then stood at a podium under a massive banner that declared “Mission Accomplished” and triumphantly announced, “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”

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Since then, an estimated 4,500 American soldiers and 115,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the war that, eight years later, still rages. Economic costs so far total more than $3 trillion, and the social, political, and environmental costs are equally staggering. Even now, a year after President Obama echoed Bush’s declaration — in his words, “the American combat mission in Iraq is over” — there are tens of thousands of troops and private military contractors in Iraq. With the State Department taking over responsibility for the U.S. presence in Iraq on October 1, 2011, functions that troops were once performing, have been and are expected to increasingly be performed by private contractors, despite lack of accountability for past human rights violations by contractors. Their presence allows Obama to keep his promise to reduce troops, while also keeping a substantial U.S. foothold in Iraq. If the mission was to cripple a country, make billions for private military contractors, and accumulate a national deficit that now leaves the U.S. unable to care for its most vulnerable populations, then “mission accomplished” indeed.

 

The U.S. does not torture.

On October 5, 2007, the day after the New York Times reported that two secret Justice Department memos from 2005 authorized the use of extreme interrogation tactics against terror suspects, Bush said, “This government does not torture people.”

Graphic by Rafael Shimunov
Photo by lewishamdreamer / flickr

 

He had made similar assertions before, as he continued to do after, and as did other top officials in his Administration repeatedly. What happened at Abu Ghraib between 2002 and 2004, however, offers plainly irrefutable evidence that the U.S. did, in fact, torture. Bush later admitted that he had approved the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” as the condoned torture was euphemistically called, including the drowning technique called “waterboarding” – a preferred torture device of the Khmer Rouge and similar totalitarian regimes. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft and others attempted to justify waterboarding and other horrendous crimes, claiming they do not constitute torture, but legal and military experts have exposed this as a lie. The facts are plain: The United States tortured, government officials lied about it, and Obama Administration officials are providing impunity for torture. CCR has called on the Attorney General to appoint an independent prosecutor with a full mandate to investigate and prosecute those responsible for torture and other war crimes, as far up the chain of command as the facts may lead. Instead, the Department of Justice has opposed civil actions brought against U.S. officials by victims of the U.S. torture program and the families of those who died at Guantánamo. The Obama Administration has even opposed justice for Iraqi torture survivors suing private contractors. Ten years later since 9/11, the word “torture” has entered the American lexicon with alarming stealth and public acceptance. The current government’s apparent commitment to not hold anyone accountable for torture, combined with the ease and comfort with which former officials blithely defend its use, make this lie one of the most insidious fallacies of all since 9-11.

 

You're either with us or against us.

In an address to a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001, Bush said, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

Illustration by Kenny Cole - kennycole.com

 

Hillary Clinton said something similar a week earlier, in an interview with Dan Rather: “Every nation has to either be with us or against us.” Within the context of the so-called War on Terror, this is a particularly insidious piece of rhetoric as it threatens and seeks to silence constitutionally protected political speech and dissent. Further, its utterance shortly after 9/11 presaged the beginning of a long and steady evisceration of civil liberties, beginning with the USA PATRIOT Act, and continuing on to the targeting and criminalization of immigrants and Muslims, preventative detentions, spying on Americans, the detention and deportation of people without due process or access to counsel, and the active prevention of inquiry or investigation into the operations of the War on Terror. The “with us or against us” mentality is toxic to a democracy. It has infected the public discourse as well as the legislative arena, resulting in cruel and xenophobic policies and an atmosphere of “otherness,” making political dissent a crime worthy of the terrorism label, and alternative beliefs and countries of origin a pretext for hatred and criminalization.

 

Corporations are people.

In January, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations are tantamount to natural persons and that, therefore are entitled to equivalent constitutional rights free speech rights, including the unlimited right to spend on political campaigns.

Illustration by Kenny Cole - kennycole.com

 

That is to say, corporations have the right to use their considerable coffers to influence public opinion regarding the outcome of elections and policy debates. Interestingly, while corporations are granted the profound benefits of First, Fifth, Fourteenth Amendment protections, they decidedly do not bear the same, corresponding responsibilities to which these benefits must be attached. In September, 2010, nine months after the Supreme Court said that corporations are people too (a sentiment politicians and others have shamefully reiterated), a split panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that corporations cannot be held liable for international human rights violations under the Alien Tort Statute. Private contractors are not held accountable for killing civilians or other human rights violations. But if corporations are considered to be people, they must be people all the time. Like actual people, they must accept the responsibilities that accompany their rights and be held accountable for their actions when they violate human rights.

 

We are going to close Guantánamo.

On January 22, 2009, Obama signed an executive order requiring Guantánamo to be closed within one year.

Illustration by Kenny Cole - kennycole.com

 

A year and a half later, the notorious detention facility remains open. With 171 men still unfairly imprisoned there (89 of them having been cleared for release but still in detention), Guantánamo is nowhere close to shutting down — and opposition from Congress makes the possibility of closure even more remote. Moreover, in addition to breaking its promise to close the prison, the Obama administration has also extended some of the worst aspects of the Guantánamo system by continuing indefinite detentions without charge or trial, employing illegitimate military commissions to try some suspects, and blocking accountability for torture, both by refusing to conduct independent and thorough investigations and by attempting to prevent the courts from reviewing lawsuits brought by formerly detained men. This has now become Obama’s Guantánamo. Obama has also proliferated abusive elements of detention established by his predecessor, among which are isolating prison units called Communications Management Units (CMUs), Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) that lead to draconian conditions of confinement, and restrictions to constitutionally protected rights under the repressive material support statute. The Obama administration continues to hold people suspected of terrorism in conditions that seriously violate their constitutional and human rights — all in the name of the so-called “War on Terror.”

 

The men at Guantánamo are the worst of the worst.

In 2002, when the Bush Administration created Guantánamo, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously called the men being detained there the “worst of the worst.”

Illustration by Kenny Cole - kennycole.com

 

In fact, most of the 800 prisoners sent to Guantanamo in 2002 were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, fleeing the chaos of war when U.S. forces entered Afghanistan. They were boys as young as 12 and men as old as 93. Only one in 20 was actually captured on a battlefield by the U.S. military; the rest were captured by local civilians and authorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan and sold to the United States in exchange for substantial bounty. In early 2011, an unearthed memo from Rumsfeld, written in 2003, revealed that he knew the reality of the situation from the beginning: “We need to stop populating Guantanamo Bay with low-level enemy combatants,” he wrote. But by the time the memo was found, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and their cohort had already been discredited by Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a senior State Department official who had served in the Bush administration between 2002 and 2005. Wilkerson revealed that senior officials knew early on that most of the prisoners at Guantánamo were innocent but did not release them, as doing so might have harmed support for the government’s push for war in Iraq and the broader “global War on Terror,” and was “politically impossible.”

 

We don't spy on Americans.

On May 13, 2006, during a national radio show, Bush said, “The government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval. We are not trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.”

Illustration by Kenny Cole - kennycole.com

 

Five months earlier, however, the New York Times reported that Bush had authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop, without warrants, on the phone calls, emails, and other electronic communications of Americans and others inside the United States. In doing so, Bush violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which explicitly authorizes electronic surveillance for the purposes of collecting foreign intelligence only upon orders issued by federal judges on a special court. In 2010, a federal judge ruled that the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping was illegal, but the court has not yet ordered the government to destroy records of surveillance that it still retains from the illegal program. As a result, the civil liberties of many Americans — including attorneys at CCR who must be free of unlawful and unchecked surveillance in order to represent clients properly — remain under threat.

 

Nobody anticipated the breach of the levees.

On September 1, 2005, three days after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and surrounding areas, Bush said in an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.”

Illustrations by Kenny Cole - kennycole.com

While the Katrina events are not directly related to 9/11, the Bush administration’s role in this disaster, and its subsequent lies and cover-ups, marked a significant low point in the decline of our democracy and further weakened confidence in our government in the post-9/11 environment.

If he wasn’t lying, then he hadn’t been paying as much attention to his staff as a president should have. A couple days before Katrina struck, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) presented a report comparing the storm’s likely impact to that of a fictional storm that had been used more than a year earlier to simulate the effects of a major hurricane striking New Orleans; Katrina, FEMA said at the time, could be worse. Moreover, at 1:47 a.m. on the day the storm hit, a 41-page assessment of its likely impact was e-mailed to the White House’s situation room by the Department of Homeland Security. It predicted the breached levees, along with massive flooding and horrific losses of life and property. Katrina stands as one of the worst man-made disasters in the history of the United States.

In the days following Katrina, the New Orleans police department responded in an excessively violent manner solidifying the department’s reputation as one the most brutal, corrupt, and incompetent in the country. In May 2010, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice opened a pattern-and-practice investigation into the NOPD. After a 10-month investigation, DOJ released a report in March 2011, finding that the NOPD routinely “engages in patterns of misconduct that violate the Constitution and federal law. Further, conditions for many in New Orleans are unchanged, if not worse, than during the days following Katrina.

 

The immigration debate is not about race or ethnicity.

In October 2010, in a speech about immigration, Obama said, “It doesn’t matter where you come from; it doesn’t matter what you look like; it doesn’t matter what faith you worship….In embracing America, you can become American.”

Illustration by Kenny Cole - kennycole.com

 

Yet, the actions of his administration belie these statements. His Administration has insisted on deporting Haitians despite the threats to their lives that deportation represents; it has mandated an unprecedented level of involvement between local and state law enforcement agencies and federal immigration enforcement by requiring police agencies to check the fingerprints of all arrested individuals against federal civil immigration databases, destroying the trust between police and the communities they serve; it has done more than any other Administration to deport nonviolent individuals and tear apart families.

Through these actions, Obama has undone his promise to change the unfair immigration system he inherited from Bush. In fact, his administration has merely repackaged and expanded the Bush administration’s unjust policies.

 

Change we can believe in.

Obama campaigned on the “Change We Can Believe In” platform, and millions of Americans elected him president of the United States on the basis of the promises implicit in that slogan.

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While some of his policies have been a departure from those of Bush, too many have not. During his presidency he has failed to shut down Guantánamo and to hold the Bush administration accountable for its war crimes, including torture. The war in Afghanistan rages on with no sign of termination. Obama has perpetuated the practice of rendition to third countries for interrogation and indefinite detention, when monitoring and “diplomatic assurances” cannot prevent against torture. Obama has been equally intransigent concerning immigration. The Obama Administration has been unresponsive to the concerns of hundreds of organizations, including CCR, by insisting on deporting Haitians to post-earthquake Haiti during a cholera epidemic. With respect to his stance on Honduras, Obama acts much like his predecessor as he supports the post-coup regime in power, which has been responsible for serious human rights violations. If Obama has instituted significant change, we have yet to see evidence of it.

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