Wheeler: Obama's Folly

by Katie Wheeler | 11/12/12 11:00pm

This past Tuesday, Barack Obama was reelected as the president of the United States. His triumph was met with great enthusiasm on college campuses across the nation. My Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds were quickly flooded with celebratory statuses as Sarner Underground "resonated with chants of four more years'" ("Barack Obama reelected as president of the United States," Nov. 7). Yet as my closest friends let out squeals of excitement as we watched news source after news source call the election, I found myself unable to share their enthusiasm. I wasn't so proud to call this man my president.

Many Dartmouth students are especially supportive of Obama's purported focus on social issues. Indeed, the College Democrats enumerated several social issues on their list of "reasons why we support President Obama" in chalk on Mass Row. They noted Obama's advocacy of "marriage equality," "immigration reform" and "women's rights." I do not deny that these are very important social issues, and I most definitely appreciate the importance that Obama places on them. Yet the portrayal of Obama as a generous humanitarian is a false one: He has repeatedly ignored basic human rights that our democracy prides itself on supporting.

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S Constitution stresses the importance of the right to "a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury." Obama very much identified with this notion in his initial advocacy for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, a naval base infamous for keeping suspected terrorists in secret custody without trial for long periods of time and for the use of coercive interrogation methods. Obama repeatedly expressed his desire to close the camp at Guantanamo and, as The New York Times reported, expressed his preference for "prosecutions in federal courts or, perhaps, in the existing military justice system, which provides legal guarantees similar to those of American civilian courts."

Yet Obama seems to have forgotten about his commitment to the Sixth Amendment. He has failed to shut down the camp at Guantanamo, and even worse, he has displayed hypocrisy in his employment of drone warfare as the centerpiece of his counterterrorism policy. Drone strikes the targeted killings of terrorism suspects completely deny suspects the right to a fair trial and condemn them to an immediate, unjust death. Obama has been very enthusiastic about drone warfare, even though the manner in which it is waged blatantly violates basic human rights, and he has "insisted on approving every new name on an expanding kill list,' poring over terrorist suspects' biographies," according to The Times.

Drone warfare also poses a significant danger to completely innocent civilians. A recent study by Columbia Law School's Human Rights Institute has found that the number of Pakistani civilians killed in drone strikes is "significantly and consistently underestimated" by tracking organizations. The Obama administration has refused to comment on said findings, citing secrecy as its primary concern. Yet it is extremely alarming to hear that Cameron Munter, Obama's ambassador to Pakistan, has complained that "he didn't realize his main job was to kill people," according to one of his colleagues.

In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama stated, "I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight." Is the denial of the importance of the Sixth Amendment and the reckless killing of innocent civilians the standard to which Obama is referring? For that is the standard to which he holds our country in its current conduct of war.

In reflecting on the final presidential debate on American foreign policy, Don Casler lamented that, "It is unfortunate and worrisome that the current centerpiece of American counterterrorism policy received so little attention from the candidates and moderator" ("The Dangers of Drones," Oct. 29). It is also worrisome that Dartmouth students, self-proclaimed upholders of human rights, have neglected to criticize Obama for his blatant violations of said rights. It is easy to get swept up in pride for a candidate who has some very commendable qualities, and yet we must remain critical of his presidency and hold him to the standards of human rights that we claim to espouse.