Oct 12, 2020

Obama’s Hypocritical Legacy on Counterterrorism

People from across the world are familiar with Barack Obama, who served as the 44th president from 2008-2016 and was the first black male to be elected as president. Obama made history in enacting several social progressive policies.

He also dramatically changed the scope of the executive branch, yet, even so, not many people have become aware of the controversial activity Obama took part in as a part of his battle to combat war and terrorism.

Soon after his inauguration in 2009, Obama made a promise to put an end to the CIA’s torture of potential terrorists who were held in the Guantanamo Bay prison. Two days after he assumed office, he signed an executive order to close the prison by 2010.

However, throughout his 8 years of presidency, he never managed to shut it down, although he dramatically reduced the number of prisoners there. A direct contradiction to his promise of shutting down the prison came in 2011 when he reversed the decision to hold trials for the 9/11 attackers in Manhattan and instead ordered that they be held in the Guantanamo Bay prison rather than holding the full criminal trial in New York.

The supporters of Obama maintained that he was correct in initially suggesting a proper prosecution in a federal trial because the previous Bush administration was known for holding suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay rather than giving them the chance for a trial. However, this decision drew quite a lot of backlash from the left-wing as they found it a hypocritical decision.

The Obama administration also took part in major airstrikes across the Middle East, in an effort against terrorism. They conducted several strikes in the years between 2009-2015, targeting Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, and Somalia and killing between 64-116 innocent civilians.

Amnesty International states that according to international human rights laws, lethal force can be used in areas outside of countries that the United States is involved in an armed conflict if it is only used “when strictly unavoidable to protect life, no less harmful means such as capture or non-lethal incapacitation was possible, and the use of force was proportionate in the prevailing circumstances”.

Due to the fact that the United States is in armed conflict with Afghanistan, the strikes would be justified there, but not in places such as Yemen and Pakistan, where a large number of strikes were conducted, with civilians as victims. The laws of war similarly state that airstrikes and other attacks should not occur if it is unable to be distinguished if the people who may be potentially killed are actual combatants or civilians.

Obama’s Administration made use of a war tactic that is commonly known as a “double-tap” strike. In double-tap strikes, two attacks are launched. The first is the initial drone strike targeted at the potential combatants, but the second attack is directed at first responders because the logic behind the second attack is that the people who choose to merge at the scene of the attack may be guilty themselves.

This flawed system highlights the harsh reality that many times, the assumptions regarding who the targets actually are is wrong and results in the deaths of civilians who had no idea what was going on and may have been completely innocent in the first place.

While Barack Obama certainly created a large amount of successful legislation that he passed during his 8 years in office, he must also be held accountable for his hypocritical and pious actions that achieved the opposite of what he and his administration claimed to be fighting for.

While no politician is perfect, it is clear that citizens must not let social and economic success on the homefront overshadow the damages decisions that Obama took part in in the Middle East and Guantanamo Bay.

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