The entire discourse surrounding the Obama administration’s prisoner swap with the Taliban should be incredibly disheartening to anyone who cares about civil liberties and human rights. Republicans are talking about impeaching Obama for purportedly circumventing the law in releasing the Gitmo detainees. A common cry is that it’s an Nixonian “abuse of power” on the part of the Obama administration’s “imperial presidency.” What is so strange about this is that Obama isn’t being accused of acting like a dictator for doing what a dictator typically would do, in fact it’s just the opposite. If anything, releasing men who were held without charge from an offshore, military-run, concentration camp known for its torture and abuse of inmates is a slow step away from tyranny.
Barack Obama, much like most previous US presidents, has undoubtedly committed numerous abuses of power such as war crimes, infringements on civil liberties and violations of human rights. Specifically, there is the drone program’s killing of thousands of Yemenis and Pakistanis without due process, the signing of the NDAA with its provisions legalizing the indefinite detention of US citizens, the NSA’s global surveillance operations, the FBI’s seemingly constant harassment of Muslim–Americans and Palestinian solidarity activists, the unprecedented mass detentions and deportations of immigrants (and of US citizens by “mistake”) and–of course–the maintenance of the notorious Guantanamo Bay concentration camp despite its notoriety and explicit promises from Obama to close it. Since most of these atrocities are done in the name of national security and counter-terrorism, they enjoy widespread bipartisan approval despite violating numerous values Americans pride themselves on supposedly holding dear. Very few, if any, voices have suggested impeaching Obama over any of the above. The drone program may have been mentioned a couple of times, but only in relation to the authority to assassinate US citizens.
So now we are faced with a media frenzy surrounding Obama’s latest alleged “crime”: releasing five detainees from Gitmo in exchange for a US soldier. More than 2,000 US soldiers have died from Obama’s escalated war in Afghanistan. The number of Afghan civilians killed directly and indirectly from US military operations likely dwarfs this. There are no calls for impeachment over this of course. The real atrocity is bringing back one US soldier alive and freeing five men from a torture chamber. There are no words to adequately describe how absurd the focus of our national conversation is these days. That’s what happens when an entire society becomes a willing captive of the cult of national security.