If We’re Eliminating Symbols Used for Recruitment, Why Not Drones?

Here’s what Obama said in response to a question of whether and why he was going to close Gitmo.

Q But it makes me wonder where you are, sir, at about the two-year mark on Guantanamo, when closing it was one of your initial priorities, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: Obviously, we haven’t gotten it closed. And let me just step back and explain that the reason for wanting to close Guantanamo was because my number one priority is keeping the American people safe. One of the most powerful tools we have to keep the American people safe is not providing al Qaeda and jihadists recruiting tools for fledgling terrorist.

And Guantanamo is probably the number one recruitment tool that is used by these jihadist organizations. And we see it in the websites that they put up. We see it in the messages that they’re delivering.

And so my belief is that we can keep the American people safe, go after those who would engage in terrorism. And my administration has been as aggressive in going after al Qaeda as any administration out there. And we’ve seen progress, as I noted during the Afghan review.

Every intelligence report that we’re seeing shows that al Qaeda is more hunkered down than they have been since the original invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, that they have reduced financing capacity, reduced operational capacity. It is much more difficult for their top folks to communicate, and a lot of those top folks can’t communicate because they’re underground now.

But it is important for us, even as we’re going aggressively after the bad guys, to make sure that we’re also living up to our values and our ideals and our principles. And that’s what closing Guantanamo is about — not because I think that the people who are running Guantanamo are doing a bad job, but rather because it’s become a symbol. [my emphasis]

Now, I actually think this is not a bad answer. I’d love to see Obama go out and repeatedly talk about how important it is for our national security to close Gitmo. I’d love for Obama to criticize those who are preventing the closure of Gitmo for making our country less safe. And I don’t doubt that Gitmo is still a dangerous symbol.

But I wonder whether it is the symbol anymore. I question whether Gitmo is the most potent recruiting story for al Qaeda.

After all, almost everyone of the people who have recently attacked us–people like Faisal Shahzad–have cited not Gitmo, but our drone strikes in Pakistan, our attacks that have killed so many civilians, as the reason they’ve attacked the United States.

Now maybe it’s the case that the US claims to oppose torture, but doesn’t claim to oppose collateral damage in its pursuit of empire. Maybe dropping drones in Pakistan and elsewhere doesn’t–as Gitmo does–violate “our values and our ideals and our principles.”

And maybe the whole question is moot, since Obama’s not going to close Gitmo anytime soon anyway.

But if Obama thinks it important to eliminate the symbols al Qaeda uses to recruit people to attack America, shouldn’t he be considering ending drone strikes, too?

26 replies
  1. newz4all says:

    just saw Glenn Greenwald over at his blog at salon.com refer to those drones as Nobel Peace Prize drones ( i do not know how to do the TM thing but that should be after Prize ) and i had to laff.

    anyways, a survivor of a drone attack in Pakistan is suing the usa and cia for blowing his legs off ( such a big baby – there is no whining in drone attacks !! )


    There have been 109 drone attacks this year, about 90 percent of them in North Waziristan, where Wazir lives.

    • sona says:

      khalid el masri was not able to sue the cia/jsoc/US govt for his ordeal through the german courts and he was disallowed to pursue the matter through the US system – isn’t this ironic that the pakistan judiciary allows its citizen a right that democratic germany denied its and this is a country that has been beset by military coups and authoritarian dictatorships in its 60 year history?

  2. WhatConstitution says:

    Any reason for closing Gitmo is better than keeping it open. But sidestepping the idea that Gitmo is based on concepts anathema to the Rule of Law in favor of advocating closure because keeping it open “helps the Terraists” is not particularly encouraging.

    Obams’s primary political accomplishment during his Presidency thus far appears to be that he has managed to remove Social Security from its position as the “third rail of American politics” and has placed the Rule of Law squarely in that position. It’s OK now to ignore torture, wiretapping, assassinations of US citizens, aggressive war under false pretenses — and it’s a mainstream presumption that nobody will do, or even say, anything about it — but it’s now OK to ponder what parts of the Social Security system need to be chopped to pay for such stuff.

    No, it isn’t “progress” that the President of the United States is now revising his own history to try to fit even his prior commitment to closing Gitmo into a “we fear Terra” meme.

  3. rosalind says:

    ot: score one for transparency – “Toyota sudden-acceleration settlement with family was worth $10 million”

    Toyota’s settlement, in which it did not admit or deny liability, was disclosed in September, but the amount was not revealed until a judge rejected efforts to keep it secret…The effort to keep the terms secret was opposed by the Lexus dealer that loaned the ill-fated car to Saylor, as well as by The Times, other media and the Orange County district attorney.

    (emphasis mine)

  4. fatster says:

    I’m sure the DOJ will be right on this rightaway. Right?

    Giuliani, Tom Ridge Go To Paris To Support Iranian Marxist Terrorist Group


  5. newz4all says:

    i blew boogs when i read the following Wikileaks leaked us embassy cable in the Guardian UK ( note i did not read about this in the koff new york times koff ) about Halliburton – Halliburton!! – whining and bitching and moaning about the high cost of hiring dirty filthy mercenary scum for protection in Iraq !!! gawd, you just cannot make this stuff up if you tried all the day long. Halliburton!! the Irony Meter just pegged at Overload. Halliburton !! LOL

    Iraq security firms operate ‘mafia’ to inflate prices

    Halliburton executive’s comments reveal tensions between security firms, oil companies and the Baghdad government


  6. Mary says:

    Obama: Because of the adverse symbolism, we are going to rename GITMO after one of its camps, after first holding a symbolic Closing Of The Gate. My advisers, John Brennan and James Clapper (when he’s awake) have advised me that when we reopen the newly named Strawberry Fields Forever lawfree detention center it will garner huge support throughout the Muslim world. There’s nothing that rocks Zawahiri like a Beatles tune.

    Brennan tells me this has enthusiastic support within the intelligence community. After starting an unprovoked war that leave millions as refugees, orphans, widowed, homeless, limbless or childless; setting up a massive felonius surveillance program and funding extensive psychological conditioning so that our agents can all foster their inner Mengele, we have been stunned at the relative success our agents have encountered by merely setting up a website advertising a Magical Mystery Tour offering Strawberry Fields Forever as the end destination in Arabic, Pashtun and Urdu.

    And by success, we mean that we have not yet tricked any actual members of al-Qaeda into being flown off, blindfolded, to Cuba – but at least we can prosecute all the innocent people who have signed up without having to issue anymore torture memos. I mean, if everyone knows that listening to Strawberry Fields Forever once is an easy listening experiment, it’s not like anyone can question the good faith behind shipping someone out of country to a place CALLED Strawberry Fields Forever and once there, stripping, hooding and chaining them to the wall in a stress position in a dark room for 72 days while playing the tune on a loop. Right?

    Whatever. You know, if he was so concerned about the symbolism thingy, seems like he’d be doing something about Siddiqui. She’s been specifically mentioned as a motivating source for more than one attack an is the star of the latest al-Qaeda call to arms. Or maybe do something wild and crazy – like apologize to Maher Arar? Or hire Khalid el-Masri a real psychologist to help him deal with his PTSD from American kidnap and torture.

    But I guess the real optic that he wants to keep America save is setting up a Forever Detention Center to be used by any President, any time, any reason.

    Any Result.

    Because we know if someone really wanted to hurt al-Qaeda recruiting, all they have to do is the right thing. Not closing GITMO – but prosecuting human trafficking, torture and kidnap and making amends with victims and desclassifying information and carrying out open prosecutions for alleged terrorists.

    Someone sold Obama on the Muslim detainees around the world being the ball in a shell game and oversold him on his prestidigitation prowess.

  7. Arbusto says:

    [S}houldn’t he be considering ending drone strikes, too?

    Why isn’t Obama LLC ending drone strikes? Maybe Boeing, Lockheed Marting and Northop Grumman want the money these drones bring in. Plus contractors such as Xe Services LLC like its support contracts not to forget drones keep the CIA happy.

  8. BoxTurtle says:

    I note he talks big about the symbolism of closing gitmo. I also note that he’s no closer to closing it than he was when he was a senator. I suppose holding a supermajority in the Senate, a large majority in the House, and the presidency really doesn’t convey all that much actual power.

    Boxturtle (If we put some anti-abortion terrorists in Gitmo, I’d bet it would get closed right quick)

  9. OldFatGuy says:

    Literally laughing out loud that GITMO is a bigger recruiting tool than dropping drones on top their homes.

    AQ Recruiter: “Come fight the infidel with us, they just killed every member of your familily with a drone.”

    Recruit: “Nah, not interested. Sorry.”

    AQ Recruiter: “But the USA still has GITMO open!”

    Recruit: “SIGN ME UP, those damn infidels!”

    Yeah, that’s plausible.

  10. Larue says:

    To Mz. Wheeler:


    Nicely played, ma’am.

    Blessings and Happy Holidays to you and yours.

    Thanks for all you do.

  11. MarkH says:

    There isn’t the same moral outrage about drones that there was (!) about Gitmo because war is war, but torture (which Bush ordered) is immoral.

    Ending both torture (done) and warring is preferable, but allowing al Qaeda (or other militant jihadist groups) to attack Americans would also be immoral and unacceptable, so the warring goes on for now.

    • Mary says:

      There are al-Qaeda sympathizer in London, but I notice we’re not bombing a lot of British villages.

      When was torture “done”? The Appendix to the Army field manual, the activities of assassiation squads in 12 countries, the continued concentrated population camp detention with surveillance, hooding, isolation, sleep deprivation etc – that all still goes on. Bagram is more black-sited now than it was during the Bush regime and all torturers, CIA, contract and military have now received their flat out reassurance that whatever they do, whenever they do it, Obama and Panetta and Holder are really well trained at looking the other way.

      In any event, a lot of the drone strikes aren’t at militant jihadists, are they? They just take people out based on their great intel. YOu know – that intel about training camps in Iraq. That intel they got from the superkewl Curveball. That intel they got from the mole who blew himself and CIA agents and their contract security up on one of their congratulatory meetings.

      Yeah – not blowing up the people the guy from Jordan, who you’ve tortured and threatend and coerced into quasi-submission, tells you to would b “immoral and unacceptable.”

      Sorry, but I don’t agree.

    • bmaz says:

      Well, Mr. Obama has not “ended” torture; he has discontinued some forms of it and regularized other forms while protecting the ability to use all forms.

      • MadDog says:

        As well as established an official precedent for the future that Presidents and Vice Presidents (as well as many other Executive branch officials) are above the law and can violate any of our laws at will without fear of any consequences to themselves.

        If as Obama says “We don’t intend to look backwards, but forward.”, then he should look forward to more Executive branch criminality, all because he decided to join the Repugs in their quest to label any act of upholding the law in regard to Executive branch crimes as “criminalizing policy”. The end result is of course “politicizing criminality”.

  12. miketaylor says:

    Not a hard mystery to solve.
    Obama can’t say that he wants to stop the drone strikes, because he has unilateral power (as commander-in-chief) to stop them (if he wants). But he can make the case that he doesn’t have unilateral power to close Gitmo (although being commander-in-chief of the armed forces should give him that power). That lack of unilateral power to close Gitmo allows him say he’s against Gitmo and wants to close it down. That’s why he can support drone strikes and be against Gitmo at the same time.

  13. TomThumb says:

    And when I confront those sleepers with pictures of the dead or the grieving, they call me morbid. For me, seeing has become a ‘double-bind’ from which there is no escape.

  14. jimp1947 says:

    The drones are such a wonderful way to wage war: no American life is at risk and you don’t have to be confronted by the human consequences of blowing the shit out of people (including innocent children). We are rapidly approaching the inception of SkyNet, after which there is no turning back.

  15. bluevistas says:

    The weapons manufacturers and war research folks account for the primary exports of the US. They have exceptionally powerful lobbies, and Obama, as a New Democrat, believes in a “robust foreign policy”. That equals the occupation/invasion/overhead bombing impetus.

    We all know that the primary fuel for any “insurgency” is US imperialism, a belief that we can go anywhere and take what we want. End that, and we might have a chance at getting somewhere with “those who hate us”(Bush, might as well also be Obama–he buys the same bs).

  16. donbacon says:

    Forget symbols.

    On June 12, 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have a constitutional right to challenge their detentions in federal court and that congressional legislation has failed to provide a reasonable substitute for such a hearing.

    So do we have a nation of laws, or what?

  17. timbo says:

    Hey now–don’t want reality impinging on the accepted wisdom in Washington! Let’s just keep the whole theory on how this is really working out in reality to ourselves…yeah, like that oughta work out real good.

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