With Barack Obama’s second term coming to an end, Edward Snowden’s supporters have been campaigning for a presidential pardon. Political figures and institutions from Bernie Sanders to the New York Times and Guardian newspapers have joined the chorus calling for Snowden’s freedom.
A notable exception is the Washington Post, which despite winning a Pulitzer Prize for journalism after publishing Snowden’s leaks, has scandalously thrown its source under a bus, calling for the whistleblower to be jailed.
Of course, we have to hope the campaign for a pardon succeeds. By rights, though, it is not Snowden but Obama who should be asking for a pardon.
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Obama promised “hope” when he stormed to power in 2008. Instead, his presidency delivered war crimes and a continued erosion of civil liberties.
Take the National Security Agency. Under Obama it aggressively expanded its surveillance apparatus and, with it, mechanisms to encourage conformity and stifle dissent. Its domestic spying program sought to intercept and store virtually all digital communications on the internet, eliminating the right to privacy in the digital age.
Hand in glove with a surveillance state whose reach extends beyond any nightmare conjured up by George Orwell has been the vicious US war machine. Chelsea Manning in 2010 leaked the “collateral murder” video showing soldiers in a US Apache helicopter gleefully shooting Reuters journalists in Baghdad as well as those who came to their aid.
That massacre took place in 2007, during the dark days of the Bush administration. But Obama’s presidency has also been littered with bloodied victims of the “war on terror.”
As part of the “Afghan War Diaries,” Manning leaked evidence of another massacre by US troops in Granai in 2009, when up to 147 Afghan civilians, mostly children, were killed when the US bombed their village.
Last year, the trauma hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières in Kunduz, Afghanistan, was destroyed by US bombs despite its coordinates being known to the occupying power. At least 42 patients and staff were killed.
But it is not Obama, the commander in chief, who is locked behind bars. Instead, it is Chelsea Manning, who is serving a 35-year sentence after being court-martialled and convicted in 2013. She now potentially faces another bout of solitary confinement as punishment for attempted suicide earlier this year.
The ruthless treatment of Manning is no aberration. Indeed, more whistle blowers have been prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act during the Obama era than under all previous presidents combined.
This winner of the Nobel Peace Prize has also taken the program of extrajudicial assassinations to a new level. The drone wars allow the US to murder people without charge, trial or right of appeal.
But it is not primarily those on target lists who are blown apart. Every year, Obama has pulled the trigger on hundreds of civilians, killed as collateral or as a result of false intelligence in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and beyond. Millions more have to live with the constant terror of the US drones circling above.
Then there is Guantánamo Bay. Obama made closing this torture camp a central promise of his election campaign in 2008. Instead, at least 61 people remain imprisoned. None have been convicted of terrorism offences.
The oppressed at home fare no better. Obama has earned the dishonourable title of “deporter in chief” from immigrant rights activists for ramping up forced removals. Potentially as many as 3.2 million undocumented migrants will have been deported by the end of his presidency, a jump from the 2 million deported under Bush.
The killing spree of Black men and women by US police continues unabated. So does the mass incarceration of Blacks. Economically, the situation is also bleak, with the wage gap between white and Black workers worse than it was in 1979.
This is unsurprising. For all his populist rhetoric, Obama continued the Bush era bailout of Wall Street. Trillions in public money were funnelled into the major banks and financial firms, money that could have been used to lift living standards.
There’s a reason Obama was able to raise more campaign funds from Wall Street than his Republican rival, John McCain, in 2008. Donors had no doubts that Obama would be their man — that he would rule every bit as much in the interests of US corporate and imperial power as the Bush administration. Only he’d be more effective at keeping a lid on the kinds of social struggles that are needed to win a fairer society.
This is Obama’s greatest achievement. He has been able to do all of this while maintaining his popularity. His approval rating currently stands at 58 percent. This is why there will be no clamour to indict Obama for his many crimes. But he is guilty all the same.