by James Bovard
The White House kept one seat vacant in the gallery during Obama’s State of the Union Address in January “for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice.” This was part of Obama’s crusade for new federal restrictions on firearms ownership.
But shouldn’t there have also been chairs left empty to memorialize other casualties — including those “who no longer have a voice” thanks to Obama administration policies?
While trumpeting the private death toll from guns, Obama ignored the 986 people killed by police in the United States last year according to the Washington Post’s database. Many police departments are aggressive — if not reckless — in part because the Justice Department always provides cover for them at the Supreme Court. Obama’s “Justice Department has supported police officers every time an excessive-force case has made its way” to a Supreme Court hearing, the New York Times noted last year. Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently said that federally funded police agencies should not even be required to report the number of civilians they kill. The FBI was required by a 1994 law to track such killings but largely ignored its legal obligation. The Obama administration has provided more than $18 billion in aid and equipment to local and state law-enforcement agencies since 2009. Yet the president presumably feels no responsibility when recipients of federal aid unjustifiably gun down innocent Americans.
To add a Euro flair to the evening, Obama could have draped tri-color flags on a few empty seats to commemorate the 42 medical staff, patients, and others slain last October 3 when an American AC-130 gunship blasted a French Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The U.S. military revised its story several times but admitted in November that the carnage was the result of “avoidable … human error.” Regrettably, that bureaucratic phrase lacks the power to resurrect victims. The French medical-assistance group has demanded an independent investigation of the U.S. attack on its facility but the Obama administration has stonewalled.
No plans were announced to designate a seat for Brian Terry, the U.S. Border Patrol agent killed in 2010. Guns found at the scene of Terry’s killing were linked to the Fast and Furious gunwalking operation masterminded by the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agency. At least 150 Mexicans were also killed by guns illegally sent south of the border with ATF approval. The House of Representatives voted to hold Eric Holder, the attorney general at the time, in contempt for refusing to disclose Fast and Furious details, but Obama did not dwell on that topic in his State of the Union address. But it would be difficult to find a more brazen example of brazen misuse of firearms than that ATF debacle.
Speaking of the Border Patrol, Obama could have dignified his speech by at least recognizing their scores of victims. The Los Angeles Times reported last year that the Border Patrol’s internal investigations cleared all agents involved in 67 shootings, including those which left 19 people dead. Cases included those of a 15-year-old Mexican boy who was killed for throwing rocks and a 17-year-old Mexican who threw rocks from the Mexican side of the border near Nogales, Arizona. The L.A. Times noted, “Unlike domestic police departments, the 21,000-member Border Patrol released almost no public information about shootings, including the outcome of its investigations, until recently.” An independent analysis by a group of law-enforcement experts “found a pattern of agents firing in frustration at people throwing rocks from across the border, as well as agents deliberately stepping in front of cars apparently to justify shooting at the drivers.” But since those killings did not involve privately owned firearms, Obama ignored them.
On a more festive note, Obama could have saved seats for a wedding party. Twelve Yemenis who were celebrating nuptials on Dec. 12, 2013, would not have been able to attend Obama’s speech because they were blown to bits by a U.S. drone strike. The Yemeni government — which is heavily bankrolled by the U.S. government — paid more than a million dollars in compensation to the survivors of innocent civilians killed and wounded in the attack. Obama could have also mentioned how his administration is massively supporting the war that Saudi Arabia launched on Yemen; the Saudis have been bombing with little or no regard for the death toll of innocents.
Four seats could have been left vacant for the Americans killed in the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya — U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. But any such recognition would rankle the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, who has worked tirelessly to sweep those corpses under the rug. It would also be appropriate to include a hat tip to the thousands of Libyans who have been killed in the civil war unleashed after the Obama administration bombed Libya to topple its ruler, Muammar Qaddafi. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of State during the U.S. bombing campaign, declared that the Obama intervention in Libya was “smart power at its best.” Hopefully the Obama-Clinton Libyan debacle will receive more attention as voters begin paying more attention to Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Obama loves to salute promising young Americans, but 16-year-old Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki did not get a chance to attend. That Denver-born boy was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Oct. 14, 2011, while he was in Yemen looking for his father (who was killed in a CIA drone strike two weeks earlier). If that kid’s name had been Bob, he might still be around to cheer Obama’s anti-gun crusade. When Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary and senior advisor to Obama’s reelection campaign, was asked in 2012 about “an American citizen that is being targeted without due process, without trial,” Gibbs replied, “I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well-being of their children.”
Scores of innocent women and children have been killed by Obama’s drone strikes in the past seven years. The administration has whitewashed the killings of men by presuming that any “military age male” (from the late teens to middle age) killed in a missile strike was automatically guilty — even though there was usually no evidence linking the victims to terrorist groups. But the feds have managed to keep almost all the information on drone carnage bottled up — except for occasional leaks by insiders appalled at the pointless killing.
An indeterminate number of chairs could have been left vacant for the Syrian and Iraqi women, children and men who have been beheaded, maimed, or otherwise slaughtered as a result of the massive arms shipments the Obama administration provided to Syrian “moderate” rebel groups who defected to al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra or other terrorist groups, including the Islamic State. As Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., lamented in late 2014, “ISIS is armed to the teeth — with American equipment.” Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) objected, “So, the guy who sells guns from our government to radical Syrian rebels lectures law-abiding Americans about selling guns to each other.” Unfortunately, the American media have largely given Obama a free pass on the atrocities committed as a result of the U.S. intervention in Syria.
Huffing and puffing
So what did Obama talk about instead?
- Taking a dig at some of the Republican presidential candidates, Obama scoffed at “calls to carpet-bomb civilians.” Apparently, it is far wiser to blow up wedding parties instead.
- Obama boasted that his programs are helping African nations “feed their people.” But he neglected to mention that the largest U.S. food aid program, Food for Peace, is notorious for dumping food and bankrupting foreign farmers in some of the world’s poorest nations, such as Haiti.
- Obama lamented that he had not been a great unifier in his seven years in the Oval Office. He said that a president with the “gifts of Lincoln … might have better bridged the divide” between Americans. So burning down Atlanta would help? Massachusetts abolitionist Lysander Spooner offered the best refutation to Abraham Lincoln’s claim that the Civil War was fought to preserve a “government by consent.” Spooner observed, “The only idea … ever manifested as to what is a government of consent, is this — that it is one to which everybody must consent, or be shot.”
- Obama evoked “our commitment to the Rule of Law.” It was a bad sign that no one in the House chamber guffawed in response. Obama has ruled as an elective dictator for most of his presidency. But as long as he continues to perform the rituals of the American republic — such as the State of the Union address — he is still received with as much respect and deference as Roman emperors speaking to the gutless Roman senate.
- Obama warned of people who “use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals.” I tried not to take this charge personally, because I enjoy blogging and sending out Twitter messages. How does the Obama administration define “poisoning” minds? Federally funded Fusion Centers have attached the “extremist” tag to gun-rights activists, anti-immigration zealots, and individuals and groups “rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority” — even though many of the Founding Fathers shared the same creed. A 2012 Homeland Security report went even further, stating that being “reverent of individual liberty” is one of the traits of potential right-wing terrorists.
There were not enough seats in the entire House to designate the casualties of the Obama administration at home and abroad. Presidents have the prerogative to huff and puff in State of the Union addresses. But Obama’s righteous indignation would have more credibility if his litany had fewer glaring omissions.
This article was originally posted in the April 2016 edition of Future of Freedom.
On Twitter @jimbovard