Hope and change. Two words almost synonymous with childhood. What great hope we had for change for the world’s children when Obama took office on January 20, 2009.
In 2008, then US president Bush’s government passed the Child Soldiers Prevention Act which prohibits financial, training or defense assistance to countries which use child soldiers. If this seems an odd step for the government that legalized torture, note that the US, along with only Somalia, a country in a state of anarchy, have failed to ratify the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child treaty. This is very in line with the US policy of replacing international law with its own laws. The advantage to this became obvious recently when Obama issued a waiver to the above law, allowing the US to carry on business as usual with 4 of the 6 countries accused of using child soldiers. According to Obama’s memo to his secretary of state, this was in “the national interest”. Therefore, morals and laws be damned. According to the
Pentagon NY Times the countries excused also played a “crucial role in global counter-terrorism efforts”. And as we’ve seen, war crimes are only illegal when committed by the other side. The countries not given a pass were Somalia, and Myanmar, which already receives no aid from the US.
According to a quote from the
Pentagon NY Times, Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman said, “Our intention is to work with them over the next year to try to solve this problem — or at least make significant progress on it — and reassess our posture towards them next year, depending on the progress they have made.” The NYT interprets this as “the four countries are effectively being given a year to change their ways.” The most liberal use of the word ‘effectively’ I’ve ever seen. Writer Brian Knowlton informs us that ‘the Congo’ (the DRC for those of us not writing for the NYT) “was exempted because United States-backed programs were helping its military become more professional and fight rights abuses”. That would be Blackwater and friends, the same people who fought all those abuses and helped the military become more professional in Iraq.
Speaking of US laws replacing international law, Omar Khadr was imprisoned in July of 2002, as a 15 year old child soldier. His trial was delayed throughout the Bush administration as they scrambled to find a law and a court or set up new ones so that they could try a child who had committed no crime. When Obama took office with his claims that the Guantanamo torture camp would be closed, we thought then 22 year old Khadr’s release was imminent. The first step Obama took was to order a 120 day adjournment of all trials. That means 120 bonus days without a trial, incarcerated in a torture camp. In actuality, the adjournment was much longer, and Khadr did not get his day in court until 21 months after Obama took office. That’s 21 bonus months, not counted as time served. In late October, 2010, Khadr was finally tried, a civilian in a US military kangaroo court being tried for an invented crime supposedly committed when he was a child, with rigged evidence and trial. The resulting eight year sentence sees him back in Guantanamo solitary confinement for at least a year, with his rights to legal counsel removed and the most extraordinary terms to his plea deal. Under Obama, the US has become the first country to try a child soldier since world war II, not to mention all of the other shameful aspects of this trial.
Given the state of the US at the moment, it is understandable that the populace has little understanding of the special status the rest of the world accords to child soldiers. This is a country where one in 28 of its own children have a parent imprisoned. Where corporal punishment is still used in schools. And where a May decision that children cannot serve life in prison without parole for non-homicide crimes is hotly contested. The prisons the children are serving life sentences in have been compared to US torture camps such as Guantanamo and the justice system which put them there is reminiscent of Khadr’s kangaroo court trial. And the societal conditions which they are raised in are similar to a civil war. These are the US children with citizen’s rights. Life is even harsher for the illegal immigrant children in the US, and that too, will probably be getting worse soon with pressure from public opinion.
I am still hearing from people who tell me this is not Obama’s fault, there is nothing he can do, he would like to do things very differently. But I have never heard him say so. I have not seen him step down from his position. I have not seen him attempt to protest. He, like Bush before him, is signing his name to his legacy. Like Bush, his legacy includes war crimes and crimes against children.