President-Elect Donald Trump has nominated Retired Marine Gen. John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This is the third retired general Trump has appointed or nominated. In reacting to his nomination Kelly stated:
“The American people voted in this election to stop terrorism, take back sovereignty at our borders, and put a stop to political correctness that for too long has dictated our approach to national security.”
This comment is particularly disturbing. Given that the United States, in the name of national security, has subjected Muslims to widespread surveillance, infiltrated nonviolent political movements, carried out a policy of overseas extrajudicial executions (i.e. drone strikes), and continued to hold individuals without charge at Guantánamo Bay it is hard to imagine what “political correctness” Kelly is referring to.
The reference to political correctness “is just a really worrying kind of dog whistle to the alt-right, who wants more torture and more profiling,” CCR’s Baher Azmy told Democracy Now. “But torture is not problematic because it’s politically incorrect; it’s problematic because it’s illegal and immoral.”
It isn’t just that Kelly has made troubling statements, as the former commander of SOUTHCOM, he was the general who oversaw the US military base in Guantánamo Bay. Additionally, supervising the US military presence in the Latin America means Kelly is implicated in a number of serious deprivations of human rights.
Kelly was not merely the military commander under whose jurisdiction the prison camp fell, according to an article published by Reuters, Kelly actively sought to undermine Obama’s efforts to close the camp. Kelly is also on record as maintaining that everyone detained at Guantánamo was a “bad boy,” as well as stating that the only people deprived of human rights at Guantánamo were the guards.
At SOUTHCOM, Kelly played a major role in the US War on Drugs. While most of the world is coming to terms with its futility, Kelly remains a gung ho true believer. Kelly is on record as being adamantly opposed to legalization or decriminalization of marijuana. When paired with Trump’s pick for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who is also an ardent drug warrior, this creates a potentially frightening future for states that have decriminalized or legalized marijuana, or those who want to end the drug war and replace it with a science based, public health approach that respects civil liberties.
As head of SOUTHCOM, Kelly’s role in the drug war was from a highly militaristic perspective. While this does not necessarily mean such an approach at DHS, he has praised Plan Colombia, in a 2015 Miami Herald op-ed, touting it as a model for combating ISIS. According, to Kelly the lesson from Colombia was that they key to defeating armed groups, was a “a strong, accountable government that protects its citizens, upholds the rule of law, combats corruption and expands economic opportunity for all […]” Additionally, Colombia taught us about the importance of “tolerance, inclusion, and democratic values[…]”
Certainly, we all like tolerance and democratic values, but US military aid under Plan Colombia was continuously opposed by human rights organizations, like Amnesty International, due to the rampant human rights abuses the Colombian government engaged in, including supporting death squads. While the military assistance was meant to target drug trafficking and the armed group FARC, violence was directed at civil society. Colombia is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a trade unionist and continues to lead the world in trade unionist murdered. The number of extrajudicial executions in general was deemed “one of the worst episodes of mass atrocity in the Western Hemisphere in recent years” by Human Rights Watch.
There is nothing to praise about US military aid to Colombia. That Kelly was willing to not only white wash one of the worst human rights atrocities in our hemisphere in recent memory, but to tout it as an example of of what to do is concerning. Plan Colombia was based on the flawed premise that there could be a military solution to the War on Drugs. After 9/11, Plan Colombia was rebranded as being part of the War on Terror–the labeling of the Colombian guerrilla group “narco terrorists” helped bridge together two US obsessions. Neither terrorism nor drugs have a military solution, at least not within the domestic context of “Homeland Security.”
That Kelly thinks that drugs, as well as, immigrants are an “existential” threat or are a national security concern makes his support for Plan Colombia alarming. We have already witnessed an unprecedented militarization of the US border, and the militarization of police, first in the name of fighting drugs, then in the name of fighting terrorism, whoever the next head of DHS is needs to recognize the folly of domestic militarization.
An individual who turned a blind eye to murder of civil society activists has no business heading an agency with a troubling record of spying on civil society groups. While it is important to not be hyperbolic–the US is not Colombia, the DHS is not going to employ death squads–whoever heads an agency like DHS must be sensitive to the threats such agencies, if not carefully governed, can pose to civil society. Kelly has shown that he lacks the necessary sensitivities.
It is not just at the border we have witnessed militarization, local police responses to political protest in Ferguson and Standing Rock have heavily militarized. Given Kelly’s background, worldview, and the growing trend of domestic militarization his appointment to head DHS is deeply troubling.
Closely tied to Kelly’s views on his drugs, his anti-immigrant positions. In one interview, he cited both drugs and undocumented immigrants as an “existential threat” to the United States. As head of DHS, Kelly would be in charge of US immigration enforcement, the US border and thus would have the ability to implement a crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Given that this is exactly what Trump proposed he would do during the campaign, this is deeply unsettling.
DHS is responsible for a number of areas where civil liberties are concerned. It oversees immigration enforcement, as well as, the US response to the border. DHS has been implicated in the monitoring of domestic social movements. It is therefore highly inappropriate that Kelly, given his background of human rights abuses and anti-civil libertarian views, would be named to head the DHS.
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