President Barack Obama has selected Jeh Johnson to lead the Department of Homeland Security this week. Johnson, who accepted Obama’s nomination, is considered a favorable choice by some liberals due to his purported desire to end the war on terror and having played a pivotal legal role in overturning the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. That said, others are worried by details that have them question what kind of DHS head Johnson will be. Here are five of the troublesome factors:
As the United Nations begins to take a firmer stance against U.S. drone attacks (they believe it may violate international humanitarian law and that the strikes are killing more innocent civilians than the United States acknowledges), the new homeland security nominee takes a contrary position. As Johnson posits, drones are not only extremely necessary, but also certainly legal. In his previous position as a leading attorney for the military, Johnson was the man to authorize specific drone strikes on foreign targets.
Worse yet, he even has no problem with one of the more controversial talking points of drone warfare: targeted assassinations of United States citizens. Though many argue that citizens are Constitutionally guaranteed due process when suspected of criminal behavior, Johnson sees it differently. “Belligerents who also happen to be U.S. citizens do not enjoy immunity,” he claimed last year.
2. Whistleblower Hater
Drones may be perfectly legitimate in Johnson’s eyes, yet whistleblowers constitute the scum of the earth. He has publicly declared WikiLeaks “illegal and irresponsible” and alleged that Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning was aiding America’s terrorist enemies by trying to bring some transparency to the United State’s own dubious military tactics.
Johnson penned a letter demanding that “NOTHING further be released by Wikileaks, that ALL of the US Government classified documents that WikiLeaks has obtained be returned immediately and that WikiLeaks remove and destroy all of these records from its databases.” The fact that Johnson has clearly demonstrated he is on the side of keeping government secrets rather than illuminating truth and justice gives a pretty good indication of how he will run the DHS.
3. Military Background
Unlike his predecessors, Johnson will be the first military man to head the DHS having had major leadership roles with the Air Force and Department of Defense. Considering the DHS is supposed to be a civilian operation, the experience and style Johnson is likely to bring to the position could be inappropriate for the department. The possibility of increasing the militarization of homeland security is certainly a troublesome direction. Granted, we can only speculate how Johnson will run the department at this point, but the fact that Obama chose Johnson for this role knowing full well his perspective and background could foretell an even more aggressive and militarized approach to national security.
Johnson is yet another presidential appointee who played a significant role in fundraising for Obama. During Obama’s 2008 candidacy, Johnson donated more than $33,000 of his personal fortune to the campaign. Additionally, he raised more than $65,000 from others on behalf of Obama.
By habitually rewarding hefty campaign donors with lofty government positions, Obama has earned his share of criticism about how he selects his nominees. While Johnson’s fundraising efforts shouldn’t necessarily eliminate him from consideration altogether, his appointment does raise questions about whether he is the best candidate or merely having a favor returned. Seeing as Johnson wasn’t even considered a possibility for this position by national security experts, the appointment is certainly suspect.
5. Involvement with Guantanamo Bay
Obama has long promised to eliminate Guantanamo Bay, but one of the main people responsible for the detention center’s persistence is Johnson. On the one hand, Johnson’s efforts have somewhat improved the conditions at Guantanamo Bay, so it’s hard to fault him entirely. On the other hand, however, Johnson has essentially slapped lipstick on a pig and brought Gitmo to the minimum standards necessary to not outright defy the Geneva Conventions. Most of the problems at the site still exist, but by making some minor changes, Johnson has provided politicians with the excuse to keep Guantanamo Bay open indefinitely, just like the prisoners it is holding.
Johnson’s tactics here speak to a larger issue: his experience as a lawyer is specifically in cleaning up huge national controversies by inventing legal arguments that previously didn’t exist to justify them. His ability to retroactively rationalize some seemingly extreme and unconstitutional practices may indicate a propensity for acting first, and finding a way to make it seem not-so-illegal second while head of the DHS.