Sunday, January 04, 2009

One Month After Inauguration Day

On Feb. 20, one month after Barack Obama is sworn in as our next president, he must file a brief to let the Supreme Court, and the American people, know how he stands on the Bush administration's policy that says the commander-in-chief "may order the military to seize legal residents of the United States and hold them indefinitely without charging them with a crime." (NYT) We hope Mr. Obama will honor his election pledge, and affirm his commitment to human rights for if we illegally detain one, we may illegally detain any.

One month after he is inaugurated, the 44th president will have the chance to address, and begin to ameliorate, the moral vertigo from which this country now suffers. Many of us who have called for the new administration to revisit terminology such as "unlawful enemy combatant," and the policy of holding prisoners of war without charges, as well as without access to evidence against them, hope that Mr. Obama stands firm on his stated intention to close Guantanamo Bay, and end the heinous practice of extraordinary rendition.

It is hoped, too, that, through rigorous investigation, other clandestine detention centers, which currently hold thousands in Iraq, and Afghanistan, will be brought to light. Those, like our current vice president, who argue that information obtained from detainees by using "enhanced alternative interrogation" techniques have kept this country safe from another terror attack, fail to point out that testimony obtained from torture is inadmissible in court, thus not only do we act contrary to centuries of international legal precedent by waterboarding, but we also act at cross-purposes when using coercive measures to acquire confessions that aren't worth the paper they're written on.

While there may not be a whole lot Mr. Obama can do about foreign policy in that he must, after all, play the hand he's been dealt, we're confident that he will make his mark when it comes to domestic policy, as well as reigning in the runaway expansion of the executive branch. The White House has done to the Constitution, and the Geneva Conventions, what Israel is now doing to the Gaza strip, and the paranoia of this administration rivals even that of the Nixon administration.

It is often the case that paranoia derives from an exaggerated sense of self-importance. This is surely the case with the administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Clearly, President-Elect Obama has a lot on his plate now, but the position he takes on the power of the presidency, as well as the rights of those we detain, will be the bell heard round the world.

That bell must toll for all of us--for the ironworkers, those disenfranchised in federal prisons, to the innocent on death row; for the unlikely terrorist who has been divested of due process to the homeless veteran who sleeps in the doorway of despair. Were it to be otherwise, the forces of darkness that took hold will have cemented their grip, and no president will ever be able to undo their damage again.