Leaning to the Left

Writing from a liberal persuasion

Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Obama’s First 100 Days: A Lack of Constitutional Respect

Posted by Beau Winiger on April 29, 2009

Today is the 100th day of the Obama presidency.  What this means is that today is a meaningless day that liberals will use to say what a great job Obama has been doing, and conservatives will use it to say what a horrible job he has been doing.  So this author has decided, if you can’t beat them, join them.

It is true, in my opinion, that Obama has done a pretty decent job in his first 100 days in office, but there are some areas that his lack of progress from the Bush administration policies has been very alarming, namely in the area of rights abuse.  If the first 100 days is any sort of indication, than it looks like President Obama has decided that the Bush administration knew what it was talking about when it asserted the policy of “I’m in charge, and I will do what I want.”

One area where this has become apparent is in regards to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, which the current administration seems determined to make into a new Gitmo.  While the administration has decided to shut down Gitmo, they have decided that Bagram would make a fine new base of operations for a black hole site.  The administration wishes to be able to deny any prisoners there judicial review of the legality of their detention.  A prison in Afghanistan, an active war zone, is a little trickier than one located in Cuba, and it is understandable to deny judicial review to prisoners caught on the battlefield.  What is alarming is that the Obama team also wishes to be able to fly prisoners into Bagram from around the world, and then deny them judicial review.  This is the exact same problemthat we faced at Gitmo.  When you are able to ship in prisoners and then deny them rights because they are now in an active war zone you might as well have kept Gitmo open.  Even more worrisome is the fact that since Bagram is located in a war zone far away from America it will become even easier to restrict investigation into any human rights abuses going on there. 

The Obama administration has also moved to strike down a law here at home that requires a lawyer be present for a police to question a suspect who has retained a lawyer or asks for one.  While some might say, “Well just don’t answer anything until your lawyer gets there,” it is easy to imagine the potential for abuse of mentally challenged or uneducated suspects.  There is little conceivable downside to waiting for a lawyer, and too much potential for abuse for this to be considered a reasonable move by the Obama team.

The Obama DOJ has also supported the continuation of the “state secret” privilige invented by the Bush administration, and has added to that a “sovereign immunity” claim which says that citizens cannot sue the government for illegal activities unless the government chooses to disclose what they learned from the illegal activities.  So, even if it is known the government is acting illegally, there is nothing that can be done about it unless the government essentially decides it is okay with being sued.  This is a claim that even the Bush administration didn’t see fit to create, and truly worrisome for anyone concerned about keeping checks on the government’s ability to invade the private lives of its citizens.  Combined with the state secrets privilege the Obama administration is seeking the power to be able to do whatever it wants, and, so long as it is classified as secret, any actions will not be subject to judicial review.

President Obama is also seeking to destroy the Fourth Amendment by forcing cell phone carriers to turn over cell tower data without warrants, a move that legal scholars reject as being unconstitutional.  This would allow the government to seize private data, without cause, to track the location of anyone in the U.S. that it sees fit.  Such brazen disregard for the constitution, by a former constitutional law professor, is ludicrous.

The examples listed above point to an administration that is continuing the previous presidency’s complete disregard for constitutional protections that people in America believe they are protected by.  While there is much to celebrate in the first 100 days of the Obama presidency, unfortunately a respect for the constitution cannot, at this time, be counted to highly on the list.

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A New Face on Old Politics

Posted by Beau Winiger on April 21, 2009

The recent release of Bush-era torture memos has shed some light on just what that administration considered humane treatment.  President Obama made the correct decision about the release of these memos, regardless of what the conservative talking heads might be saying to the contrary, but the President has stumbled when he promised that none of the people who tortured but thought they were acting legally will be prosecuted.  The sanctioned actions described and rationalized in the memos are torture, and those that advanced these techniques should be treated as war criminals.

Simply exposing the memos to the public light is not enough to ensure that torture is not perpetrated in America’s name in the future.  Concrete prosecutorial steps must be taken to show both the citizens of America and the rest of the world that America does not believe in torture.  By saying that no one will be prosecuted the administration is saying that although torture is bad, it isn’t really bad enough to warrant any legal action.  Such a stance is indefensible, and is the exact kind of thinking that led to torture in the first place.  The authors of these memos have no place in an America that wishes to show the rest of the world that it does hold some respect for other people.

President Obama has said that this is a time for moving forward, and not looking backward.  This author could not agree more.  It is indeed a time to look forward, but what future are we looking towards when we accept that we live in a nation that justifies the use of torture and sees no need to prosecute the use of torture and the violation of international law.  The future that we should be striving towards should be one where we clean out the skeletons of our past.  One quickly sees the absurdity of Obama’s position when comparisons are made with other egregious acts of American history.  Whether it is slavery, Japanese interment camps, the genocide waged against Native Americans, or the denial of rights to women, America has never been served by simply turning the page on history.  In each of the examples mentioned above the people that were charged with carrying out these laws were simply doing their job.  The administration wishes to add to that shameful roll call by continuing the age-old American tradition of politicians protecting politicians.  One is forced to consider the idea that perhaps this administration is unwilling to prosecute the former administration out of fears that they themselves could be prosecuted by some future administration.  Why else would there be an unwillingness to set a precedent of punishing torture? 

In an issue that is filled with maddening illogical arguments, add to that the conservative pundits and lawmakers who are now bashing President Obama for releasing these memos.  They are not outraged by the fact that the Bush administration tortured, even when they said they didn’t.  No, their outrage stems from the fact that now people know that we tortured, and our enemies will know how to prepare for future possibilities of torture.  They prefer to live in a world where America is a land that will readily resort to secret prisons around the world that ship in prisoners in order to violate international law.  Since these same people often claim that terrorists hate our freedom and democracy one can only assume that they are trying to rid America of freedom in order to deprive the terrorists of their only recruiting tool.

During the election cycle, while I was being told over and over by Obama supporters that he would be different, that he was a new kind of politician, I held fast to my stance of “Let’s wait and see”.  While Obama is by no means a new Bush, he is also in no way a new politician.  He is simply a fresh smiling face plastered on the same old guard.  The new Obama morality holds that we don’t torture anymore, and we will make some of the facts known about the torture that we used to do, but we aren’t going to do anything about it.  The President has set an important precedent, and this author would unfortunately not be surprised if a future administration reveals torture tactics used at Bagram in Afghanistan under the current administration.

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