Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Good News for Progressives: Obamas Justice & Intel Picks

The  part of the last 8 years I hated the most was the absolute disregard for the rule of law (domestic, Constitutional, and International) by the Bush administration.  The invasion/occupation of Iraq was a symptom of this. So was the decision to torture suspected terrorists (and rebrand it as “enhanced interrogation techniques”–really Orwellian) was another.  So was the decision to claim that the Pres. has the right to detain any U.S. citizen without charges or access to an attorney indefinately, simply by declaring said person “an enemy combatant.” Another symptom was the decision, originally without any legislative cover, to spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant–not even the super-easy-to-obtain warrants from the secretive “FISA” court.  So, was pushing anti-administration protestors into “free speech zones.” (According to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, AMERICA is a free speech zone!!!) We could go on and on.  At first, too few Americans protested all this, but some did from the beginning, including Republicans like former Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia (now a Libertarian out of disgust with the GOP) and former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska–the only GOP Senator to vote against authorizing the Iraq war.  The outrage and disgust with the Bush admin. defiance of the rule of law grew too slowly–but for myself and many other progressives, THIS was our primary  reason for supporting Barack Obama for president.  Yesterday,  he showed that he really is going to come through for us and REALLY give us “change we can believe in.”

Obama made several key appointments (some requiring Senate confirmation) yesterday that show what a dramatic break with the last 8 years Obama will be in this  key area:  David Ogden, Deputy  Attorney General; Elena Kagan, Solicitor General (currently the first female Dean of Havard Law School; the Solicitor General pleads the government’s cases before the U.S. Supreme Court–and has often  been a stepping stone to Supreme Court appointment); Tom Perrelli, Associate Attorney  General; and Dawn Johnson, Assistant Atty. General for the White House Office of Legal Council.  These nomminees will help to fill out the political appointee side of the Department of Justice in the Obama Administration,  joining Eric Holder, Attorney General, and others.  So, who are these people besides really good lawyers (not one graduate from fundamentalist law schools like Regent and Liberty which flooded the Bush admin.) from mostly Ivy League schools? (Obama has stuck close to fellow Harvard Law grads too much. I’d have liked to see more diversity there.)  They are all on record opposing the Bush administration’s torture policies and violations of the rule of law.  Some, like Dawn Johnson, have been very public in their opposition and have demanded public outrage whenever any administration so flouts the Constitution and international law–demanding we recover a “sense of outrage.”  The Republicans are already worried about confirming Eric Holder because they rightly suspect that he will appoint a special prosecutor to pursue people responsible for such crimes in the previous administration–and in Congress, including Democrats who may have been enablers.  Expect some of these new nominees to also have less than smooth confirmation hearings.  Progressives–we need to have Obama’s back on this.  We may criticize him elsewhere (and should), but this was some of what we wanted most.  We need to show him he has support so that he fights for these nominees.

Two other nominees yesterday sent a similar message:  Retired Navy Admiral Dennis Blair will be Director of  National Intelligence (coordinating the various intelligence agencies).  He was also a critic of torture as an interrogation method and not connected with domestic spying.  Leon Panetta, formerly White House Chief of Staff for Pres. Bill Clinton and, before that, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), is picked to be the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency.  Panetta has been a VERY outspoken opponent of torture.  How significant is his appointment?  Well, Democratic Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA), the incoming head of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the outgoing head of the same committee, are not pleased wiith the nomination. Why? They CLAIM it is because they want the head of the CIA to be someone with an intelligence background–a former spy with field experience.  But the CIA has USUALLY been headed by outsiders with little intelligence background.  The CIA building is NAMED for George H.W. Bush, the first Pres. Bush, who was head of the CIA before he was Ronald Reagan’s VP–and he had never had intelligence background.

No, the reason I believe Feinstein and Rockefeller are nervous about Panetta as head of the CIA is precisely because of his huge opposition to torture and violations of the rule of law. Because Feinstein and Rockefeller have long been named as Democratic enablers of these Bush policies.  Their roles in any illegal doings could well come out  and a special prosecutor won’t check to see if they are Democrat or Republican before hauling them before a grand jury!

Those of us who hate torture and believe in the rule of law should be GLAD that these appointments make Republicans and Democratic Bush-enablers unhappy. We need to have Obama’s back and support these nominees. Their confirmation will be a key to getting the kind of change we voted for–and if some Democratic heads roll, too,  FINE.


January 6, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Michael,

    I agree these are the best appointments Obama has made, in my opinion – particularly the Panetta appointment. I am from Monterey, California and have worked with Panetta as a volunteer various times. I’ve always had a high regard for him, and I am glad to see him making Feinstein uncomfortable. She’s been spineless these past 8 years and with these guys Obama is appointing we might actually see some accountability and transparency… I hope.

    Comment by Aric Clark | January 6, 2009

  2. I wouldn’t have chosen Panetta, but I voted for BHO so I shall trust his judgement. Our national security hangs in the balance.

    Comment by Paul | January 7, 2009

  3. DiFi is good on domestic issues, but a real Bush-enabler on foreign policy. So, when I hear that she’s considering running for CA governor when Arnie is done, I say, “Go for it!” Then we can try to replace her with a real progressive in the Senate–like Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) or Rep. Xavier Bacerra (D-CA)!

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | January 7, 2009

  4. Paul, not just our national security, but our fundamental identity as a country hangs in the balance. If we went with DiFi’s choice, we would have a spy chief who was involved in all that illegal crap rather than someone who can finally clean up the CIA. Do I want Obama to be successful in fixing our economy? Yes, but I would rather be a poor country which defends human rights and the rule of law than a rich one that doesn’t.

    Do I hope Obama keeps us safe from terrorist attacks? Of course, but I agree with Benjamin Franklin that the person who is willing to trade a little freedom for security deserves neither. And isn’t likely to get either. Because torture, spying on one’s citizens and all those other police state measures made us LESS safe, not more.

    Take profiling. People claim we SHOULD profile Muslims and Arabs–whether or not U.S. citizens and absent any evidence of wrongdoing. Well, what this does is lead the Arab-American and Muslim-American communities to distrust the government, naturally. But then, they are less likely to come forward with information about some radical fringe element they may have discovered in their community. So, the profiling is not only immoral, but counterproductive.

    Panetta, Johnson, Holder (whom the GOP is targetting for defeat at confirmation hearings because they are scared to death of him), etc. mean that we will clean up our justice and intel services, return to the rule of law and defense of universal human rights. That will make us both safer–and more true to what we are supposed to represent as a country. If we trash the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, international law (much of which we helped to forge, especially over the last 50 years), etc.–then we are no longer a United States worth saving.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | January 7, 2009

  5. Michael government is like Babylon. For every competent and honorable official you have one who is the exact opposite. Hopefully BHO will nominate people who are honest and competent regardless of their political affiliation.I favor the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and International Law. I take a pragmatic view of it all. The President takes an oath to protect and defend the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. In the process he has to contend with people who disagree with him. It is a difficult task. Obama wanted the position and soon he will have it. May God grant him wisdom, courage and serenity ! He will need it.

    Comment by Paul | January 7, 2009

  6. […] L. Westmoreland-White, former soldier turned peace activist in Louisville, Kentucky, believes the nominees epitomize the “change” Obama has promised. The part of the last 8 years I […]

    Pingback by BallotVox » Blog Archive » Change at Justice? | January 8, 2009

  7. Thanks, Michael for this analysis. I can always count on you to cover important matters. I’m going to link this column.

    Comment by Mike Broadway | January 10, 2009

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