Verdict: Obama is Weak on Human Rights and Civil Liberties
I have really been trying to give this administration a break. It is facing unprecedented challenges. And we are only 5 months along. But I have been around long enough to see progressive sold down the river by Democrats many times. So, the night of the election, even as I was celebrating and crying, a voice in the back of my head kept whispering, “So, do you think he will last longer than Bill Clinton before selling us out to the corporations and the military industrial complex?”
I want a well-functioning economy with economic justice. I want a balanced ecology. I want much. But I voted for Obama as someone who taught Constitutinal Law at the University of Chicago. I voted for “Change I Could Believe In” from the Bush era of shredding the constitution, ignoring international law, denying civil liberties and trashing human rights. Obama began well: Appointing good attorneys to the DoJ (the most progressive of which, Dawn Johnsen, is still being held up by the Senate because she is supposedly a “radical”); ordering the closing of Gitmo (too slowly); cancelling the military commissions; cancelling torture; ended the “black sites”–i.e., secret CIA prisons overseas.
But since then, things have been more muddled. There is far too much continuity between the Bush era and the Obama era on human rights and civil liberties.
- The “state secrets” defense is still used by the Obama admin. to try to get lawsuits dismissed. Obama says this needs to be “modified.” I think Congress needs to modify it BY LAW.
- While we are no longer doing “extraordinary rendition” (kidnapping) and sending terrorist SUSPECTS to secret prisons in nations which torture, we are still practicing a form of “rendition,” the standards and legality of which are unclear because this is not transparent.
- While Gitmo is being closed, the Obama administration is using Bush claims about the legality of “indefinite detention without trial” for detainees held at the prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
- I give high marks to the Obama administration for its continued declassification of the torture paper trail of the Bush era. We need to know just how bad things have been. But his reversal on disclosure of the latest batch of photos of torture (which will probably leak anyway) is hugely wrongheaded. Now the photos will come out not as a nation trying to do the right thing and break with the policies of the past, but as a leak in a cover up.
- Obama is restarting the military commissions with some modifcations. That’s really BAD. The modifications are designed to make the commissions less like star chambers (no evidence derived from torture, restrictions on hearsay evidence, prisoners get to choose their attorneys), but they still fall far short of international standards of justice. Obama voted against the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and he campaigned on getting rid of them–not modifying them. This is a major flip-flop on a campaign promise.
- The Obama administration, through its attorney general, continues to be opposed to any trials for torturers or for those who authorized them.
- Obama still supports the warrantless wiretapping of Americans instituted by the Bushies (and retroactively legalized by Congress) even though tons of new evidence shows that it targetted journalists, peace activists, eavesdropped on the pillow talk between soldiers and their stateside sweeties, etc.–NOT just limited to intercepting calls to and from al Qaeda.
- Obama has kept Bush’s “faith based” outreach programs and other violations of church-state separation.
The struggle for justice, human rights, and civil liberties will continue. But we now know that we do not have a reliable ally in Obama–just an untrustworthy on-again/off-again ally.
Here’s hoping and praying that by the end of 4 years, my complaint here looks very premature and overblown–but I’m not holding my breath.
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