After the terror attacks of 9/11/2001 changed the world, it wasn’t long before the promise of security overran the promise of liberty. Suddenly Americans were perfectly willing to have people suspected of involvement in terrorism picked up off the street and whisked away to a secret hiding place, never to be seen or heard from again. This was the post-9/11 world, and it was different.
President George W. Bush took full advantage of the new level of fear gripping the nation, in effect doing exactly what terrorism is intended to do, and dramatically increased the powers of the Executive. Human beings who were picked up in the deserts of Afghanistan were moved to Cuba, to be held at Guantanamo Bay indefinitely. They were charged with no crimes, nor with they given access to an attorney, nor were they able to contact anyone for aid.
This collecting of humans expanded to include Iraq, once that disastrous escapade in interventionist Foreign Policy began. Meanwhile, government personnel, some military, some civilian, began interrogating the prisoners, now labeled Enemy Combatants, to attempt to extract information about terror cells, terror plots, leadership positions within our sworn enemy, Al Qaeda, and any other information we thought to be of value. It is widely known now that the President himself authorized a torture technique known as water boarding to attempt to get the details we so desperately sought.
As details of this inhumane treatment began to reach the American public, coupled with the disgraceful treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, they became one of the signature images of the so-called War on Terror. An abuse of American military power, pursued by a vengeful Executive Branch in an attempt to prevent future attacks on American soil by the religious fanatics managed by Osama Bin Laden.
Presidential Candidate Obama spoke about the need to restore American values, which don’t include torture. He spoke of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, as it had become the poster child for American abuse of prisoners. He railed against indefinite detention without charges and the denial of habeas corpus rights to the detainees. It appeared that a President Obama would stop the overreaching strong-armed tactics of the Bush administration.
President Obama has apparently lost touch with Candidate Obama, or has somehow had a complete reversal of belief. I don’t subscribe to the notion that one cannot change their mind, especially when provided with new information. In fact, I strongly support a change of direction when information warrants it and shows that in fact, one may have been wrong originally. I see it as a sign of character, strength, and intelligence. What I find difficult to accept in this scenario is that these core concepts of justice and legal standing could literally be reversed within a few months of taking office. Perhaps I’m naïve, but how much new information could have been provided that would change one’s position so dramatically.
The Obama Administration has continued the Bush Administration’s practice of domestic warrantless wiretapping. In fact, in legal challenges to the practice, the Obama lawyers have made precisely the same arguments that Candidate Obama criticized. As a Candidate for President, Mr. Obama was disappointed that the Bush Administration “invoked a legal tool known as the ‘state secrets’ privilege more than any other previous administration to get cases thrown out of civil court.” Yet that’s what his Administration lawyers argue as well.
Instead of closing Guantanamo Bay, the Obama Administration is now preparing an Executive Order on indefinite detention of the prisoners there. More prisoners in GITMO are now facing a lifetime of imprisonment without charge than there was when Barack Obama took office.
What’s worse, the Obama Administration has taken the Bush Administration practice of arresting people abroad and holding them without charges to another level. Since Guantanamo has faced legal challenges in which the Supreme Court slapped the Executive Branch on the rump, the Obama Administration takes the people picked up off the street, or literally yanked from their homes, to prisons overseas to avoid the pesky legal issues here at home. The Obama Administration is now arguing in legal battles that the detainees in Afghanistan have no legal right to challenge their imprisonment. Keep in mind these aren’t enemies arrested on the battlefields of the endless Afghan War. These are people of interest, arrested in various countries around the world and taken to Afghanistan to avoid the legal snags with taking them to Guantanamo.
If you want to know what the President thought about this kind of action against perceived enemies of the state before he became President, I’ll give you a direct quote from the man. In response to the Supreme Court’s wrist slap against the Bush Administration’s attempts to prevent GITMO detainees from ever seeing the light of day again, Senator Obama said:
“Today’s Supreme Court decision ensures that we can protect our nation and bring terrorists to justice, while also protecting our core values. The Court’s decision is a rejection of the Bush Administration’s attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo – yet another failed policy supported by John McCain. This is an important step toward reestablishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law, and rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus. Our courts have employed habeas corpus with rigor and fairness for more than two centuries, and we must continue to do so as we defend the freedom that violent extremists seek to destroy.”
Bradley Manning was arrested by the military as the prime suspect in the case of leaked documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to WikiLeaks. Mr. Manning has been treated in a manner which should disgust every human being. He is innocent of any crimes until he is proven guilty. How is this innocent man being treated? He is in solitary confinement, spending 23 hours of every day in a small cell with a bed, a toilet and a sink. The one hour each day he is allowed out of his cell, he still spends alone. His jailers believe he is a risk to injure himself, so he has no pillow or bed sheets. His clothes are also taken from him each night, so he sleeps in only his underwear. Bradley told his lawyers that he sarcastically told his jailers he could hurt himself with the elastic of his boxer shorts, so they were taken from him. He spelt naked. He is forced to take antidepressants every day, which leave him a stupefied haze.
P.J. Crowley, State Department spokesman, made a comment at MIT where he was attending an academic forum that the treatment of Bradley Manning was “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid.” When President Obama was asked about these comments, he told reporters that based on his conversations with the Pentagon, Bradley Manning’s treatment was appropriate. A few days later, P.J. Crowley was no longer the State Department spokesman. What’s important to understand here is that Crowley’s comment was not in any official capacity, but just in conversation. To force him to resign over it casts a grim specter of tyrannical message control by this President.
An amped up Executive Branch with visions of clandestine operations around the world where it can work outside the laws of the United States should be troubling to all Americans. If a relatively centrist Democratic President can crank up the intensity on this abuse of power, where apparently only might makes right, what will future Presidents who have a more hawkish view of America’s place in the world do with their turn at the wheel? I shudder to think.