Hold Fast

A Blog by Matt Browner Hamlin

Hold Fast - a blog by Matt Browner Hamlin

This Is A Problem

September 9th, 2010 · No Comments

This paragraph, in the New York Times article on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against former CIA prisoners who were tortured in overseas prisons after their extraordinary rendition, is the sign of a very large problem:

The sharply divided ruling was a major victory for the Obama administration’s efforts to advance a sweeping view of executive secrecy powers. It strengthens the White House’s hand as it has pushed an array of assertive counterterrorism policies, while raising an opportunity for the Supreme Court to rule for the first time in decades on the scope of the president’s power to restrict litigation that could reveal state secrets.

For the life of me, I cannot remember President Obama campaigning for office on “a sweeping view of executive secrecy powers.” And it’s not just this.

Among other policies, the Obama national security team has also authorized the C.I.A. to try to kill a United States citizen suspected of terrorism ties, blocked efforts by detainees in Afghanistan to bring habeas corpus lawsuits challenging the basis for their imprisonment without trial, and continued the C.I.A.’s so-called extraordinary rendition program of prisoner transfers — though the administration has forbidden torture and says it seeks assurances from other countries that detainees will not be mistreated.

Again, even without checking the cached versions of BarackObama.com, I’m quite certain these were not core planks in the Obama campaign’s case to the American public about what an Obama administration would do regarding civil liberties, the rule of law, and restoring the Constitution following Bush/Cheney administration abuses.

Of course, looking beyond his candidacy for office, we were told by President Obama in February 2009 that:

Living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.

I suppose it is technically true to say that “America does not torture” as long as any people who have been tortured or subjected to rendition are denied their day in court and the chance to present evidence that these things happened. Of course, putting our hands over our ears and shouting “La la la la la la” whenever someone tries to have legal remedies for torture doesn’t exactly constitute any lived value I learned about in civics class or Sunday school.

Glenn Greenwald makes an observation that I think captures the gravity of what is actually happening now under President Obama, following what happened under President Bush:

The history of America’s torture regime will record not only the criminality and shamefulness of the torture itself, but also the subsequent — and ongoing — effort by the U.S. Government to prevent its victims from obtaining any justice while protecting the perpetrators from all accountability.

To say that I am disappointed with the administration’s embrace of illegal and immoral legal doctrines put forth by the Bush administration’s sadistic and un-American legal team is an understatement. I’m embarrassed by it. It is indefensible, especially when done by a President who at one time taught constitutional law. A lot was made earlier this week when General Petraeus said that if a rightwing church in Florida burned the Koran, “It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan.” I really hope that the Mighty General speaks up again, because I don’t know how hiding behind state secrets privileges to protect torturers does anything to help our presence in Afghanistan nor the troops the President has sent there.

As a side note, Marcy Wheeler writes:

So basically, the government can kidnap you and send you to be tortured–as they did with Binyam Mohamed–yet even if your contractors acknowledge what they were doing, if the government wants to call their own law-breaking a secret, the most liberal Circuit Court in the country agrees they can. [Emphasis added]

Among other things, this is as solid example as exists today as to why we need more liberal judges confirmed to the federal bench.

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Tags: Barack Obama · Rule of Law · Terrorism