Friday, February 20, 2009

Is The Bloom Off Of Obama's Rose?

I've been saying repeatedly that those expecting President Obama to massively overhaul the controversial policies of President Bush are going to be sorely disappointed. So far, there have been grumblings about Obama's not-quite-complete disavowal of torture and extraordinary rendition.

But in the last few days, Obama's actions have shocked and dismayed civil liberties advocates who assumed the Incarnation Of Hope That Is Obama would be their standard bearer. Last week, Obama invoked, as did the Bush administration, the claim of "state secrets" to argue for the dismissal of a lawsuit against Boeing Corp. for participating in a CIA-backed rendition to Morocco that resulted in torture (the Binyamin Mohammed case). The ACLU denounced this decision, arguing that it amounted to a "ratification" of Bush's policies that indemnified US agents guilty of torture.

Today saw two more moves by Obama that horrified civil libertarians. First, was the claim by Secretary of State Clinton that pressure on China over human rights issues would not be allowed to undermine economic cooperation between the two states. Amnesty International announced that it was "shocked and extremely disappointed" by the decision. Second, just today Obama announced that his administration agreed with President Bush that detainees being held in Afghanistan should have no legal recourse under US laws, announcing that people being held at the prison at Bagram Airfield cannot use US courts to challenge the legality of their detention. An attorney with the ACLU noted that "They've now embraced the Bush policy that you can create prisons outside the law," while a human rights advocate working on behalf of the detainees said that "The hope we all had in President Obama to lead us on a different path has not turned out as we'd hoped."

What these people, and others, fail to realize is that there are seriously dangerous people out there who want to cause immeasurable harm to US interests and citizens. President Bush did not implement the policies because he is mean, or likes torturing people, but because he believed the policies were truly necessary to protect this country. And now that Obama is president he seems to be coming to the same realizations. This is not to argue that the policies chosen by our presidents are necessarily the right ones. I have written a book about how and why many of Bush's policies under the war on terror were indeed illegal. But those advocating for "improving human rights" must not assume that the policies should be removed because they are nasty and unpleasant.


Simmons said...

"And now that Obama is president he seems to be coming to the same realizations. "

I'm not sure if that's true. I think it's more likely that Obama wants to protect Bush administration officials from being tried (because that destroy his administration), but more importantly protect the lower level agents who carried out the renditions and/or torture.

Seth Weinberger said...

Sorry, but no. If Obama was simply trying to shield Bush administration officials and agents from prosecution, he could do so in much quieter and less obvious ways that wouldn't violate his campaign promises and alienate his more liberal base. These moves don't make any sense unless Obama has actually decided that there may be a need in the future to use these policies. The fact is that there are valid, legitimate arguments to be made in favor of expanding the use of coercive interrogation, denying terror suspects the protections of US law, maintaining extraordinary rendition, and other policies we may find distasteful.

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