Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama to World: I Am Breaking with Bush Policies

Today Obama signed a significant executive order that states the controversial just-out-of-constitutional-jurisdiction Guantanamo Bay military prison will close no later than a year from today, among other incarceration- and interrogation-related orders left over from the Bush Administration. What this primarily does is send the message that a new dawn has arisen in the war on terror and the use of controversial techniques and absolute secrecy will slowly fade out. The decision has been hailed both at home by Democrats, others who have read the Constitution and leaders abroad.

Obama has pledged to go through each detainee's files (which seem to have been ill-kept under the Bush Administration) and decide which detainees are releasable, triable, and untriable. A detainee may be untriable for a number of reasons, such as lack of evidence (this is where we can see the habeas corpus violations) or the use of torture to obtain confessions and other evidence (thanks to the previous administration). Another important aspect of the executive order is the assertion that the U.S. and its intelligence agencies use only the non-coercive techniques laid out in the Army Field Manual, rather than the SERE techniques being used at Gitmo and other CIA black sites.

Why is this logical? There are many reasons, but one of the main ones is that it is morally right. No one should be tortured, never mind at the hands of the most powerful country in the world that has timelessly claimed to take the moral high ground. Secondly, torturing folks is not the way to win the "hearts and minds" of those folks at risk to become extremists. In fact, images from Abu Ghraib have been used to recruit terrorists. And imagine being detained without trial for something you did not do. When you're released, are you going to defend your captor when others are angry with them? Sure, you were innocent before Bush came along and rounded you up and threw you in a cage, but that sure pissed you off and now you want death to America. Places like Guantanamo do not make America safer in the long run; in fact, they threaten our national security severely.

And Obama's decision to close Gitmo is no knee-jerk reaction to the misguided policies of the Bush Administration, despite what some Republican leaders may say (more on those folks later). Obama admits that there are some dangerous people at Gitmo who are not triable because of a lack of evidence and the allegations of torture used to obtain evidence against them. It seems that these accused terrorists will not be freed until a plan is devised to deal with them. So while they may not be housed at Gitmo, they aren't going anywhere soon.

So what do many high-profile Republicans think of this? Peter Hoekstra of Michigan (ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee) said that the decision to close the prison within a year "places hope ahead of reality — it sets an objective without a plan to get there." House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, "The big concern is, how do you come up with a policy to say, ‘We're going to close Guantanamo,’ without having a policy in place for what you're going to do with those that are there?" These two decry a lack of a plan (something Obama has acknowledged and made clear that those accused terrorists deemed dangerous to the U.S. but untriable will not be released), yet both voted for the Iraq War, a war that many have come out and said was poorly managed and had no coherent plan from the get-go. So let me get this straight: Hoekstra and Boehner have no problem allowing a Republican to lead us into Vietnam II that is the Iraq quagmire, yet throw their hands up in protest when a Democrat tries to close the torturous prisons that have so hurt America's stature in the world. Also keep this in mind: Bush stated that he was the "decider" and gave a facade of omnipotence when it came to Iraq and war strategy while Obama has come out and said that decisions have to be made on what to do with the untriable detainees and nothing brash will occur before those decisions are made (and also does not have Nixon cronies making said decisions for him). I guess I am looking for Hoekstra's and Boehner's credibility and failing to find it.

In all, Obama's executive order makes it clear that the Bush Administration's policies of torture and incarceration without trial is coming to a close. Many Bush supporters say that history will treat 43 well and we will look back on this in 25 years and say, "Wow, Bush had foresight." I disagree. Gitmo will be viewed like the Japanese internment of WWII, Iraq will be viewed like Vietnam is today, when all the behind-the-scenes information comes out in the next few decades Bush will be seen as the second coming of Nixon (hell, half his staffers were Nixon's anyway), and Bush's number one accomplishment will be declaring war on an ideology. Guantanmo Bay will (hopefully) be closed a year from today and America will be safer in the long run for it. Peace.

Photos - Obama signing the executive order declaring that Gitmo will be closed a year from today (New York Times), Detainees at Guantanmo Bay, Cuba (Washington Post)

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