While most of us have had our attention fixed on the economic firestorm engulfing the planet, President Obama is failing to meet his only sworn responsibility as our chief executive—to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Americans understand that George W. Bush defiled the Constitution. The Patriot Acts. Military commissions. Torture. Rendition. Warrantless wiretapping. Now, less than a month into the Obama era, we are seeing that little has changed in terms of extraconstitutional prosecution of the so-called War on Terror. So far, he has signed an order banning “harsh interrogation techniques” but may be keeping other reprehensible policies in place, and perhaps adding a few of his own.
Ironically, it was in our liberal bastion of San Francisco that Department of Justice attorney Douglas N. Letter argued before a “startled” Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that extraordinary rendition and torture shall remain unpunished under the watch of Barack Obama.
The case (Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc.) involved five “detainees” who have filed suit against a subsidiary of Boeing for flying them to CIA “black sites” where they were brutally and repulsively tortured. Invoking the same “state-secrets” argument employed by George W. Bush, Letter maintained that the “no change” position he advocated in the courtroom had been “thoroughly vetted with the appropriate officials within the new administration.”
“This is not change,” opined Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “This is definitely more of the same.”
A few days after the debacle in the Ninth Circuit, the Christian Science Monitor reported that, in seeming contradiction to the recent Obama executive order closing Guantanamo, nearly three times as many prisoners are currently being held without due process at a massive US military prison in Bagram, Afghanistan. Last month, DC District Court Judge John Bates gave the Obama administration until February 20 to “refine” its position on “open-ended detention.”
Meanwhile, plans for detention at home are being expanded under Democratic Party leadership. On January 22, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), a former judge who was impeached and removed from the bench before being elected to Congress, introduced H.R. 645, the National Emergency Centers Establishment Act. This bill calls for the establishment of six “centers” to be constructed on military installations across the US. Previous centers contracted to Halliburton subsidiary KBR were for the purpose of addressing an “emergency influx of immigrants” or to support “the rapid development of new programs." These new FEMA centers are “to provide temporary housing, medical and humanitarian assistance to individuals and families dislocated due to an emergency or major disaster.”
Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) is to date the sole member of Congress willing to raise a public stink. “Apparently, the fusion centers, militarized police, surveillance cameras and a domestic military command is not enough,” blogged Rep. Paul. “Even though we know that detention facilities are already in place, they now want to legalize the construction of FEMA camps on military installations using the ever popular excuse that the facilities are for the purposes of a national emergency. With the phony debt-based economy getting worse and worse by the day, the possibility of civil unrest is becoming a greater threat to the establishment. One need only look at Iceland, Greece and other nations for what might happen in the United States next.”
Why, asks Paul, are these centers are being constructed on military bases if they’re not for the purpose of rounding up and detaining large groups of people? Obama should explain exactly what is going on. So far, he has not.
Last fall, we learned who would be doing the rounding up when, for the first time since Reconstruction, US troops were deployed within US borders. The Third Infantry Division’s 1st Combat Team, trained during multiple tours in Iraq, will “help with civil unrest and crowd control.” According to Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, commander of the US Northern Command, at least two more brigades will be deployed by 2010. The doctrine of posse comitatus, under which US troops shall not be used against US citizens, prohibits detaining us, and Obama needs to explain why letting this program continue, is not a violation of that doctrine.
In his Inaugural Address, Barack Obama “rejected as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” His actions in the first month of his presidency belie his rhetoric. While he uses his popularity to avert economic disaster, he must not lose sight of his other goals. Obama will need to command the trust of the American people in order to quell the quaking economy and regain the respect of the international community. His actions over the coming weeks will speak more authoritatively than lofty words in showing whether he will be able to achieve these goals.