Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Not Far Enough on the Rule of Law

Last week, I started to make the case: even if you have been the most fervent supporter of Obama all year, it's time to start pushing and prodding him to do better. I listed areas in which Obama promised changes we should support and explained why he'll be forced to abandon those promises unless we keep after him. I pointed out some areas where Obama's campaign promises move in the right direction, but not far enough, and we're going to have to hold his feet to the fire to get the change we need.

Another one of those "not far enough" positions is where Obama stands on constitutional civil liberties. In the Obama-Biden campaign platform, they pledge to work for the civil rights of women,people of color, and gay and lesbian people as well as people with disabilities. This is important, although transgendered people are not mentioned at all. But the Constitution is more than just a pact against discrimination. What about the right not to be thrown into prison at whim and kept there at the pleasure of the president? What about the right to a fair trial?

There are reports that Obama is considering closing Guantanamo, letting some people who were arrested for the wrong reasons (or no reasons) free, and bringing the rest back to the U.S. to stand trial. This is a move in the right direction. It is encouraging. But when a friend wrote, "Wow. I am so happy I want to cry, now. The restoration of rule of law is imminent," I thought, "Don't get fooled again!" If you read the article carefully, you see they are not going to the normal courts, but some kind of hybrid civilian/military court that would try them but not reveal state secrets in the process.

Says the article,
"I think that creating a new alternative court system in response to the abject failure of Guantanamo would be a profound mistake," Jonathan Hafetz, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represents detainees, said Monday. "We do not need a new court system. The last eight years are a testament to the problems of trying to create new systems."
The system created at Guantanamo and through the secret prisons and military commissions is so flawed, it may not be possible ever to give these people a fair trial! Obama should try people in the regular criminal courts or let them go. Then, he should address the serious task: ending warrantless wiretaps and other crimes against the American people while ensuring real security--something the bellicose Bush Administration has failed to do for going on eight years.

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