Tuesday, June 9, 2009

You’re Breaking My Heart Mr. President

There are many things I can write about President Obama. Some are glowing reviews, others momentous letdowns, but all of them genuinely heartfelt.

I’ve always considered myself a cynic, but even I had high hopes for the words and promises of Obama as a candidate.

Now, I’m not naïve enough to have actually believed Obama would be able to fulfill every promise (I realize politicians make these promises without having the full picture and all information), but there are a few things I thought he would hold true to.

The most important, being an effort to overturn the grievances and executive abuses of the Bush Administration.

Boy was I wrong.

President Obama’s decision to continue the Bush administration’s policy of warrant less wiretapping, his constant talk of “looking forward not backwards,” his opposition to a truth commission, his refusal to release abuse photos, and his overall inaction in reversing the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy, like he promised, has made any starry eyed hopes wither into the bitter shells of letdown.

(That was before I even heard the atrocious words “Preventive Detention” come out of Obama’s mouth.)

But today, as I read articles about Senators Lieberman and Graham seeking to block torture photos at all costs and the White House’s apparent backing of the amendment to the spending supplemental bill, I find myself beyond angry and just disappointed.

Very sadly diappointed.

As usual, I turn to Glenn Greenwald to summarize what The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009 entails:
The White House is actively supporting a new bill jointly sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman -- called The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009 -- that literally has no purpose other than to allow the government to suppress any "photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States." As long as the Defense Secretary certifies -- with no review possible -- that disclosure would "endanger" American citizens or our troops, then the photographs can be suppressed even if FOIA requires disclosure. The certification lasts 3 years and can be renewed indefinitely. The Senate passed the bill as an amendment last week.

Just imagine if any other country did this. Imagine if a foreign government were accused of systematically torturing and otherwise brutally abusing detainees in its custody for years, and there was ample photographic evidence proving the extent and brutality of the abuse. Further imagine that the country's judiciary -- applying decades-old transparency laws -- ruled that the government was legally required to make that evidence public. But in response, that country's President demanded that those transparency laws be retroactively changed for no reason other than to explicitly empower him to keep the photographic evidence suppressed, and a compliant Congress then immediately passed a new law empowering the President to suppress that evidence. What kind of a country passes a law that has no purpose other than to empower its leader to suppress evidence of the torture it inflicted on people? Read the language of the bill; it doesn't even hide the fact that its only objective is to empower the President to conceal evidence of war crimes.

Though I haven’t given up completely on Obama, I refuse to allow myself to be won over by his charisma and lovely words any more.

I have always loved the quote, “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say,” but today I’m just sad that I must apply it to our President.

9 comments:

  1. "We strongly believe that the first responsibilities of government are the nation's security and the protection of those brave Americans who go into harm's way to defend it."

    But if displaying those photos endangers them, than how can Obama do anything but? I hardly agree with a lot of his policies (more accurately, the manner in which he executes them), but I honestly think this situation is bigger than being unconstitutional or increased presidential power...it's about saving lives...right?

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  2. I completely disagree. Not because I don’t think that trying to save lives is important, but because I don’t think that’s truly the case in this situation.

    First, the Obama administration has said that the pictures aren’t any worse then the pictures that have already been released. If that’s the case, then it’s illogically to not release them considering they have essentially already been shown to the public.

    Second, when there is no transparency within the government then there is no reason to trust what the government tells us. Obama may say the release of the pictures will endanger lives, but what reasons do we have to believe him? He says the pictures don’t show children being raped, but what reasons do we have to believe him? Unfortunately, the answer is none.

    By not releasing the pictures, people will be able to say, “Look the pictures are so horrible they won’t even show them.” I don’t really see how that helps. By releasing the pictures, as bad as they make America look, we are saying, “We know we messed up. We’re sorry and we’re taking responsibility. By showing these heinous acts our government committed we are promising not to pretend it didn’t happen or allow it to happen again in the future.”

    Or more simply, by showing the pictures we are telling the world, “People will be held accountable.” I don’t see how that can make us look bad. And as long as we allow torturers to walk free and continue to occupy other countries, I’m afraid inflaming anti-American sentiment will be easy. With or without these photos.

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  3. Wow. Sorry that was so long. lol

    I also want to point out that the President’s first responsibility is not “keeping America safe” as some people like to say. The president’s oath is to protect the ideals of the constitution. Justice is one of those ideals.

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  4. I guess, on one of these points, we'll always disagree. Unlike you, I think, at least based on what I know [and in theory], that the purpose of not releasing the photos is to protect the identities of the individuals displayed in them. If this were not the case, then I agree with you that it would be illogical to suppress the photos if similar images had already been released to the public, so I'm forced to wonder, if there weren't any people in the photos that must be protected, what would be the reason for wanting them to be kept secret?

    I totally and completely agree with your second point. There is hardly any way to assure that the government/media is giving the public the entire, real story, but that can't all be pinned on one individual in politics or anywhere else. Lies in the media can/are used for countless reasons, whether good or bad. That's just America.

    As for your third point, I can't say America is much of one to apologize, and it frightens me to think that if this is what we're capable of doing now, what the hell is it going to be like in the future? Protection can lead to tyranny extremely quickly, but I always feel like there's some type of complicated string of politics that I am overlooking. It's only simple in theory, but to actually execute something is something entirely different, something everyone has had to deal with.

    Ugh, I can't say I'm a huge fan of "justice", so I won't get into that. Haha, don't worry about the length. I'm pretty sure I did the same thing. Plus, ever since school ended, I haven't seen the people I usually do this with. It's refreshing.

    But don't forget, the Constitution was created as a base, or a standard, for American people to live by, in an effort to create a free nation. Freedom requires protection. I think all of our terrorist friends have reminded us of that.

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  5. I totally feel you. That’s the very reason I started a blog in the first place, so I would stop venting to my boyfriend. I was driving him crazy and I’m pretty sure he was thinking about smothering me on quite a few different occasions. lol

    Like you said in your first point, the only reason they would want to protect the identities is in cases of rape or sexual assault. But since Obama has claimed these pictures don’t have any sexual images, I can’t see any other reason to keep them secret. Plus they can always blur the faces (if the faces are even showing).

    See, I don’t care about the images. (There are enough horrible things in the world already.) I care about the fact that the president isn’t holding to his promise to uphold the constitution. I voted for him because I wanted to see the end of the Bush secrecy abuses, but Obama has continued most of them.

    By agreeing with this bill, we are saying that our courts aren’t responsible enough to deal with this problem, like they always have. The Freedom of Information Act already has a clause for information that is deemed important to national security. This bill is simply trying to override the courts. How that’s any different then something Bush would do, I don’t know.

    Your comments about freedom made me think of that Franklin quote: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” You questioned whether you can freedom without safety, but do you think you can freedom without justice?

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  6. It doesn't just have to be cases of rape or sexual assault to require protection. National security would be my guess in this instance, as in, I have no idea, but something that can potentially threaten the lives of all involved.

    I agree with you here. I hate not knowing the whole truth, but look at everything else the government keeps the public from. There are so many conspiracy theories out there that we know of, not to mention the ones we don't.

    Corruption is a common theme in America, as in all peoples over the years. Although I wonder what it would be like if all of this information was released...how would America and the rest of the world handle it?

    Like a lot of people, this is the first election I've really looked into, so I don't know much about Bush other than what I've heard from other people, which isn't all that accurate, I must say.

    I've written things on Franklin's words, and I think he's absolutely brilliant, and here, he's saying that basic liberties are more valuable that a short time of safety. But for an entire nation? It almost sounds like I lean towards communism when I say this, and yet there is still no freedom unless a people can protect themselves against those who would steal that freedom.

    Freedom without justice.
    No, people cannot have freedom without justice, but neither can they have it without safety. Oppression would occur in both of these instances, as well with many more. Oppression of not only foreign groups but of our own government.

    But justice, to me, is still unsettling. There are situations where the justified thing to do is not necessarily the best thing to do for the entire nation.

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  7. I wasn’t disregarding national security when I made the comment about rape and sexual assault. My point was those are the situations in which identities would have to be hidden. A federal judge will decide if the pictures are important to national security or should be released under the Freedom of Information Act. That’s my problem with this situation. Obviously these photos aren’t important to national security, or the Obama administration wouldn’t be backing legislation in order to circumvent the likely defeat they’ll get in court. I think that’s wrong.

    In regards to Franklin, I disagree with your opinion about what he was saying in the sense that I don’t think he was referring to such a limited scope. And why can’t we protect ourselves? I don’t understand. That’s not the issue here. The issue here is that we keep expanding the president’s power and putting limits on his check and balances (which started with Bush – the first election I got into lol). That is a dangerous precedent. If that’s not what Franklin was referring to then I don’t know.

    And I think your views on justice are a bit one dimensional. Not that I meant that snippy in any way. It’s just that I happen to be reading a book about the ideas of liberty, equality, and justice right now and there are no clear answers. Common good, or good for the general welfare, is considered just though. I would say the idea that we do not need to be held accountable for our inequity towards other people, or were somehow in the right because it was to “keep America safe,” is unjust since it falls under the idea that “might is right.” I don’t think Americans have anymore right to life or freedom then anyone else.

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  8. Now I'm not one to tire easily *cough*...ahem...but I'm thoroughly exhausted, haha, so this'll be short.

    But wouldn't applying the quote to specifically to the amount of presidential power be limiting the scope? And what do you mean by protect ourselves? There are somethings (political or not) that are just out of our hands, as much as I hate to admit it.

    You're right, Americans shouldn't have more of a right to life or freedom, but in an 'us or them' situation, which would you pick? How large is your view on justice? Universal? I think this is where the priorities of the American government kick in.

    I guess I'm just in a stance of, whatever works. Ha, how sad is that?

    What one person or one group or even one people thinks is justified, is not necessarily justified for the opposite party. This is why I hate that there are "no clear answers". A lot of things can be "justified" if you look at them with a certain perspective.

    I don't really know if I'm making myself clear, but there it is.

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  9. No you’re making sense. And I know this is a debate that could go back and forth forever so I feel you. lol

    In regards to the quote, limiting presidential power is important because it is what keeps us from being a monarchy or a dictatorship, so no I don’t think that's a limited view to have. I think it’s necessary in regards to liberty. Making laws to “protect” ourselves from things, as you said, that are out of our control is ridiculous. Bad things happen to good people. We will never live in a world free from that, no matter how many freedoms we are willing to give up.

    I guess the difference ultimately is that I don’t believe in the “us or them” mentality because I’m not as nationalistic as most Americans. I’m more of a humanitarian so I don’t exalt American suffering above any other living breathing hurting human person. Why do I deserve happiness anymore then someone half a world away? I don’t.

    But hey, we’re both young. In twenty years I’m sure we’ll both have different ideas about things. (I often change my mind in the course of a day. Drives my boyfriend crazy.) I just think the “whatever works” stance is frightening.

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What's on your mind?