Obama was elected to the presidency because we the people were ready for a change from the Bush regime. We were tired and angry with the Texas swagger and the bully-like approach to foreign policy. ("You're with us or you're with the terrorists!") We expected Obama to waste no time in reversing the Bush administration's more heinous (and, some say, illegal) policies in the so-called "war on terror".
We expected Obama to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay as promised and end the unfair military commission system there. But talk is cheap. And now it looks like we've been fooled.
On March 7, Obama issued an executive order to continue the Bush-era policy of indefinite detention of certain Guantanamo detainees, and resuming the military commissions. As Dana Milbank described it in a Washington Post column, Obama "has essentially formalized George W. Bush's detention policy." Yes, Obama, a constitutional attorney, has formalized the denial of basic human rights via these policies of indefinite detention and offshore kangaroo courts. And unlike Bush, who had Cheney pulling the strings, Obama has no shady puppet master we can blame it on.
Some Obama apologists want to pin the blame on Congress, which passed a defense spending bill last December that specifically prohibits the use of defense funding to establish an alternative prison in the United States to hold Guanatamo detainees, or to transfer Gitmo detainees to the U.S. But, on January 7, President Obama willingly signed it into law. And now, with the March 7 order, he has taken a further step backwards.
As Glenn Greenwald pointed out at Salon.com, "The preservation of the crux of the Bush detention scheme was advocated by Obama long before Congress' ban on transferring detainees to the U.S. It was in May, 2009 -- a mere five months after his inauguration -- that Obama stood up in front of the U.S. Constitution at the National Archives and demanded a new law of 'preventive detention' to empower him to imprison people without charges: a plan the New York Times said 'would be a departure from the way this country sees itself.' It was the same month that the administration announced it intended to continue to deny many detainees trials, instead preserving the military commissions scheme, albeit with modifications. And the first -- and only -- Obama plan for 'closing Guantanamo' came in December, 2009, and it entailed nothing more than transferring the camp to a supermax prison in Thompson, Illinois, while preserving its key ingredients, prompting the name 'Gitmo North.'"
If we in the progressive community can see past Obama's fancy, clever rhetoric and detect the underlying lack of progress for human rights and the rule of law, surely the rest of the world can see it as well. And I find it disgraceful and embarrassing at best.
Perhaps the only good thing about all this is that the policies might have grown even more abusive had McCain and Palin won the 2008 election.
But I wonder if there will ever come a day in my lifetime when we're no longer seeing most of our elected Democrats as the lesser of two evils.