’LOOK FORWARD, NOT BACKWARDS’
To his credit, announcing the closure of Guantanamo and the abolition of torture practices were among the very first measures taken by Obama after his inauguration.
Yet, what about the rest, that is, the whole panoply of additional tools used by the Bush administration to pursue the “War on Terror” (a term banned in the Obama White House) that according to many lawyers and civil libertarians went against the grain of what the U.S. is all about? That is, illegal abductions, extraordinary renditions, military commission trials and the permanent detention of civilians who cannot be brought to trial for various reasons.
These remain very much in place, albeit with the sorts of caveats that can only be considered somewhat disingenuous (like saying, as the CIA has, that renditions will be continued but only with countries providing guarantees that detainees will not be tortured or abused in any way). The reluctance of the incoming administration to discontinue the military commission trials system used in Guantanamo until now, and its refusal to substitute it for regular trials in federal court through which a number of terrorists have already been tried and convicted, has been especially disappointing. The same goes for the constitutionally questionable announcement to keep some detainees permanently locked up, without any charges formally filed against them. This image published on May 9, 2004, in “The New Yorker” magazine shows a naked Iraqi detainee in the Abu Ghraib prison being intimidated by American military dogs. As worrisome as this, if not more, is the unwillingness to come to terms with this “evil past” of unlawful behaviour, of which extensive torture practices, authorised, sanctioned and, some would say, directed, from the highest levels of the U.S. government, are the most egregious example.
PROTESTERS CONFRONT John Yoo, a constitutional law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, as he makes his way to a classroom on August 17. Demonstrators called for the university to fire Yoo, a former Bush administration attorney who along with other lawyers wrote the legal memos - the Office of Legal Counsel "torture memos" - used to support harsh interrogation techniques that critics say constituted torture.