As Barack Obama is set to be inaugurated as the 44th President next week, this is how your government treats people:
1. As a matter of law under the FISA Amendments Act, your government can search your home, office or car, take your belongings and put you under recorded personal or electronic surveillance for periods of up to 67 days — without either an official warrant or even the unofficial approval of a judge. After that, even if a judge reviewing the case rules that such surveillance, search and seizure was an inappropriate abuse of power, the government can keep whatever it obtains from those actions indefinitely.
2. Judge Susan J. Crawford, convener of the military tribunals at Guantanamo, has finally come out and acknowledged what human rights groups from Amnesty International to the Red Cross have been saying for years: that at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, U.S. agents have been engaging in torture. Treatment at Guantanamo ranges from dressing inmates in women’s underwear, leaving them naked during interrogation and forcing them to wear leashes and perform dog tricks (hello, Abu Ghraib) to techniques so harsh that they resulted in heart rates as low as 35 beats per minute.
If we tolerate this and allow it, then how can we object when our servicemen and women, or others in foreign service, are captured and subjected to the same techniques? How can we complain? Where is our moral authority to complain? Well, we may have lost it.
Who is “tolerating this and allowing it”? Well, the Congress passed the Military Commissions Act back in 2006, which tolerates and allows evidence obtained through cruel, degrading and coercive procedures. Such evidence is allowed in the tribunal system, making a mockery of the idea of an American high moral ground.
And as Barack Obama is set to be inaugurated as our next president, this is where he stands:
1. As Senator, Barack Obama voted for the FISA Amendments Act, and as a candidate for President, he pledged to employ the powers of the FISA Amendments Act if elected.
2. As President-Elect, Barack Obama refused this Sunday to commit to ending CIA protocols for interrogation that continue to permit waterboarding torture. Close the Guantanamo Bay detention center? These things take time, Barack Obama now says, which is pretty close to what George W. Bush has been saying the past two years.
There are some indications that as President Barack Obama may make some positive moves, at least on some fronts. Aides are suggesting this and that, off the record. That’s nice. But given President-elect Obama’s mixed record on government treatment of the people under its power, we shouldn’t be silent in hope that as President Obama will make everything all right. Change, as Barack Obama reminded the American people day after day during the presidential campaign, “doesn’t happen from the top down; it happens from the bottom up.” To the extent that Americans care about how their government treats people, they shouldn’t abdicate responsibility. If we want the way things are to change, we have to advocate for it publicly.
That’s why we’ve reserved a space on the Inauguration Parade route on the southwest corner of Pennsylvania and 9th Street. J. Clifford and I have committed to be there from the wee hours of the morning on January 20, 2009, and to stay there holding signs until the inaugural parade has passed. There’s a space for you there, too. We hope to see you there. Bring a sign to advocate for the change you want to see.