I haven’t been a fan of any politician for a very long time. I’m not a fan of Barack Obama’s though, yes, he is much better than George W. Bush, if that isn’t damning him with faint praise. I haven’t posted much about Obama recently and I’ve been asking myself why. The truth is, there’s not much going on that I find interesting.
Granted, Obama has made some good initial noises about closing Guantanamo and ending extraordinary rendition and torture. I’m still in “wait and see” and “I’ll believe it when I see it” mode. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be happy if I see it. But I’m not going to get ahead of myself.
There are some bad signs. Obama’s expansion of Bush’s “faith-based” programs, for one. I hate that. Religion is quite powerful enough in the United States. The administration doesn’t need its own religious instructors.
The President’s intentions with respect to Afghanistan gives me the heaves.
I’m glad Tom Daschle’s gone, not so much because I’m freaked out by his unpaid taxes – they all do that shit, they really do – but because there was never any reason to think that he was going to do what it’s gonna take to reform American health care and that led me to think, not unreasonably, that Obama isn’t really interested in doing a good job on that either.
Nor was I impressed at all by Obama’s attempt to get a bipartisan stimulus bill passed by selling out a part of the bill that would have provided free contraceptives to women in need – especially since it didn’t win him a damned thing from the Republicans – that’s smart politics?
All of that has seemed to obvious to be worthy of comment – apart from the Afghanistan situation. But this really bugs me: A British Court reluctantly decides not to publicize evidence of torture because of threats from the United States and the Obama administration thanks them. WTF?
Here’s a bit of Glen Greenwald on that subject:
Andrew Sullivan notes this article from the BBC, reporting on threats made by the U.S. to punish Britain if British courts disclose what was done to one of its citizens, Binyam Mohamed, a former Guantanamo detainee who is suing the British Government for its complicity in his torture. British judges “said they wanted the full details of the alleged torture to be published in the interests of safeguarding the rule of law, free speech and democratic accountability” — what are those strange things? — but decided not to do so because it was “persuaded that it was not in the public interest to publish those details as the US government could then inflict on the citizens of the United Kingdom a very considerable increase in the dangers they face at a time when a serious terrorist threat still pertains.”
So not only has our own Government erected an impenetrable wall of secrecy around what it has done, but is demanding that other countries do the same, upon threat of being punished. As Sullivan said: “Torture is a cancer. It spreads through the legal system until it destroys the integrity of all of it. It will also destroy alliances if allowed to spread. The scale of that destruction has yet to be measured or understood. Obama has now drawn a line under it. But that is only the start of a process of recovery.”
No kidding! The rule of law has been under attack in the US for eight years and now Obama’s grateful that his country has applied the jackboot to the country of its birth?
In a letter [pdf] to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President of the ACLU Anthony Romero said, in part:
The claims made by the British justices that the United States continues to oppose publication of the judgment in the Binyam Mohamed case–to the point of threatening the future of U.S.-British intelligence cooperation–seems ompletely at odds with both the anti-torture and transparency executive orders signed by the President. We strongly urge you to clarify the position of the United States and remove any threat related to the publication of the court’s full judgment.
Indeed. Clarify Madam Secretary of State and Mr. President. As Mr. Romero says –
Hope is flickering. The Obama administration’s position is not change. It is more of the same. This represents a complete turn-around and undermining of the restoration of the rule of law. The new American administration shouldn’t be complicit in hiding the abuses of its predecessors.
So already, we’re left hoping for hope.
The judgment of the British High Court is here [pdf]. And here’s a bit of what the justices had to say:
Moreover, in the light of the long history of the common law and democracy which we share with the United States, it was, in our view difficult to conceive that a democratically elected and accountable government could possibly have any rational objection to placing into the public domain such a summary of what its own officials reported as to how a detainee was treated by them and which made no disclosure of sensitive intelligence matters. Indeed we did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence contained in reports by its own officials or officials of another State where the evidence was relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be.
No reason has emerged, particularly in the light of the statement made by Ms Crawford to which we have referred at paragraph 12, why the United States Government has not itself put the matters contained in the redacted passage into the public domain. There has been ample time for the United States Government to do so.
In the circumstances, it is still difficult to understand how objection can properly be made to a court in the United Kingdom doing so in all the circumstances we have set out.
It was submitted to us by Mr David Rose that the situation had changed significantly following the election of President Obama who was avowedly determined to eschew torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and to close Guantanamo Bay. We have, however, been informed by counsel for the Foreign Secretary that the position has not changed. Our current understanding is therefore that the position remains the same, even after the making of the Executive Orders by President Obama on 22 January 2009 to which we have referred at paragraph 9 above. The concern of the United States pertains not to disclosure of the treatment of detainees that might be levelled against the administration of President Bush, but to the disclosure of information obtained through intelligence sharing. However, as we have observed the United States Government will still not make the information public.
The ball’s in your court now Mr. Obama.