Not too long ago, when Barack Obama campaigned for the presidency, he was all about human rights. And man did he chastise the Republicans’ approach to them. Time and time again, Obama emphasized (and I’m quoting from memory here) that under his rule America wouldn’t lead the world through the example of its power, but through the power of its example. One of his first acts as president was to announce the shutdown of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, which had come to symbolize the Bush administration’s fast, loose, and secretive approach to human rights.
Last week, the Obama administration had a perfect opportunity to act on its rhetoric, to set an example of America’s new spirit, to specifically deliver “change we can believe in”. To understand this opportunity, you have to remember that Guantanamo Bay was just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the iceberg, hidden underneath the waterline from public scrutiny and media symbolism, exists a system of CIA prisons in foreign countries
. When the CIA suspects people of connections to terrorism, it snatches them off the streets wherever they live, flies them to those secret prisons, and interrogates them. Credible reports allege that the CIA uses torture to extract information from them. (I’ve written about one of the victims a little over three years ago
When some of the victims are trying to pursue their cases in federal court, the Bush administration tried to throw out their cases on a theory about government secrets. Obama, consistent with the rest of his human rights rhetoric, sharply criticized Bush for it.
But now that Bush’s secrecy theory is before an appeals court, Obama is changing his mind. Without qualifications, he is now sticking to the Bush position that torture victims cannot sue the CIA, because the torture is a state secret. Here’s the New York Times
, reporting from the appeals court hearing:
The New York Times wrote:
“Is there anything material that has happened” that might have caused the Justice Department to shift its views, asked Judge Mary M. Schroeder, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter, coyly referring to the recent election.
“No, your honor,” Mr. Letter replied.
Judge Schroeder asked, “The change in administration has no bearing?”
Once more, he said, “No, Your Honor.” The position he was taking in court on behalf of the government had been “thoroughly vetted with the appropriate officials within the new administration,” and “these are the authorized positions,” he said.
“Change we can believe in”? Yeah right. That is so
a year ago!