Let’s give credit where credit is due. President Obama deserves credit for the new direction he appears to be taking with respect to civil liberties. That is reflected by his plans to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and his order to suspend the military commissions pending a review of the entire system.
Ever since the Pentagon set up its prison camp in Cuba, The Future of Freedom Foundation has taken a leading role in opposition to the camp. When rumors began to leak out that prisoners were being tortured at Gitmo, we were among the first organizations to speak out. We also fervently opposed the alternative “judicial” system that the Pentagon set up at Guantanamo for trying suspected terrorists. We repeatedly pointed out that the Pentagon was making a mockery out of everything the Framers had accomplished in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
We held two major conferences for the purpose of emphasizing the critical importance of civil liberties to a free society. Those two conferences featured American lawyers who were playing a leading role in opposition to Guantanamo Bay and the Bush administration’s enormous assault on civil liberties. These attorneys were Joe Margulies, the lead counsel in the first Guantanamo case in which the Supreme Court upheld the right of habeas corpus, Joanne Mariner, Human Rights Watch attorney, Bruce Fein, former Justice Department lawyer, Jesslyn Radack, former Justice Department lawyer, Andrew Napolitano, Fox News legal commentator, Glenn Greenwald, blogger at Salon.com, Jonathan Turley, law professor at George Washington University, and Doug Bandow, noted libertarian.
If you haven’t yet seen their speeches, I highly recommend that you do so. They are all posted on our website. Their expositions will stand through the ages as among the greatest and most principled defenses of civil liberties ever.
Undoubtedly, every one of them feels as good as we do here at FFF over the new direction that the Obama administration seems to be taking on civil liberties. Joanne Mariner was at Guantanamo monitoring proceedings when Obama’s order to suspend the proceedings was issued. I can only imagine her reaction, after years of ardently opposing such proceedings.
The new president of the United States, a lawyer himself, seems to be saying this: Those who have spent the last several years condemning Guantanamo Bay and defending civil liberties have been right and it is time to place America back on the right track.
And it gets even better. Glenn Greenwald has pointed out (here and here) that the lawyers that Obama has appointed to serve in the Office of Legal Counsel have publicly condemned in law review articles and other forums the Bush administration’s massive assault on civil liberties. That’s the department from which the infamous torture memos were issued.
As Americans, we need to be better than everyone else. Even when our enemies are engaged in wrongful conduct — torture, pillaging, raping, operating kangaroo judicial systems whose outcome is preordained, or whatever — it is incumbent on us to refrain from doing so. We have to be better. We have to be the model for right, just, and proper conduct, even when those we are opposing are the model for the opposite.
There are those who will say, “But this new direction will make us less safe.” To which I reply: First, life is not so dear that it must be purchased at any price, especially when that price is our freedom. Second, there is no guarantee that torture works, especially when it is employed against people who subsequently turn out to be innocent of any wrongdoing. Third, the Guantanamo camp and the military tribunals have only succeeded in pouring fuel on the fire of anger and outrage that foreigners have over U.S. foreign policy. Fourth, the only way to achieve security in the long run is to dismantle America’s foreign empire and its interventionist foreign policy, which are at the root of the anger and hatred against our country.
Of course, it’s still too early to know for certain whether Obama will continue to move our country in a better and freer direction with respect to civil liberties. But initial signs look good and he deserves credit for that.