The Prez of Hope & Change is facing some tests. In chronicling Bush’s usurpation of power, I have mentioned a number of times rendition or extraordinary rendition, which is the apprehension and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one state to another. Otherwise known as abducting foreign nationals and spiriting them away under cover of night to Gitmo or some other secret squirrel prison for torturing questioning and interrogation. The barbaric interrogation processes that went on at Guantanamo Bay we hope will now belong in the dark past of Bush and his croneys. Obama is talking of dismantling the detention centre at Gitmo and closing the shutters. (Interestingly though, Obama’s second highest negative approval rating (50%) is for his order to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility for terror suspects within a year.)
But….under Executive Orders Obama has already signed, the CIA will STILL have the power and authority to carry out renditions and spirit people away to prisons in countries that cooperate with the US. This counterterrorism technique will remain whilst Gitmo reverts to being a naval base. Prisoners who have been forceably “disappeared” are busy suing Boeing Corp (because they assisted the CIA through rendition flights to countries who often carried out more torture than the US). This lawsuit, which was closed down by Bush, is being reopened this week and will Obama’s first test when it comes to his declaration of transparency and willingness to act when it comes to torture and rendition.
So why keep (and possibly expand) a programme that has brought embarrassment to the US and violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (by depriving people of liberty and security, and torturing)? The good news at least is that Obama has ordered a task-force to examine how renditions could still be used as a counterterrorism technique without people languishing away in foreign prisons for years. He talks about “limited circumstances” when rendition might still be a viable option but I don’t think the Exec Order made it clear what the limited circumstances might be. In my view, there is no circumstance at all that should allow for people to be (let’s face it) kidnapped and forceably spirited away to God knows where to face God knows what.
So the response to torture and rendition is Obama’s first test. His next test will take place on February 12. This is the date Bush set for the doling out to Big Oil companies of leases for oil and gas drilling on nearly 100,000 acres of federal land in Colorado, US. The parcels of land are home to endangered species such as sage grouse and Colorado River cutthroat trout. The public lands are also migration routes for big-game and their winter grazing grounds. But then Bush never cared for endangered species so why be surprised that he’d offer acres of beautiful land to be auctioned on February 12.
So the test is: will Obama stop the leases and save the public lands and endangered species? There is some hope that he will. Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, stopped the sale of leases on 77 parcels of Federal land near Utah and sensitive areas like Arches and Canyonlands national parks. Bush of course authorised the sale of the leases in the 11th hour of his administration.
Meanwhile, Obama’s third test will be the ACLU, who have asked the new Prez’s administration to cough up secret squirrel documents that demonstrate the legal justification of Bush era warrantless eavesdropping, interrogation and secret prisons. Bush has always refused to cough up using the excuses of national security, secrecy and privilege. But Obama has given the ACLU a door to open because he recently rescinded a 2001 Justice Department memo that basically gave agencies a legal cover to hide behind.
So the ACLU will put Obama’s rhetoric around transparency to the test and hopefully get their hands on documents that will reveal what we all know and suspect – that there was never any legal justification for ordering antiterrorism measures like water-boarding. I doubt very much that we’ll find legal opinion that would allow the President of the United States to disregard existing law!
Image credit: Associated Press