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|Security always trumps transparency|
Since the media has moved on rather quickly, and to a certain extent out of necessity, to other issues, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on last week's resounding thumping that former Vice-President Dick Cheney gave President Barack Obama.
And make no mistake, Cheney did … he cleaned the president's clock. Maybe not on style, but clearly on substance.
With all the trappings of his office, President Obama at the National Archives stood before the Constitution, and, once again, played the 'I'm gonna blame Bush for everything' song as the faithful clapped and cheered his right-on-queue 'teleprompted' speech. Just in case you missed it, I will summarize: detaining and torturing suspected terrorists following 9-11 was a policy based in fear and it violated our Constitution; thereby making our enemies hate us even more.
Previously, and especially as he campaigned for president, Obama pledged to close the terrorist prison located in Guantánamo Bay (Gitmo), Cuba, no later that January 2010.
The trouble is that his own party (not to mention every Republican, even those, such as Sen. John McCain, who support Obama) want more specifics. In other words, fewer words … more details. Liberal Democrat Harry Reid (Nevada) even called for a real plan and House Democrats blocked a future spending measure to close Gitmo.
As stated in another press conference with Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) and Joe Liebermann (I-Connecticut), forget that these Gitmo detainees are suspected terrorists and sworn enemies of the U.S.; none of them would even qualify to legally immigrate to the U.S. So why would we even consider voluntarily allowing them entry even if that means a maximum security federal jail? None of our "progressive" European allies have volunteered to shelter any of these "misunderstood detainees."
One such future guest of the U.S. federal prison system would certainly be Kahlid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed mastermind behind the Sept. 11 plot and the beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl. I don't know about you, but I feel all beaten up inside and ashamed that I live in a country that would err on the side of keeping this sick piece of filth locked up instead of getting him a book contract and a guest appearance on Letterman. Wouldn't you rather promote Kahlid's civil liberties even if it meant another 9-11? Transparency and openness are tantamount to freedom, aren't they? Certainly we can remain committed to liberty if we lose a major city to a dirty bomb. Right? Of course not!
Since Obama decided to wedge himself between copies of the Constitution, Cheney took it to him there. Cheney affirmed that Article II of the Constitution clearly states "all necessary and appropriate force" could be used to protect the American people. If I am reading this correctly, then that would allow torture and any other means to protect American citizens.
Still, Obama argued that the U.S. was somehow weaker and more hated around the world because of (now shield your eyes children…) water-boarding (gasp!), which has come to be the most abominable, detestable, intolerable, repugnant … well you get the point.
One of my favorite Cheney lines was about Obama and others that have staked their moral authority on opposing the tactics of the Bush administration is really nothing more than "feigned outrage based on a false narrative." After all, Cheney and Bush were actually at the helm and were responsible for ensuring the nation's safety after 9-11. The closest Obama has ever come to danger was when he borrowed the movie "James and the Giant Peach" from the Cook County library in Chicago.
Otherwise, he is still untested and naïve. More and more, he reminds me of President Carter when it comes to foreign affairs. I am not one of these people that believe that Obama has some surreptitious agenda aimed at terminating the U.S. I just believe that he sees our enemies as reasonable people wanting the U.S. to return to its values of freedom and liberty and transparency and rule of law.
But, let me ask you something: was the U.S. water-boarding at Gitmo in 1993 when the World Trade Center was first attacked? Had we launched a war on terror in 1998 when our African embassies were bombed? Had we invaded Iraq or Afghanistan before 9-11? It seems to me that Obama is playing neat little lawyer games in the same manner that Cyrus Vance did under Carter: cowardice disguised as morality.
Do you remember the result then? Not an increase in American prestige and potential, but a remarkable decline that weakened the U.S. and made our allies vulnerable.
Nonetheless, Obama may be technically accurate in pushing a legal resolution to a national security matter, but pragmatically wrong in its application. Think about it: do you think that North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad care one bit about American values or principles, such as the rule of law?
The world is a dangerous place. And, I wish we had someone like Cheney still on watch.
John W. Sutherlin, PhD, is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisiana-Monroe. He also is co-director at the ULM Social Science Research Lab. He can be reached by e-mailing Sutherlin@ulm.edu.