Wednesday, May 20, 2009

About-faces at the White House

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, said on its Web site today that “the Obama administration is opposing our request that the Supreme Court reconsider the dismissal of the lawsuit, Wilson v. Libby, et al. In that case, the district court had dismissed the claims of Joe and Valerie Wilson against former Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and [former deputy secretary of state] Richard Armitage for their gross violations of the Wilsons’ constitutional rights.

“Agreeing with the Bush administration, the Obama Justice Department argues the Wilsons have no legitimate grounds to sue. It is surprising that the first time the Obama administration has been required to take a public position on this matter, the administration is so closely aligning itself with the Bush administration’s views,” CREW said.

It’s just the latest case of the Obama administration adopting positions both contrary to the pledges of Obama the campaigner and contradictive of the academic foundation of Obama the president. In rapid order the administration has reversed course on ending or curtailing the hated U.S. military tribunals of terrorism suspects; done an about-face on the pursuit of a robust investigation into torture as a strategy conceived and executed by the U.S. government; and changed its mind about releasing thousands of photographs of previously unpublished photos of U.S. prisoners in Iraq.

Civil libertarians wonder, maybe rightly so, what happened to the utterly principled former constitutional law professor they'd fallen in love with on the campaign trail.

It was all enough to send academics and representatives of human rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, and the Center for Constitutional Rights to the White House, where, according to Michael Isikoff of Newsweek magazine, they proceeded to get in the 44th president’s business. Isikoff was interviewed this evening on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show.”

MADDOW: "Let's take a specific example, one of the specific issues, the subject of torture prosecutions, the possibility of maybe a truth commission, or a commission of inquiry of some kind on to the issue of torture. Your sources are telling you that the President remained firmly against pursuing any of those things at this meeting today. But is there any sense of what his arguments are to defend that sense, or is it still just this generic assertion that we need to look forward and not look back?"

ISIKOFF: "The President had a somewhat different explanation for his resistance for that. He talked about all the Congressional investigations going on, the litigation going on, and said it was too distracting to his staff, that too much time was being taken up. He actually looked directly at Attorney General Holder who was present at the meeting and indicated that Holder was having to spend too much time on this issue. Now some of those present have made the point that that's the reason to have a 9/11-style commission - instead of having many Congressional investigations, have one Presidentially-backed commission with subpoena power that can do all this. And the President didn't necessarily reject that, but he raised this issue of a distraction, too much time."

"Then after that one of those present raised the idea of a criminal prosecution, even one criminal prosecution as a symbol, sort of, a trophy, I think the word was used, to show that such conduct, for torture, would not be tolerated again. And the President sort of curtly dismissed the idea, made it clear he had no interest in that. What was interesting about that is his attorney general, again Eric Holder, sat there silently and didn't say a word. ...”

It’s no wonder, then, that many Americans are beginning to quietly reflect a voters’ remorse about their president. It’s no surprise that some mavericks in the blogosphere have actually started to call President Obama “Bush Light.”

The president on Thursday is expected to outline a strategy for shuttering the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. In a speech that some already see it as pivotal to a full development of an Obama strategy on the war on terrorism, Obama hopes to undo the damage his credibility is beginning to take among the people who elected him.

With a grand signing gesture on his second day in the Oval Office, Obama promised to close Gitmo within a year, as part of a concerted bid to correct America's tarnished international image. On Thursday, Obama has to do what he can to restore the fading luster to his own domestic image, too.
Image credit: Gitmo, January 2009: Reuters/Brennan Linsley/Pool.

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