On Jan. 22, 2009, President Barack Obama carried out his promise to end torture and human rights abuse by issuing an executive order to shut down Guantanamo Bay and the military tribunals overseeing affairs. The implications of this order are far-reaching and will change the United States’ legal ideology.
It also represents a departure from the beliefs of the Bush administration’s “by all means” philosophy that limited civil liberties and freedoms in the name of the pervasive “war on terror.” Obama showed insight in ordering the closure of the Cuban military base for multiple reasons.
This change seems to be almost completely physical in nature. The closure of Guantanamo Bay did not end the harsh interrogation methods used by the CIA, or the long-term detention of about 47 subjects in military commissions. Obama refuses to investigate or prosecute those that committed human rights abuses on Bush’s watch.
I understand that the key to politics is compromise. Most say that in order to be meaningful, progress must be coupled with debate and the legislative process. But there are certain absolutes that all legislators should confirm-that the United States does not torture, that we should protect the rights of our own citizens and that we should set an example of freedom and liberty for the rest of the world.
Obama needs a stronger stance on human rights. Such a strong voice would enhance our claims as a free, liberal society by actually endorsing those claims. While “practice what you preach” may seem like common sense, the United States has justified for years the invasion of Iraq under the pretense that we were “liberating” its people from a dictatorial regime.
On the other hand, we were jailing dissidents within our own country, tapping phones with the Patriot Act and setting up kangaroo courts with the Military Commissions Act of 2006. This is not only against constitutional law, but also against the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. A reversal of these policies will give us more leverage in international politics and put America above the things we fight against-torture, injustice and tyranny.
The country Obama has envisioned and begun to lead, is in line with the civil liberties that are so essential to our development and progression as a nation. But his voice on human rights must be followed with actions towards those goals.