It seems the more time goes by, the more Obama seems to support the precedents established by the prior administration. Civil rights advocates were greatly dismayed last week after hearing about Obama’s plans to reform treatment of terror suspects. The creation of the internment facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was a hot topic of the Bush era, one even criticized by Obama during his campaign. The facility, still in operation, gained notoriety for the practice of holding prisoners without trial for long periods of time, along with the use of torture and prisoner abuse. One of the first executive orders signed by President Obama was his intent to close the facility. But in a private meeting last Wednesday and his speech at the National Archives Thursday, the president laid out new conditions for him to fully close the facility. These conditions are perhaps the most radical proposal ever — a system to legitimize long-term incarceration for prisoners who have not yet committed any crimes. This proposed system was referred to by Obama as “prolonged detention.”
Such a judicial system has no place in the U.S., a republic founded on the principals of liberty and the right to a fair trial. Because “prolonged detention” was not legal in the U.S., Bush claimed his offshore prison was exempt for holding “enemy combatants.” When the Supreme Court decided otherwise, the administration modified the definitions of “enemy combatant” in the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Obama stated on Thursday he considers the use of these military commissions instead of trials legitimate, a change of policy from his campaign rhetoric. Under the act, the President or Secretary of Defense are capable of defining subjectively who constitutes an “enemy combatant.” Potentially this opens up Americans to labeling as enemies of the state, subject to preventive, prolonged detention for crimes the government fears they may carry out.
Now President Obama has proposed codifying a system very similar to the one of the Bush era, one where civil rights are secondary to the security of the state. He stated he aims to establish “an appropriate legal regime” that “involves judicial and congressional oversight.” While this sounds slightly better than his predecessor’s approach, Obama is still treading into perilous waters. While he states he wants to include the other two branches in the new system, the origin of the code in the executive branch is unsettling. Creating such a system would likely follow the common characteristic historically of increasing direction over the legal system by the executive branch. This centralization of power poses a grave risk to the future of liberty and civil rights in the U.S.
This new system proposed is in part due to the goals of the administration to continue the war in the Afghanistan region. Obama knows many more prisoners will be taken in this occupation, and he aims to see they are legitimately kept from returning home. He seems to think it is the role of the U.S. to round up and hold all those who have often committed no act of war, “but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States.” This futile attempt to police the world is costing the U.S. billions, and is planned to increase in the future. It is this American foreign policy alone that is stirring the rapid growth of anti-American militancy, not the other way around as many American politicians seem to think. If the U.S. changed this policy by allowing a place in the world for people whose views differ strongly with American values, America would not have so many enemies. But instead the Obama administration will continue to take its marching orders from the military-industrial complex and try to wage a continual war on the other side of the earth to crush perceived enemies, maintaining a perpetual self-fulfilling prophecy.
President Obama said in his speech, “I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief, and as a citizen, I know that we must never, ever, turn our back on its enduring principles for expedience sake.” This statement runs contrary to his plans to continue to wage an unconstitutional war, propose to slash the Bill of Rights, exploit an unconstitutional monetary system, and centralize executive influence — more indications that Obama’s intentions equate to more of the status-quo rather than a role model of change.