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Obama and human rights: Shame on me

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Locking people up indefinitely, possibly forever, just on the President's say-so. With no right to appeal to a court. Please explain again why that isn't the behavior of an autocrat. Or is thinking that way so last administration? If a Democrat does it, is it just fine, like when Lyndon Johnson sent the FBI to infiltrate and neutralize  protest groups in Cointelpro, murdering dozens of Black Panthers in the process?

Obama said all kinds of things we wanted to hear about Guantanamo. He even said he'll close it. He sent an Admiral to talk to the military officials in charge there and, based on their word, certify that there are none of those Geneva-violating "outrages upon personal dignity" occurred when they lock people up in tiny cells for 22 hours a day, for months and years on end. For some reason, those hard-to-please human rights advocates were not satisfied with the Admiral's word.

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Months into the new administration, the Guantanamo detainees, innocent and guilty alike, still languish in their tiny cells. For some, at least, the conditions are perhaps marginally improved. After all, American values really are important. Consistent with those "values," the Obama administration regularly stonewalls the detainees' cases, fighting every inch of way against any expanded rights, or even common decency. For, you see, some fool court said they had "rights," but that certainly didn't mean the President had to do anything different. And hiding evidence from the courts, as the US is continuing to do in the Guantanamo habeas cases, well, real Presidents do it all the time.

And just forget about releasing people simply because they're innocent. That's such a quaint idea, fit only for Bush critics. Under the Obama administrtion, the known innocent must wait with the guilty till a complete "review" is finished. What's a few more months of hell, after seven years?

Now we learn that the Obama administration plans to appeal the Federal court decision that those arrested elsewhere and shipped half-way around the world to Bagram in Afghanistan have rights the President is bound to respect. Evidently, the centuries-old right of habeas corpus is one of those rights only candidates talk about. Real men lock people up forever, no evidence needed.

The right to be free from warrantless wiretapping is another of those rights that seemed to matter when Obama was a candidate. He was even going to vote for it before he voted against it. Now such rights are things that we citizens shouldn't bother our pretty little heads about. After all, they're "state secrets." The President said so, you see.

Meanwhile, we found out this week who really has rights in this administration. It's the CIA's torturers, you fools. Obama's CIA director told us peons who are supposed to follow the law that the CIA's torturers are not bound by such quaint ideas. They "should not be investigated, let alone punished." Without any investigation, he knows that none have committed any offenses justifying punishment. For murder is all in a CIA torturer's day's work. And, going forward, there will be no more of those pesky allegations of abuse that cause so much mischief. “CIA officers do not tolerate, and will continue to promptly report, any ...  allegations of abuse,” the director assured us.

Evidently, for Obama, as for all too many Presidents in the last fifty years, rights only matter when on the campaign trail, not when one is in office and able to do something to protect them.

I really, really, wanted to believe that this time, just once, we weren't being played for fools. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

I am truly ashamed.

UPDATED 4-12-2009 to remove incorrect double negative in fifth paragraph.]

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Stephen Soldz is psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and is President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. He was a psychological consultant on two of (more...)
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