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Rights Groups Assess Obama's First 100 Days

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While human rights and open-government groups are generally pleased with President Barack Obama's rhetoric during his first 100 days, some are skeptical that he will deliver on his promises.

Typical is Amnesty International. The group says, "President Obama has made a promising start in improving the United States' human rights record in his first 100 days in office, but he must now deliver on his promises."

The London-based rights group praised Obama for declaring that he will close the Guantanamo Bay prison, but it said after an "auspicious start" in making a swift announcement, more than 240 detainees are no closer to freedom.

"The bottom line is that... unlawful detentions at Guantanamo Bay continue, and for the vast majority of the detainees, the change in administration has so far meant no change in their situation," Amnesty said.
 
The group also expressed concerns about suspects held at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, which it said remained "shrouded in secrecy." Obama had inherited a "unique opportunity" to dismantle the Bush administration's apparatus for the war on terror which had produced "brutal practices and broken lives," Amnesty said.

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"The closure of Guantanamo must mark the end of the policies and practices it embodies, not merely shift those violations elsewhere, whether to Bagram... or anywhere else," Amnesty said.

The Center for Constitutional Rights - which has mobilized a small army of pro-bono lawyers to defend Guantanamo detainees - praised Omaba's rhetoric but cautioned that "in many areas of critical importance - like human rights, torture, rendition, secrecy and surveillance - his words have been loftier than his actions."

Vince Warren, CCR executive director, says, "On Obama's very first day in office, his administration ordered a 120-day suspension of the military commissions for Guantanamo detainees. The commissions were widely assailed for allowing evidence obtained through coercion and torture, secret evidence and hearsay evidence, all in violation of the U.S. Constitution. But Obama did not abolish the military commissions; he only hit the 'pause' button."

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Warren faulted Obama for not moving more quickly to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

He said, "The new president's most dramatic moment came on day three when he issued executive orders to close Guantanamo's prison camp within one year. But Guantanamo isn't yet closed. The hundreds of men held there still haven't won their freedom, nor will they necessarily have their day in fair court. Another year for men who have been held in abusive and inhuman conditions for seven years already is simply too long."

Warren said that "secrecy was the hallmark of the Bush administration. It classified more documents than any administration in history, restricted Freedom of Information Act requests and tried to protect government officials and military contractors from being held liable for illegal actions, such as torture and wrongful death."

"It invoked the state secrets privilege to avoid scrutiny in court and
responsibility for government action more times than any other administration," he said, but added:.

"Obama has come down on both sides of this issue, ordering far more transparency through cooperation with Freedom of Information Act requests, while at the same time invoking state secrets in a case charging an aviation corporation with complicity in rendering a detainee to torture."

Warren was also critical of Obama on the issue of electronic surveillance. He said, "The U.S. government used to need a warrant before it could spy on its own people. In 2002, President George W. Bush issued a secret executive order illegally authorizing the National Security Agency to wiretap Americans without a warrant. When the program was exposed, the administration secured immunity from Congress for the telecommunications companies that participated in the program. Obama still has not repudiated the executive orders supporting warrantless wiretapping and the legal opinions used to support them."

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Warren said that release of the "torture memos" prepared by lawyers in the Bush Justice Department was "welcome," but he noted that "Obama has indicated he will not prosecute former officials who broke the law and committed crimes, saying he would rather look forward than back. For there to be no consequences for creating a torture program not only calls our system of justice into question, but it also could allow the nightmare to happen all over again."

He said, "After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush quickly squandered the world's enormous goodwill toward the United States. The goodwill Obama has inspired can evaporate if the rest of the world begins to see his administration continuing too many of Bush's policies."

At the same time, a leading open-government advocacy organization, OMB Watch, said, "The president and his team have made significant progress in both the right-to-know and regulatory areas."

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http://billfisher.blogspot.com
William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)
 

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