Obama’s Dangerous Hypocrisy on Prisoners at Guantánamo and Bagram


By Joe Campbell
September 16th, 2009

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[digg-reddit-me]As a strong supporter of Barack Obama’s candidacy, and of his administration in general, I must concede that Glenn Greenwald yesterday proved why he is such a valuable commentator in taking the administration on. He kept his rhetorical tics to a minimum and avoided the “ideological wind tunnel” effect that so much of his writing produces – and this allowed his piece to have a broader impact.

Alright – he started off with the same weirdly exaggerated sense of perspective – proving my previous point that Glenn Greenwald uses hyperbole the way other writers use punctuation:

It’s now apparent that see this site the biggest sham in American politics is Barack Obama’s pledge to close Guantanamo and, more generally, to dismantle the Bush/Cheney approach to detaining accused Terrorists. [my emphasis]

But Greenwald quickly got down to making the substantive case – which on this front is extremely strong. On my blog and elsewhere, I have brought up Bagram as an example of Obama’s most clear failure, though I haven’t yet made the sustained case as Greenwald does.

As I wrote earlier, the Supreme Court’s rulings on the rights of detainees to certain basic rights at Guantánamo was based on the idea that our government should not be able to deprive an individual of rights merely by moving them to a particular location. Yet this is exactly what the Obama administration is claiming. Our nation’s freedoms are grounded in our traditions, and at the base of these traditions is a single, fundamental restriction on the state. To quote Winston Churchill:

The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious, and the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist.

Greenwald does not attempt to reconcile Obama’s views about Guantánamo as a candidate with the positions taken by his administration now – he simply hurls the well-justified charge of hypocrisy while tossing in a few snide remarks about those who continue to support Obama (which is a Greenwald staple.) He does not try to grapple with the issues the Obama administration faces in trying to deal with the political, legal, and strategic consequences of the radical actions taken by the Bush administration.

Greenwald is not the “fox” of Isaiah Berlin’s parable, but the very Bushian hedgehog. And on this issue, the hedgehog has grasped the basic truth: In condemning Bush for Guantánamo and the secret CIA prisons while expanding Bagram and using this different location for the same or similar purposes cannot stand, the Obama administration is engaging in rank hypocrisy which we cannot let stand. (As Greenwald points out, its unclear what exactly Bagram is being used for as the Obama administration has been keeping too many documents secret.) I highly reccomend you read Greenwald’s important post from yesterday.

By acting this way regarding detainees at Bagram, Barack Obama threatens the very Rule of Law that he came into office promising to protect – and that he swore to protect when taking the oath of office. Liberals must oppose this; conservatives must oppose this; libertarians must oppose this; Americans must oppose this, and be guided by “Something wiser than our own quick personal impulses… [&] sweeter than the taste of a political victory.”

We must be guided, simply, by Our Lady of the Law.

[Image by DVIDSHUB licensed under Creative Commons.]