With a stroke of a pen President Obama has protected our national security and human rights. By reversing Bush-Cheney counter-terrorism policies that failed and were disrespected, Obama, in his words, placed the US on a course that demonstrates that “our ideals give us the strength and moral high ground” to protect us and the rights we cherish.
Obama used his executive power to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay within a year, end the CIA’s secret prisons and require all interrogation to follow non-coercive methods by using the procedures and practices of the Army Field Manual.
Obama acknowledged the importance of the many retired generals and admirals who spoke out in strong support to end the harsh interrogations initiated by the Bush Administration. Obama said their passion and credibility “made an extraordinary impression on me.” Standing with President Obama (in the New York Times photograph)were Council for a Livable World leaders, Generals Gard and Johns, who along with other generals and admirals, had worked tirelessly to bring this day about.
The implementation of the Executive Orders will be carried out in a deliberative way with the Attorney General, Secretary of Defense and Director of National Intelligence expected to come up with thoughtful and practical ways to make interrogation work without torture or other forms of coercion. What is reflected in the views of the retired generals and admirals is that the President’s actions are the right steps morally, diplomatically, militarily and constituionally.
A story is worth telling. In 2005 I facilitated a strategy session of numerous human rights groups determined to reverse legislatively the Bush pro-torture policies. After prior study and lots of discussion, we concluded that the Army Field Manual provided the single best policy against torture and other forms of coercion. It had been tested over time and followed international law which gave our troops if captured the best protections as well. The human rights advocates knew they needed allies. They began to build relationships with armed service retirees who shared their views. They also know that the retired generals and admirals speaking as armed service leaders had a credibility to influence matters in special ways.What the human rights advocates also learned is that they are not alone in the fight to end torture and coercion in interrogation. That has applicability to other security questions dealing with Iraq, Iran, abolition of nuclear weapons and a whole host of security related issues.
Obama’s executive orders move the US from the moral gutter to high ground. Let us hope that we have begun to climb.