Let me be the 47 millionth person to congratulate you on your stunning campaign and victory. Everybody in my family voted for you. So Tuesday night was pretty exciting after it became clear that we weren’t going to have the Supreme Court deciding the election with a bogus ruling, or some other shenanigan.
My stepson, who is studying in England for his last year of engineering, got his ballot off the Internet. Even though she is 26, it was the first-ever presidential election for my stepdaughter. Abducted as toddlers and taken by their father to Libya, where they were kept away from their mother for 18 years, this democracy thing is rather new to the two of them.
It’s something they didn’t encounter in Libya. There, the rule of law simply does not exist. Libya may be the U.S. oil companies’ new best friend, but it is no friend of human or civil rights. Express a little too much dissent if you’re Libyan, and you’ll soon hear about it from people you really don’t want to hear anything critical from. The government wants to take your business or your residence for a pittance or nothing? Too bad for you. You want somebody to please tell you if your cousin is being held in prison? Tough. The rule of men takes its toll.
In America, it’s not supposed to be that way. As you know better than I, Mr. President-Elect, our Constitution guarantees it. We are shielded by enumerated and unenumerated rights. True, not everybody got these rights all at once. It took a while. Took a war. Took some changing of that Constitution. And, of course, there have been and still remain some heinous violations of rights, both human and civil, despite the shield. But whatever the flaws and failures, whatever the distortions from the twins of greed and power, in America the ideal has been that the rule of law trumps the rule of men.
Or it did until the administration yours is going to replace started torturing people and sending them to secret prisons and getting their consiglieres to maintain that they really weren’t people at all, and therefore not covered by the protections of American or anybody’s law. Unpersons. Subject to whatever their keepers wanted to subject them to with help from pedigreed psychologists and other ethically challenged assistants.
Not just torture, but all the interconnected other elements associated with holding these unpersons, concealing how they were treated and ignoring the Geneva Conventions and the Constitution. They created, as Glenn Greenwald has written, a "culture and ideology of lawlessness."
Mr. President-Elect, I know you have a tremendous amount to think about and do right now, so let me get to the point. I want to ask you a favor. I want you to include a few lines in your Inaugural Day speech. Yes, it’s true. I’ve got a list like everybody else who’s pulling on your coat sleeve right now. That’s what happens when you give people hope for change.
On January 20, I want you to announce to the nation and the world your first steps in restoring the rule of law. Tell everyone that before the sun sets you will sign an executive order renouncing torture and commanding any and all government employees and contractors to cease any torture as defined by the Red Cross, other international organizations and the Geneva Conventions. And say that the United States will never again train, fund, encourage or otherwise assist governments of other nations to engage in torture as it has cravenly done during several administrations. I want you to announce a second order that abolishes the Guantánamo detention center and all the secret prisons elsewhere. A third that ends rendition. I want you tell us that you will immediately seek repeal of the reprehensible Military Commissions Act that tried to paper over lawless rule with legislation that you and most Democrats voted against in 2006. Finally, I want you to announce an investigatory commission – a bipartisan commission – with subpoena power, access to every secret memo and all the time it needs to uncover the whole story of torture and all the associated acts, to fill the gaps in what has already been learned. The first step in keeping these acts from being repeated in the future is to fully understand them and those who ordered them.
Some people, including your friend and advisor Cass Sunstein, will consider these suggestions distracting and divisive. Particularly the investigation. The polls tell us such matters don’t show up on most Americans’ priority lists. Jobs, the war in Iraq, health care, terrorism, even the environment get mentioned long before anything related to what I’m asking. But you know where they do show up? Among Libyans. The kin and friends of my kids. Who, like most Libyans, love Americans. Who, though they whisper about it, detest their regime’s arbitrary rule of men. Who, like so many other people in North Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia, wonder why the United States tortured and kidnapped and held men without trial. Who came to wonder over the past seven years whether their love for Americans isn’t misplaced.
Like people around the world, they celebrated in Libya when you won, Mr. President-Elect. You’ve given them hope, too. As well as to my kids. They don’t yet know all the ins and outs of the U.S. political system. For instance, the Electoral College doesn’t make much sense to them. But they do understand that a country which holds men secretly captive without redress, tortures them and otherwise violates their fundamental rights as human beings isn’t a place any of us can be very proud to call home.
You obviously don’t need any suggestions on oratory from me. Your comments were dead on the mark 13 months ago when President Bush’s torture orders to the CIA became known. You said:
"The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security. We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer – it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration's approach. Torture is how you create enemies, not how you defeat them. Torture is how you get bad information, not good intelligence. Torture is how you set back America's standing in the world, not how you strengthen it. It's time to tell the world that America rejects torture without exception or equivocation. It's time to stop telling the American people one thing in public while doing something else in the shadows. No more secret authorization of methods like simulated drowning. When I am president America will once again be the country that stands up to these deplorable tactics. When I am president we won't work in secret to avoid honoring our laws and Constitution, we will be straight with the American people and true to our values."
Arrow. Zing. Bullseye.
But on target as those words are, as welcome as it was to hear them, especially those final two sentences, they are just words until you transform them into action. I know you have much to pack into that Inaugural speech on January 20. I hope you find a place somewhere for my suggestions.
Timothy Lange/aka Meteor Blades