Thursday, June 4, 2009

Actions Speak Louder Than Words, Mr. President

 America in 100 days photostream - Day 4 in Philadelphia

President Obama gave an excellent speech in Cairo today but my ears perked up upon hearing a couple of specific passages where he talked about democracy.

America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments - provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

Are these just words in a speech or will President Obama's actions back up his words? If President Obama believes what he says in this speech about democracy then how can he say we must look forward without first addressing the crimes committed by the Bush administration? How can he think ignoring war crimes will give anyone confidence in the rule of law and confidence that there is equal justice under law? How can his use of an overly broad interpretation of the state secrets privilege to shut down lawsuits and his suppression of photos that document crimes be consistent with the idea of transparency that he rightfully says is important? 

I agree with President Obama's speech on the campaign trail where he said - words matter. But words matter only when they are backed up with actions and so far I haven't seen President Obama back up his eloquent words about democracy with actions.

The idea that our laws require that we hold officials accountable can't be suppressed for the sake of political expediency. The crimes of the Bush era were much too monstrous and widespread to ignore.  It's clearly in the interest of our country to investigate and where appropriate prosecute those who broke U.S. and international laws. It's in our interest because it will help restore confidence in the rule of law and because it's essential for our security to show the world that we apply the rule of law even to our own leaders.  It's also necessary in order to drive a stake through the heart of the vile idea, that continues to be argued today, that torture should be an option for the United States to use. It's also clearly in our interest to confront and thoroughly discredit the dangerous unitary executive theory that places the president above the law because we can't afford to have some future politician repeat the destructive actions our country barely survived under the Bush administration

Holding Bush administration officials accountable under law may not be convenient for the political parties but it is necessary in order to have a functioning democracy. 

I hope President Obama will stop listening to his political advisers, who are only concerned with party politics and will instead let his own words from this speech and his promises from the campaign trail guide him in doing what is right for the U.S. and what is necessary in order for us to truly move forward.

We need true transparency, Mr. President and we also need a president who's courageous enough to stand up to the political establishment and demand accountability for war crimes so that the world will know that America stands for the rule of law and that the words equal justice under law aren't just words used in a political speech but are words that describe a principle our country enthusiastically embraces.

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