Wednesday, 21 January 2009

An open letter to the new president

I listened to your address yesterday, Mr President, and was impressed by your mastery of rhetoric and the concern you expressed that this should now be the beginning of a new relationship between your country and the rest of humanity. I am hopeful that this may be the case. I am glad that you have taken immediate steps to close down Guantanamo and hope that the innocent inmates will receive fitting compensation for the agonies they endured. This is a vital first step. But it must not be the last.

I can well appreciate the desire to draw a line under the irregularities of the last eight years and begin anew. I understand your desire to move on and not look back and try to lay blame. This cannot be done, however. Leaving aside the, if not wilful then at least incompetent, misleading of Congress and the American people in order to invade Iraq, thereby giving Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld's corporate buddies an opportunity to obtain billions of taxpayer's dollars out of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and over 4000 American soldiers and the maiming of tens of thousands more, your predecessor and his vice-president are on record as having authorised torture This is criminal. Pure and simple. It is a war crime and the techniques authorised by these men were the cause of execution in the trials held after world war two.

Can such wanton disregard for international law be unprosecuted? If it is, then it gravely imperils your hope for a new relationship with the world. You spoke fluently of despotic foreign governments and their disregard for basic human rights. How can you, therefore, ignore the gross, blatant and unapologetic violations of human rights authorised by your predecessors? Did torture take place under Bush's watch? Yes - undeniably. Did he and Cheney authorise it? They have said as much on television. If torture is a crime then they are criminals. If any have died as a result of the torture they have authorised, then they are murderers. You as a lawyer must surely acknowledge that.

If you do not take action against the manifest crimes of the Bush regime and bring the perpetrators before the courts, Mr President then, to quote the scriptures you follow , your fine and inspiring words yesterday are naught but "as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal". They will mean nothing to those who have directly suffered as a result of the actions of the US over the last few years. They will mean nothing to those of good will who hope that the US will return to the values that informed its revolution and of which you spoke so eloquently.

There can be no immunity for torturers - however eminent they may be. Pinochet discovered that. Do not leave it up to a prosecutor from, say, Spain, to issue the warrant for the arrest of Bush or Cheney on charges of war crimes, do it yourself and show the world that this really is a new era and not simply a reality show cosmetic makeover.


Haley @ Iridescent Dark said...

If I'm honest, I have to say I've been rather sceptical about Obama. Yes, it a most wonderful turning poing in history and a sign of the change people hope to see that he is now in office. But at the end of the day, regardless of his skin colour, he is still human, and therefore susceptible to all the trappings of power that his predecessors have been. I have great hope in him, but I am still sceptical.

However, if he were to do this brave and right thing of making those to blame accounatble for there actions, then we truly are entering a time of great renewal. I hope and pray it does.

Paul said...

I hope, I really hope there will be change but like Haley I have to be a bit of a sceptic. In the UK Tony Blair was a huge disappointment. Also, is it just me, but shouldn't we have got past looking for a messiah figure?

If Bush is brought to court for war crimes I shall be amazed. Now that would be a sign of real change.

Brian Charles said...

am afraid I am completely sceptical about Obama holding Bush and his criminal friends accountable for the damage they have done, not just to the innocent victims of their illegal war and subsequent tortures, but to the well being and international standing of the United States. A nation which refuses to abide by international law is a rogue state. That is what the US has been under GW. If now, despite the fine rhetoric, nothing is done to rectify in a clearly defined and understandable way - through legal action against perpetrators - then the US will remain an rogue state, The only perceivable difference between it and other such rogue states being the size of its army.

If, for domestic reasons, it is inexpedient to take action directly, the matter would go a long way towards rectification if the US were to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in Yhe Hague. That at least must be done.

I am impressed by Obama, and it is truly a cause for celebration that a black family at last inhabits the White House. However, he is certainly no messiah and he is facing a far more daunting challenge than turning water into wine. His rhetoric addressed this challenge. I hope his actions follow.

Dylan said...

You don't get to that level of power without cutting deals and we should expect nothing of Obama. What he can or can't manage to do is anyone's guess. Let us be happy that an intelligent and sensitive man is in the White House That he's black is great and everything but a fact more relevant to most of the world is that he is clearly not mad.