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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Obama’s War on Terror

    We have grown accustomed to a certain degree of immediacy and transparency in Barack Obama’s actions. But whereas a campaign is about appeasement, a presidency is about responsibility to both the present and to the future.

    Litigation surrounding Binyam Mohamed, a suspected terrorist, calls attention to abuse of the “state-secret” privilege and the policy of extraordinary rendition. While torturous practices exacted on Mohamed were inhumane and unacceptable, the press cannot be allowed to sensationalize them for the public’s benefit.

    Obama cannot be expected to, or applauded for, making quick judgments based on public opinion. His current decisions also shouldn’t be expected to signify his policies for the rest of his presidency because we are still undergoing a necessary period of carryover and transition.

    Binyam Mohamed and four other inmates at Guantanamo Bay filed a civil lawsuit against Jeppesen Dataplan in 2007. The subdivision of Boeing Airways allegedly organized flights for the government, which took the detainees overseas and tortured them in a process known as “extraordinary rendition.”

    The case was dismissed a year ago, when the Bush administration asserted that discussing the case, even within a courtroom, was a threat to national security. Government lawyer Douglas Letter stood by the move for dismissal per the “state-secret” privilege during an appeals case on Monday.

    When asked explicitly whether the change in administration had been taken into account, he assured the three-judge panel that the appropriate authorities had been consulted. He explained that after the judges read the classified documents, they would “? understand? precisely why this case can’t be litigated.”

    Although the state-secrecy privilege has existed since the 18th century, it has been invoked much more frequently in the last eight years than ever before. In effect, it keeps United States “torture victims shut out of the courtroom,” as Ben Wizener, Mohamed’s American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, said before Monday’s appeal.

    The Bush administration stated that “none of the evidence [against Mohamed] was obtained through torture,” which surely only implies that the torture committed yielded no results.

    We can only expect that President Obama will use the state-secret privilege with much less abandon than the Bush administration did, and that the necessary steps will be taken to curb its future abuse.

    Patrick Leahy of the Senate Judiciary Committee has proposed a “truth commission” to investigate possible injustices that occurred during the previous presidency, complete with witness protection. In light of Mohamed’s case and the possible evacuation of Guantanamo Bay, the commission should be expanded to examine the motivations and possible implications of Obama’s potential use of the privilege as well.

    The court’s decision to dismiss Mohamed’s case has met with public outrage and opposition. “This is not change. This is definitely more of the same?if this is a harbinger of things to come, it will be a long and arduous road to give us back an America we can be proud of again,” ACLU director Anthony Romero said. Binyam Mohamed’s prison diaries, which describe his mistreatment, malnutrition, and the fates of those around him, were very recently released to the media.

    Graphic reports of Mohamed’s corporal punishment have also been circulated by the press. Government lawyers continue to assert that they can’t discuss the case, but the media supposedly has most of the information already (“the only place in the world where these claims can’t be discussed is in this courtroom,” Wizener said).

    President Obama may have his own reasons for allowing this injustice to continue instead of immediately reviewing the case or allowing it to go to court. Ultimately, media reports of mistreatment, obfuscation, and torture committed towards Mohamed only strengthen Obama’s case for evacuating Guantanamo Bay, and he may want to direct public attention towards the other 245 detainees.

    Whatever his motives are, we can only credit Obama for deliberating over the matter instead of getting swept up by public fervor. When President Bush was pressured by the public during the first term of his presidency to create punitive legislature in the face of 2001’s tragic terrorist attacks, his administration hastily created the protocols and precedents that have led directly to the injustices being committed today.

    Only a few months ago, Mohamed may have been portrayed as the current face of terrorism rather than an object of sympathy and compassionate outrage. The government should not be directed by the public’s every whim, nor can it be allowed to exploit contemporary public opinion.

    Measured steps should be taken to redress the Bush administration’s unjust appalling practices toward both suspects and detainees, and President Obama should be permitted to prioritize and acclimate during these early weeks of his presidency.

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