An open letter to the President

Dear President Obama:

First, I want to make it clear that I voted for you in November. I did so in part because you inspired me to have hope for America’s future. I liked the fact that you’d worked for the disenfranchised as a community organizer in your early career. I liked that you’d been a professor of Constitutional law. You’d proven yourself a good representative of the people in the Illinois state legislature and as a junior senator for Illinois in the U.S. Congress. The story of your life was inspiring, as well. As I listened to you speak during your campaign, paying attention to what you were saying, over time I became convinced that you were sincere, inordinately intelligent and honest – a rare attribute in a politician.

The other reason I voted for you was because you promised change. This was very important to me after eight years of watching helplessly as the Bush administration set about destroying the very things America stands for: democracy, freedom, civil rights, equality and justice. The rule of law. A country run by the People and for the People.

As someone who served in the armed forces and later, as a civilian employee of the Department of Defense in Europe, I was proud of America’s reputation overseas. I tried to be a good “ambassador” while I lived there. And so it was terrible to watch President Bush and his henchmen methodically destroy America’s reputation both at home and abroad. He changed our system of taxation so that the rich got richer on the backs of the rest of us. All those things America stood for were under attack by our own President. I was apalled.

And I was angry. President Bush had started two wars. The first, in Afghanistan against al Qaeda and the Taliban, was arguably just. The second, against Iraq, absolutely was not. Our soldiers were dying for no good reason. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians were dying because of our President’s ego. As a nation, we were spending billions to prosecute a war that was both unnecessary and wrong. President Bush turned America into a nation that tortured her prisoners, held them in indefinite detention and refused them the right of a fair trial. He spied on the people of his own country without the right to do so and without apology. And it went on and on and on.

You promised to make it all right.

Since your inauguration you’ve worked hard to change and repair many of the things the Bush administration wrecked. Guantanamo is being closed down. You’ve set a timetable for the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. You’ve put some good people into important government positions so that they, too, can start the long task of repairing the damage that was done by the previous administration. You’ve stood up for workers and reversed the ban on stem cell research. You’ve ordered Bush’s CIA “black sites” all over the world dismantled, once and for all. You’ve made it clear that torture will no longer be used by this country. You’ve proven your mettle as America’s most powerful representative and diplomat during your recent travels across Europe, going a long way toward restoring respect for America and our reputation abroad.

And you’ve worked as quickly as possible to try to save our economy, which President Bush and his cronies left teetering on the edge of the abyss after enriching themselves, with our money, to the point of obscenity. Time will tell whether your solutions worked or not, but I feel confident that you made your decisions in good faith and with the wellbeing of the people of the United States foremost in your mind. I have hope.

For all these things: Thank you.

Mr. President, you ran for office on the slogan, “Change you can believe in.” But recently you’ve made some decisions which disturb, disappoint, and concern me. I always knew that I wouldn’t agree with everything you did – that’s impossible and this is a democracy. But these decisions are not consistent with your campaign slogan or the promises you made to us.

I never thought you’d hide, as George W. Bush did, behind the excuse of “state secrets” in the defense of “national security” and continue to defy and break the laws of the land and deny us our civil and constitutional rights without offering a truthful and valid explanation.

So once again, I’m appalled. The laws and constitutional civil rights of Americans apply equally to all of us, regardless of party, gender, skin color or religious affiliation or lack thereof. I’d be a hypocrite if I wasn’t upset and angry with you and your administration regarding these decisions. Here’s why:

You’ve decided to maintain the prison at Bagram AFB in Afghanistan, continuing to refuse the detainees there access to a fair trial and the justice that they, as human beings, deserve. Many of them have been held without charges for six years or more, living in limbo, some of them treated like animals.

The only reason? “State secrets.” “National security.” This is wrong, sir, and you know it.

You’ve decided to continue wiretapping all Americans without a warrant. I say “all Americans” because Bush’s reassurance that he was only wiretapping our overseas communications to the Middle East was a bald-faced lie, as you well know. This is, simply, spying on your own people for your own reasons, just or unjust. We don’t know which because once again, the only reasons for your actions we’re given are “national security” and “state secrets.”

President Obama, wiretapping our communications – listening in – spying – without a lawful warrant to do so is against the law, it’s unconstitutional and it violates the civil rights of all Americans. You were a professor of Constitutional law. You know the Fourth Amendment intimately, sir. And yet … you continue its flagrant violation. Why? Why would you thumb your nose at our Constitution just like your predecessor did? This is an ominous development.

Finally, your administration is holding back documents which could, if they were released, indict members of the Bush administration as war criminals. Why would you do this? We’ve been offered no explanation at all, so far. Could it be that these documents might also incriminate people you’ve kept in your own administration? If so, buck up, sir. It’s crucial that the people who defied the laws of the United States of America and the Geneva Conventions be brought to justice. It’s crucial to our democracy and to our respect, standing and credibility in the world at large. And you know this, too.

It is my hope that you are maintaining these atrocities – because that’s what they are, sir – only until you know the full scope of the damage that has been done by the criminal Bush administration and have worked out a viable way to stop them once and for all. I hope that you really are the good man I and millions of other Americans believed in strongly enough to vote for as our President. I hope you’ll stop hiding behind the craven excuse of “state secrets” and “national security.”

I hope you’re a better man – and President – than that. We’re depending on you to do the right thing, the lawful thing. President Obama, our democracy stands in the balance.

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3 Responses to “An open letter to the President”

  1. JBeaufort Says:

    Very well written, BW! “Our man” is doing some things right, but not doing a number of other things that need to be either done or undone.

    Some days I despair that the bells of justice and freedom have been forever silenced in this once-great Nation. But I persevere in the hope that I can make this world better in my own small corner of the world each day and that others might be positively affected and influenced by my work.

  2. Wil Robinson Says:

    I think I’ve left this comment before on your blog…but anyway…

    If new administration puts the old one on trial for war crimes it would set a horrible precedent – in a country run by lawyers who love precedent. Future incoming administrations would be more focused on revenge than moving the country forward.

    Not to say that the Bush admin doesn’t deserve to be held accountable – its’ just that we can’t do it.

    What we can do is have Obama sign the US onto the International Criminal Court (which Bush refused to do). This would subject the US to their jurisdiction – opening the door for the ICC to put Bush and his cronies on trial for war crimes. (In which case, if some black documents happened to be leaked…whoops. what can you do?).

    Now Bush would likely not show up for a trial, so he and his buddies would be convicted in absentia. They would effectively be isolated, never allowed to travel to Europe (or other ICC countries) again. At a minimum, it would make Bush a criminal in the eyes of the world, show the world that the US isn’t afraid to let others hold us accountable, and make Bush spend the rest of his days looking over his shoulder, hoping the Nazi bounty hunters haven’t run out of work and come calling.

  3. Wil: You did leave a similar comment before, and thank you. I know that this situation is simply untenable. I don’t envy President Obama — what a terrible decision to have to make.

    I’d like to think he would very much like to bring Bush et al to justice. And you’re most likely right. The “precedent” would be set and would come back to haunt us and perhaps hurt us more in the future than the perpetrators of our national shame already have.

    If the U.S. could become a member of the ICC it would help a great deal, and in the way you laid out so succinctly. I worry that in the meantime, America, which has a very short collective memory, will choose to forget what these men have done to us and our country. It makes me sad and angry and once again, feel quite helpless.

    I guess I could write a letter to the President asking him to allow the U.S. to become a member of the International Criminal Court so that they can prosecute our war criminals for us.

    What an awful situation.

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