Thursday, February 19, 2009

Obama on Civil Liberties

Obama on Civil Liberties
By Jerome Grossman

In January I was watching the Senate confirmation hearing of President Obama’s nominee for Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta. How did we ever keep informed before C-SPAN?

As a passionate civil libertarian, I was so proud of Panetta as he denounced torture without any reservations stating that the CIA would follow the rules of the U.S. Army Field Manual and the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war. Then he said that the U.S. would no longer engage in rendition, the secret shuttling of detainees and prisoners to foreign nations who torture.

I was so happy that I had voted for Obama and had sent him a fat check. And Panetta became my hero, boldly changing the positions of the Bush administration and the secret activities of the CIA.

A couple of days later, quite by accident, I caught Panetta on C-SPAN again, before the same Senate committee, a surprise because the first hearing seemed to have covered all the questions. A senator asked Panetta a leading question on torture: “What would you do if you knew that a bomb, maybe nuclear, was about to be exploded and your prisoner knew when and where?” Panetta replied that he would ask for “additional authority”, that is, to torture in exceptional circumstances.

Panetta's position has moral and operational flaws. How can he be sure that the intelligence about a bomb is accurate? How does he know that the prisoner has the information sought and even if he does that he will tell the truth? If the exception is built into the system, won't it be used more and more to justify torture, to break down a prisoner by claiming the most extreme danger whether or not it is present?

Then another senator asked Panetta to expand his views on rendition. He replied,” I'm glad you asked”, and proceeded to modify his initial statements: The CIA might continue its “extraordinary rendition”, transferring prisoners to third countries even those known to torturer, relying on their assurances of humane treatment. Just what the Bush administration claimed for eight years while the contracting countries routinely tortured. The senator may have asked: Why send prisoners or detainees abroad at great expense for mere interrogation? Wouldn't that jeopardize later judicial prosecutions? How can the interrogators’ actions be controlled from another faraway continent? Is it a good idea to farm out aspects of our legal system?

The Obama administration has decided “not to change the status quo immediately” on these issues according to Gregory Craig, the White House Counsel. Civil libertarians ought to take notice and express their disappointment about these matters as well as the continuation of electronic eavesdropping of phone calls without a warrant.

It was clear that the White House was having second thoughts about the very important changes in civil liberties described as Obama policy by Panetta in his first appearance. That is unfortunate and unwise. In the election, the American people repudiated the way the Bush administration operated. There needs to be a dramatic change of direction, especially on civil liberties, and without hesitation. That is the prime reason why Barack Obama was elected president.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ted Kennedy: His First Election

Ted Kennedy: His First Election

By Jerome Grossman
An interesting sidebar to Ted Kennedy's inspiring political history harks back to his first run for the Senate in 1962. It was, as some labeled it, a "battle of the clans": Opposing Kennedy in the Massachusetts Democratic Primary was Edward McCormack, nephew of House Speaker John McCormack; Kennedy's Republican opponent was Yankee scion George Cabot Lodge; and on the left was Independent peace candidate Harvard Prof. H. Stuart Hughes, chair of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, and grandson of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes.

I was Campaign Manager and Chester Hartman was the organizer of the massive signature drive required to place Hughes on the ballot. Hughes needed 72,000 signatures, a purposely prohibitive number in that era of McCarthyism and nobody in fact had tried to reach it since the law had first been passed.

In this talented field, Hughes polled 50,013 votes, 2.3% of the votes cast. However, we collected a startling 149,000 signatures in ten weeks for a "peace candidate." The Cuban Missile Crisis arrived in October just before the election. With the integrity that was his hallmark, Hughes went against the popular hysteria: he accused President Kennedy of acting over hastily in imposing the blockade of Cuba, of bypassing the United Nations, and unnecessarily stirring up an atmosphere of national emergency. His position cost Hughes thousands of votes.

In the process we built a town-by-town organization all over the state, a structure that remains in place today. A clear result has been the election over recent decades of so many progressive voices to the state's first-rate Congressional delegation, including Michael Harrington, Father Robert Drinan, Gerry Studds, Jim McGovern, Barney Frank, Ed Markey, John Tierney, Michael Capuano and John Kerry.
The Hughes campaign built the strongest statewide peace movement in the country, a movement that changed the face and reputation of Massachusetts politics.


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