Back to the Future

February 17, 2009

On Monday the International Commission of Jurists released the results of a three-year global study “Assessing Damage, Urging Action” into the adverse impact the Bush administration’s prosecution of the Global War on Terror has had on international human rights.

The panel of eminent lawyers and judges drawn from countries as diverse as Pakistan, Thailand, South Africa, Ireland and the United States found that the existing framework of national and international laws that had existed prior to the September 11th attacks were both “robust and effective” and “well-equipped” to counter terrorist threats. The experts lamented that, instead of better protecting the public, the War on Terror paradigm had been unscrupulously exploited by governments around the world to roll back civil liberties.

Despite such concerns, there are still a number of key appointees in the Obama administration that remain committed to the War on Terror paradigm. In her testimony in confirmation hearings last week President Obama’s nominee for Solicitor-General, Elena Kagan, Dean of the Harvard Law School, told Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican, South Carolina) that she would agree with the Bush administration’s contention that the nation is at war with terrorism and that the battlefield for this conflict was a global one. Senator Graham asked:

“If our intelligence agencies should capture someone in the Philippines that is suspected of financing Al Qaeda worldwide, would you consider that person part of the battlefield?”

To which Kagan replied that she would.

The Philippines has a functioning judicial system that has been responsive in the past to US requests for assistance. Why an experienced lawyer would favor a military response to criminal activity on foreign soil when a judicial response is a viable, and likely more effective, course of action is baffling but highlights Amnesty International USA’s continuing concern that the Obama administration may be wavering on making a clean break with the policies of the Bush era.

It is more important than ever that we keep up the pressure on the Obama administration for change. You can do that right now by participating in AI USA’s Counter Terror with Justice call-in week. This is sadly no time for complacency – change won’t come unless we push for it.