#DearObama: Use Your State of the Union to Reject Politics of Fear

January 16, 2015

the america i believe in

This blog is part of a series on human rights in the State of the Union address. The United States has an obligation to pursue policies that ensure respect for human rights at home and around the world. Follow along and join the conversation using #SOTUrights.

Dear Mr. President,

Here comes the fear again.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, some in the broadcast news media are attempting to turn the public’s shock into full-fledged hysteria – the kind that fuels not only their ratings, but suspicion, hate and a bunker mentality.

In your State of the Union address, you can do what President Bush failed to do immediately after the 9/11 attacks: reject the politics of fear.

  • Refuse to exploit the public’s anxiety to justify the policies of a permanent national security state.
  • Condemn the vilification of religious and racial minority groups, which assigns them collective blame and punishment for horrific attacks by armed groups and individuals – and attempts to justify human rights abuses against them.

This is not a hypothetical. Your personal commitments to close Guantanamo, end torture and rein in surveillance are at stake. Some members of Congress – and even officials in your own administration – are citing the Paris attacks as a reason to hit the “pause” button on these human rights imperatives:

  • Some want to keep the 122 men at Guantanamo in limbo indefinitely, including the 54 men who were already cleared for transfer. For them, these men are not individual human beings who must be either charged or released. They are life-long hostages in a “forever war” on terrorism.
  • Some want to keep techniques of torture – such as medically unnecessary “rectal rehydration” and “rectal feeding” – on the table, for potential use in the future. They believe the perpetrators of these abuses should go unpunished, an outcome that would leave the door open to abuse.
  • Some want to continue building up the estimated $52.6 billion dollar-funded national security state, which uses mass surveillance, religious and racial profiling and intrusive intelligence agency and police tactics to deny everyone’s rights to freedom of expression, association and privacy.

You know better than to believe that recent armed attacks on civilians justify these practices. In 2009, you said: “We reject the false choice between our security and our ideals. We can and we must and we will protect both.”

To our disappointment, your deeds have often strayed far from these words. But now is perhaps one of the most visibly defining moments on U.S. national security since you took office. Do not let the fear-mongers define it for you. Live up to your commitments to pursue rights-respecting measures that protect everyone’s lives – and everyone’s freedoms.