Saturday, May 23, 2009

President Obama channels Abraham Lincoln in a speech on national security...

President Obama made a speech last night criticizing the previous administration for undermining the United States Constitution while simultaneously proposing to suspend habeas corpus for "enemy combatants," a move that is in direct defiance to the Geneva Convention. After refusing to release photographs of detainees being tortured, and now holding POWs indefinitely without trial, Obama has succeeded in increasing the opacity of his self-proclaimed transparent administration.

While standing in a room alongside the United States Constitution, Obama said, "...there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States." So, for the past eight years, we have held prisoners without trial with no clear evidence of crimes committed.

He continued, " administration has begun to reshape the standards that apply to ensure that they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible, and lawful standards for those who fall into this category." In order to deal with these (innocent until proven guilty) detainees, Obama says he will change international POW laws so that prosecutions can be made. Until then, these people will be held indefinitely without trial.

During the presidential campaign, both Barack Obama and John McCain were looking to align themselves with principles mandated by (arguably) our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln. Unfortunately, by breaking international law, Obama is initiating a wartime policy that Lincoln would have supported. In September of 1862, Lincoln issued the following statement:

"Now, therefore, be it ordered, first, that during the existing insurrection and as a necessary measure for suppressing the same, all Rebels and Insurgents, their aiders and abettors within the United States, and all persons discouraging volunteer enlistments, resisting militia drafts, or guilty of any disloyal practice, affording aid and comfort to Rebels against the authority of United States, shall be subject to martial law and liable to trial and punishment by Courts Martial or Military Commission:

Second. That the Writ of Habeas Corpus is suspended in respect to all persons arrested, or who are now, or hereafter during the rebellion shall be, imprisoned in any fort, camp, arsenal, military prison, or other place of confinement by any military authority of by the sentence of any Court Martial or Military Commission."

Lincoln allowed all supporters of the Confederacy and conscientious objectors of the war to be imprisoned by the military indefinitely without trial for the duration of the Civil War. Now, without any evidence of crimes committed, Obama is circumnavigating international law and our own military courts in order to hold POWs in the War on Terror without trial.

It was wrong then, and it's wrong now.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Wow, that was fast...

As I lined up for the history department's graduation ceremony, the professor who taught my least favorite class in my final semester bumped into me. She turned and I watched as her expression instantly transformed from annoyance to confusion. "Matt, you're graduating? I wish I would have known, your grade for my class would have been a little better." I had absolutely phoned in my efforts for Modern Latin America, a class that neither counted towards my major nor was it required for liberal learning. After accidentally misreading my program planner, and, thinking I needed a South America course to complete my major, I wasted my final college course on her boring class. But she didn't know any of that. "Thanks," I said, "I passed, so that's all that matters."

Yes, I've completed my college education. Like millions of others across the nation, I, too, was forced to wear a black cellophane cap and gown while enduring extreme temperatures. I was packed into a football stadium, where I had to listen to faculty, students, and guest speakers drone on about how lucky I was to graduate during the worst economic climate since the Great Depression.

In fact, a terrible economy has been the signature motif of my senior year. In my final semester, I wrote a 26 page thesis comparing our time to the Great Depression. I wrote articles on how the economy was negatively affecting my part time job, how it was forcing my little sister to choose military service over a college career, and how my fellow graduates were moving home or incurring further debts in post-graduate programs because of slim job prospects.

I'm moving home. I have no job and no money. It feels a lot like the plot of a Broadway show or those stories that immigrant great-grandparents tell. "I arrived in New York with the clothes on my back and $12 in my pocket," they say. What will I tell my great-grand kids? "I arrived home with a fancy piece of paper and a mountain of debt," I'll say. It doesn't really have the same ring to it.

I sat near the back during the ceremony, right in front of a professor who has been a member of the department since 1958. Having to sit through the pomp and circumstance fifty-one times makes the whole thing a lot less significant, I learned, because he was whispering loudly to a fellow faculty member throughout the duration of the ceremony. "They should teach them how to fold their diploma into a paper hat," he chuckled, "Then they can use it when they apply at a fast food place." I turned to him and smiled. "I hope mine comes with instructions on how to fold a paper airplane," I said. Then I walked up and smiled for the camera.