Curtain Raiser

The President Must Heed His Own Words, Colltalers

At the halfway point of his presidency, President Obama’s naturally concerned about a number of issues that will mark his legacy. As a clearly student of U.S. history, many of his decisions have in fact been taken with an eye in the future.
Unfortunately, not the ones concerning the acts of individuals who, despite great personal risk, took the step of denouncing wrong doing, often at the core of the institutions they care the most about.
Whistleblowers have had a particular miserable time at the hands of the administration, a fact that radically contradicts what one would expect from a former professor of law and who, as a presidential candidate, praised their courage.
But even as his rousing second inauguration speech was full of inspiring mentions to once taboo themes, such as ‘our gay brothers and sisters,’ it also omitted this particular issue.
On the contrary, during the first four years of his administration, the Dept. of Justice has sought the indictment and conviction of six Americans, who acted on their own ethical standards, despite risking losing everything.
As if on cue, this past week one of them, former CIA agent John Kiriakou, was sent to prison, accused of revealing the name of an active agent. For those who have been following his case, however, what was not mentioned may have had more relevance to his conviction than his eventual indiscretion.
Kiriakou, who has had a distinguished career with the agency, personally credited for the capture of an Al-Qaeda’s key operative, got into a collision course with his bosses when he expressed his opinion against torture and renditions, two of the most common tactics used by the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror’ gimmick.
He’s not just spoken about the issue but openly discussed it on his book, The Reluctant Spy, which unlike many others authored by members of the intel community, is not about bragging over achievements, but his disgust towards the career he once chose and loved.
Kiriakou was convicted under the same Espionage Act, designed almost a hundred years ago, that’s also been used to go after Pvt Bradley Manning, who even before being formally accused of passing classified materials to WikiLeaks, was held for over two years without a trial.
That lack of respect for the rule of law, the belief shared by society that its truth-seeking institutions work and are exempt to judge who broke the law, and who should be untouched on the account of their innate innocence, is the most disturbing trait of the Obama administration.
And as we supported the president’s reelection as a tribute for his impeccable credentials as a leader, we now must demand that he acts upon the guidance of the very words he once used to wow us as a candidate and never cease to inspire us as the president.
In many ways, the ability of the common citizen to speak truth to power is one of the tenets of the U.S. Constitution, and if we’re trying to shoot the messengers because we dislike their message, we’re skipping a crucial link that will, sooner or later, costs us all our freedom of speech.
It’s ironic that so many in this country are obsessed with the completely unrealistic fear that the government is coming for their guns, while their much more fundamental right to dissent is what may be actually at risk at this juncture.
The Obama administration has used that archaic but apparently still effective act against more Americans than all other presidents combined. And it doesn’t help to know that the last time it’d been invoked was an attempt by the Nixon administration to silence Daniel Ellsberg and prevent the leaking of the famous Pentagon Papers.
We became a better nation with the release of those documents, and in the end, the tide turned against not just Nixon himself, but also against a much more transcendental mistake we committed in the past: the Vietnam War.
Other parallels could be traced between the use of this paranoid piece of vetust legislation of exception, and the war fought under false pretenses in Iraq, since as the Southeast Asia conflict in the 1960s, it cost thousands of American and foreign lives and has had absolutely no redeeming qualities or accomplishments to show.
Curiously, a similar outing of an undercover agent was orchestrated by the Bush administration. As everyone and their personal Deep Throat now know, the leaking of the agent’s name was designed to hurt her husband, who’d dared to challenge the phony ‘evidence’ used to justify the adventure in Iraq.
Unlike now, though, there was almost no DoJ push for harsh penalties for those responsible, with few not quite honored exceptions. On the contrary, many of them are still around and free to profit from their latest schemes.
Lastly, we’re sure President Obama understands that his legacy will lean much more heavily, not on the necessary but ultimately transitory battles he may have to wage against the extreme right, religious zealotry, military hawks, and social inequality apologists, but on his assertion and defense of the rule of the law.
No one was shocked when the previous administration lied to get their way and, in the process, wrecked morally and economically the country. But with President Obama is different, or so it should. Part of his stature as a political leader rests on his personal ethics and moral compass.
We want those qualities to be also what distinguishes his actions, not just his words, as beautiful as they can be. Have a great one. WC

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