Rights Groups Have Big Plans for Obama

After eight years of President Bush expanding the power of the executive branch to unparalleled levels, President-elect Barack Obama will take office in January with enormous discretion on policy. The Obama campaign’s mantra of change really hit home with a lot of people, and human rights groups are putting forward wish lists for the new administration about significant changes they’d like to see in short order.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has taken out full page ads urging the Obama Administration to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay on day one. Beyond that they call for him to “reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions.”

Amnesty International decided to give the new president a little more time, calling for concrete steps in the first 100 days of his presidency. They want Gitmo closed as well (or at least a plan in place to do so), an executive order banning torture, and an independent commission created to investigate US wartime abuses. Secretary General Irene Khan says “The new Administration must focus on righting some of the wrongs of the Bush Administration and restoring the US as a human rights champion at home and abroad.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has the most ambitious plan, issuing an 11 point briefing of policy recommendations (note: PDF) for the president-elect. Containing much of the same as the plans of the other groups, HRW also wants to see the administration repudiate Justice Department memos on torture, reject preventative detention as an alternative to prosecution, and reject the “global war on terror” as a basis for detentions.

How quickly and how thoroughly an Obama Administration will follow through on any of these changes is unclear. Obama has indeed promised to close the Guantanamo facility, but his aides have said there is no process in place to make any decisions on how to proceed on that matter.

Obama has likewise said “America does not torture,” but since those identical words have been uttered repeatedly by the Bush Administration, it is unclear whether this portends a policy change or rather expresses growing agreement between the outgoing and incoming administrations that the current behavior does not constitute torture. Obama advisers have said that the new administration is unlikely to bring charges against anyone involved in Bush Administration interrogations.

The promise of change is an alluring one indeed, but as the Obama transition team shores up an increasingly hawkish cabinet it seems like the priorities of the new administration are not with significant moves away from Bush-era security policies.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for Antiwar.com. He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.