Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Obama's First Seven Days - Constitutional Freedom Restored

In purely constitutional terms, President Barack Obama's first days in office have been triumphant.

Leaving aside for the moment talk of stimulus plans, tax rates, etc. (all of which are discretionary political matters to be hashed out among the executive and legislature), on the separate matter of mandatory constitutional requirements - ie, those inviolable freedoms beyond the reach of the political process - Obama has acted swiftly and decisively to restore proper respect for core values eviscerated during the Bush/Cheney years.

Virtually daily during the President's days on the job we have seen important restorations of constitutional principle, both in word and action. Here's what happened in just the first three days alone:

Day One (Jan. 20, 2009 (Tuesday)):
-Rule of Law and Rights of Man: Before a worldwide audience during his Inaugural Address, new President Obama emphasizes, "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man; a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience sake." -American Power: He adds, "Earlier generations ... understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do what we please. Instead they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering quality of our humility and restraint. We are the keepers of this legacy."

-Suspends Gitmo proceedings: Late Tuesday night, the new administration orders an immediate halt to the military commission proceedings for trying detainees at Guantanamo Bay, to allow the administration time to assess detention policy, leading ACLU executive president Anthony Romero to comment that the move "reaffirm[s] American values and are a ray of light after eight long, dark years."

Day Two (Jan. 21, 2009 (Wednesday))
-Openness in Government: In recognition of the Constitution's core structural principle that government serves at the pleasure of the people, President Obama's very first executive orders reverse the Bush administration policy of resisting providing information. "Starting today," he says, "every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known." Among other things, these orders will allow reporters and historians access to Bush administration records.

Day Three (Jan. 22, 2009 (Thursday)) -Human Rights: surrounded by 16 retired generals and admirals, President Obama signs executive orders closing Guantanamo Bay within a year; ending the CIA's secret prisons; and requiring all interrogations to comply with the Army Field Manual (which forbids coercive methods like the infamous water-boarding).

-separately, Obama orders his administration not to rely on any legal opinions on the topic of interrogation issued from the Justice Department between September 11, 2001 and January 20, 2009.

All in all, it's a bright new day for the American Constitution.