Ending the Global War Paradigm

Shenna's picture
Here in Las Vegas, ACLU staff from all across the country are discussing core civil liberties problems.  Yesterday, I had the honor of speaking on a panel with Hina Shamsi, Director of National Security for the ACLU, Chris Anders, Senior Legislative Counsel for the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office, and Ahilan Arulanantham, Director of Immigrants Rights and National Security for the ACLU of Southern California.  We discussed how to confront the global war paradigm.  Almost a decade after 9/11, we continue to hold detainees without charge or trial at Guantanamo as well as at military bases like Bagram.  No victim of torture at the hands of United States authorities has received any reparation or even vindication.  While President Bush established a legal framework for torture, President Obama has established a legal framework for impunity.

Hina pointed to two policy choices by the Obama administration that suggest an historic and potentially irrevocable change to our rule of law.  The first policy choice was to abandon entirely accountability for those who broke our laws and violated the Constitution under the Bush Administration.  If the architects and implementers of torture and secret rendition are never held accountable for their crimes, then almost certainly, torture and secret rendition will happen again under a new administration. 

The second policy choice is adoption of the global war paradigm.  The Obama administration has asserted powers that even President Bush did not assert in adoption of the targeted killing program.  Chris Anders described how the Administration is seeking a new Authorization for Use of Military Force that places no limits of time, geography, or objective on the President's authority for use of military force.  Essentially, the Obama Administration and the Congress are considering ratifying endless war.

So what can we do, in Maine, about this?  The panel discussed concrete actions -- meeting with our Congressional delegation at their in-district offices, authoring letters to the editor and opinion pieces, building coalitions on the ground to hold public education events, and enlisting unusual allies, like churches, to assist us in our efforts.  Hina and Chris confirmed what I've long believed -- that these actions do matter.  If no one in Washington hears concerns about the global war paradigm, then they can continue along this course unchallenged. 

Anthony Romero, in addressing ACLU Executive Directors on Sunday, said, "This is one for the history books."  This is the moral challenge of our day, and if we do not sound a loud, sustained, and principled protest to policies that provide impunity for torture and institutionalize a new normal, then we have failed the founding fathers who cared so deeply about the rule of law and future generations who will suffer the consequences of institutionalized global war. 

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