Archive for May, 2009

Confusion with “Prolonged Detention”

I listened to President Obama’s  May,21st speech at the National Archives, and I also read and re-read the transcript. With all the eloquence the president is endowed, there is a part of the speech that I am sure the president can not explain to the satisfaction of many citizens.

In his speech the President said, “We are going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country. But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who have received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, commanded Taliban troops in battle, expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States. As I said, I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture – like other prisoners of war  must be prevented from attacking us again. “

As a person who is not well versed with legal mumbo jumbo, I must ask the president,

  • Why can’t they be tried? Is there evidence?
  • Don’t you believe that anyone accused of crimes should be tried?
  • How would you know they are dangerous, if they are not tried? And may I be permitted to ask as to what happened to your new “ era of respecting human rights”?

One of the brightest minds in U.S. media, Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, I think has defended the U.S. constitution aptly. In her awe of the Obama’s speech, she asks, “how can a president speak the kind of poetry president Obama does about the rule of law, and call for the power to indefinitely, preventively imprison people because they might commit crimes in the future. How could these two things co-exist in the same person?”

Ms. Maddow, the answer may be found in “ double speak”.

It is certain, Obama’s speech has upset human rights groups and constitutional scholars. It has also gained the support of Senator McCain, who says that he is “pleased”. Mr. Ari Fleischer, who was George W Bush’s first press secretary, wants Obama to admit that he was wrong in “criticizing” president Bush during the campaign, since Obama is “following the same path President Bush pursued”. It is also possible, that a number of dictators throughout the world must be paying close attention to the new Obama policy of “prolonged detention”.

Mekonen Haddis

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The Unemployment Curse.


The Unemployment Curse.

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, “ since the recession began in December 2007, 5.7 million jobs have been lost, in April 2009, job losses were large and widespread across nearly all major private-sector industries. Overall, private-sector employment fell by 539,000.” As a result the unemployment rate rose from 8.5 to 8.9 percent.

With the unemployment rate the highest in 26 years, it is safe to say that this might be the most challenging issue facing the Obama administration. In spite of the 67 percent approval rating President Obama has at the moment, the continuing negative unemployment figures will be extremely damaging to the president and his Party during the mid-term election and further.

President Obama commenting on the April, 2009 unemployment figures said, “While it’s somewhat encouraging that this number is lower than it’s been in each of the past six months, it is a sobering toll. It underscores the point that we’re still in the midst of a recession that was years in the making and will be months or even years in the unmaking; and we should expect further job losses in the months to come.”

It is sobering, indeed. And it is totally sad that the encouragement that the U.S. economy is getting is not from higher employment figures, but from lower unemployment figures from the previous month. In other words, the economy is falling all right, but thank God it is not falling as fast as it was falling the previous month.

As if the U.S. economy is not in a dire strait, as it is, the plan of Chrysler and General motor’s plan to eliminate about 2300 retailers is estimated to add another 100,000 to the already bloated unemployment figure. This continuous slide in the unemployment figures is a sign of either that the recession is much deeper than the government is letting us know, or much worse than the administration itself might have anticipated.

In either case, one would be forced to think of the doubts many economists have aired about the stimulus plan and President Obama’s job creation scheme, including the Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

If there is one guarantee for the rebounding of the economy, it is consumer spending. For that, people need to be employed. Unless the employment situation improves, all the billions of dollars thrown to the banks and the Wall Street giants will be for naught.

Mekonen Haddis

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To Prosecute,or not?

To Prosecute, or not?

The torture practice of the Bush administration, without a doubt, has hurt the international standing of the United States of America. The “moral Superiority of the U.S.” as a country which “supposedly” does not use certain methods of interrogation like other countries that were looked down upon, is gone.

Under U.S. law, torture is illegal and is prohibited under Title 18 of the United States Code which deals with federal crimes and criminal procedures. Moreover, torture in all its forms is banned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and the U.S. is a party to a number of international conventions against torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

President Obama on January 22, 2009 signed Executive Order- ensuring lawful interrogations, “…to ensure compliance with the treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions, and to take care that the laws of the United States are faithfully executed…”

After the release of the memos detailing torture methods approved by the Bush administration President Obama seems to be putting himself in a politically torturous position of calling the actions illegal but at the same time showing his administrations coyness for prosecution.

While former vice president Chaney justifies torture by claiming, that not only important information was garnered through this “enhanced methods”, but also no other terrorist attacks took place in America as a result of the use of these “methods”, President Obama during his East Room news conference of April 29, 2009, stated that “…water boarding violates our ideals and our values.  I do believe that it is torture… “He continued answering the question by saying, “… there might… have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, but …  we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values…”

The issue here is not whether information was yielded by these methods or not. The question is whether torture is illegal or not. As My Philosopher friend K.T. asks, if a person who lost his job steals money from a bank and then uses the money he stole to feed his family and to pay his mortgage, is he a criminal? Should he be prosecuted?

It seems to me, President Obama must appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the criminal liability of high-ranking Bush administration officials. A president that came to power by promising accountability, transparency and a higher moral standard has no choice but to prove that his promises have value.

Mekonen Haddis

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