Lobbying Obama on the Train: Make Us Proud Again

01/16/2009 06:33 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Good afternoon, sir, Thank you for inviting me aboard. Sir, I know you've spent much of my allotted hour reading the research I presented you earlier, but I'd like to emphasize just a few things.

First, a personal observation. When I was one of half a dozen New Yorkers invited as a guest of the city of Florence right after 9/11, the Florentines said that they felt they were New Yorkers, too. They opened, their gardens and palaces. And their hearts. Their mayor cried by our sides.

A few years later, I was walking in Roman twilight with friends. We had just finished some pasta and chianti. We were laughing and feeling warm and connected. Then we turned a corner, and there they were, hung along a fence by an empty lot: the first horrific photos to come from Abu Ghraib.. Dozens of splayed, hooded visages blanketing a fence.

Night was falling and it seemed eerie. My Roman friends were as shocked as I was. One of them said, "This has to be propaganda from Al Qaeda. The United States wouldn't do such a thing."

They were embarrassed for me. I was embarrassed for us, and saddened beyond measure. That night at my hotel a friend I had known for years said, "You should be ashamed. What has your country become?'" And of course, that was just the beginning of what we were to see and learn about our torture policy.And the end of the world's good will.

You have to stand strong against political pressure.

I know you've pledged to end torture and you're well aware that you can't count on prisoners' words spoken under duress. And even more, torturing others puts our own people at risk. You've agreed with CIA director to-be, Leon Panetta's words last year, that torture is "illegal, immoral, dangerous, and counterproductive. And yet, the president is using fear to trump the law." He also rejected George Bush's illegal, warrantless eavesdropping on Americans. I was, if I may say so with respect, surprised by your support of the FISA bill, in that regard. Maybe he will influence you there.

Anyway sir, for the past years congress has gone along with Bush-Cheney policies regarding torture, secret prisons overseas, the abuse and degradation of prisoners, renditions for torture on an outsource basis, and outrageous spin about the whole shameful situation. I'm so pleased you've pledged to end all of this. You've said that "under my administration, the United States does not torture." You've said that your new team would tell you the truth rather than "what they think the president wants to hear."

But some Washington insiders are defensive, and will try to continue the Bush policies. Will you stand up to that pressure at whatever political price? That's why I'm lobbying you today.
Even further sir, you and the C.I.A. need to demand a full public accounting of the misdeeds of the last eight years. The agency needs to make clear that torture and other abusive practices must be banned, to keep us safe and to restore our reputation. And as you have promised, Guantánamo, the weeping sore of our country, must be closed.

President Bush redefined torture to exclude anything he authorized. What a ploy, sir. He included waterboarding, stress positions and forced nudity, prolonged isolation, threatening dogs -- degradation outlawed by civilian law, military statutes and international treaties. Your administration needs to locate and override all of the policy memos, directives, and weasley-worded executive orders that have redefined and condoned these practices.

And you'll have to fight with Congress to repeal the law exempting the intelligence agencies from the rules requiring humane treatment of prisoners. No more hiding behind these exemptions. You'll have your hands full on that alone. And you and Director Panetta will have to defend the honest, outspoken professionals who were ignored and penalized for the last eight years.

Director Panetta and Admiral Dennis Blair -- your new director of national intelligence -- will have to decide whether the post-9/11 reorganization makes sense or has just added another layer of bureaucracy. May I suggest, also, if you do keep it as such, that Homeland Security be renamed in a less, well, fascist terms.

All this is a lot, sir, I realize, considering the endless problems you inherit as you take office. But when I was in New Zealand recently, my guide said that she and her young son stayed up until 3am to see your victory speech live on TV. She told her son that the United States is going to be a great country again. The world wants to believe in us. The world is watching.

But it's not just how the world feels about us, sir. It's about how we feel about ourselves. We need to be proud again. We have so many problems. We need at least to get back to feeling ourselves.

Well, that's all I have to say, and I hope I've made my case. I'll leave so that you can go over your inauguration address. We're expecting an oration in the Lincoln /FDR /JFK mold --one for the ages.

No pressure, sir.

Well, we're getting to a station stop. Thank you again for your precious time , Mr. President-elect. What? No, sorry, I don't smoke. I know you can use a cig after all that, but better if you don't sir. We need you healthy for the next eight years.

Sure, I'd be honored to come to the White House to meet Michelle. You think we would hit it off? Terrific. Yes, I then I could stay a while and discuss this topic more with you. And yes, of course overnighting in the Lincoln Bedroom would be fine.

No sir, it would be only me ....