ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero was downright exuberant on last night's Colbert Report. You could see it in the way he stood to greet Colbert, then interrupted him before the interview could even get going to exclaim, "I'm so happy! This is an historic day." Romero had good reason to be overjoyed.
Hours earlier, the Associated Press reported that President-elect Obama will issue an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay prison facility within his first week in office, possibly on his first day. By all accounts, this news is a major win for civil rights and the ACLU, which has spent the last few months calling on Obama to do just that.
Less than a week after Obama was elected, the ACLU launched its grassroots drive to Close Guantanamo and End Military Commissions. They took out a full-page ad in The New York Times, hosted a teleconference town hall meeting, and launched a series of videos produced by Brave New Foundation on everything from torture to the unconstitutional military commissions put in place by the Bush administration. The entire effort was geared toward urging the President-elect to make good on his campaign promise to shut down Gitmo -- all it would take, they said, would be one stroke from his new presidential pen.
There's no question that Obama's decision to close Gitmo marks a definitive break with eight years of Bush's inhumane policies regarding the use of torture, indefinite detainment, and illicit trials -- all of which were designed to extract information from terrorist suspects, if you can consider a confession from a detainee who has just been waterboarded and deprived of his basic freedoms to be reliable.
Of course, issuing an executive order is really just the beginning, as both Romero and the ACLU are well aware. In a statement yesterday, Romero said:
"Executive orders are an important first step. But we trust that President-elect Obama will provide a detailed plan for ending the Guantánamo military commissions, shutting down the Guantánamo military prison and ending President Bush's legacy of indefinite detention. An executive order lacking such detail, especially after the transition team has had months to develop a comprehensive plan on an issue this important, would be insufficient."
Romero's point there is a crucial one. Obama still faces the challenges of figuring out what to do with the etimated 250 inmates at Gitmo, and he still has to address the military commissions. There's also a debate of whether Obama should prosecute members of the Bush administration or CIA to hold those involved with the unlawful practices at Gitmo accountable. On this Obama has suggested something of a "look forward" approach.
But as Romero said on Colbert, "We have to look back before we look forward," which was great to see because it meant the ACLU will be dauntless in pressuring the Obama administration on this issue. That's how Romero will no doubt channel his unbridled enthusiasm for this new day in Washington.
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