What is he going to do about the people who did this - the U.S.A. citizens who legislated and executed these policies endorsing torture, rendition and so on? Are they going to be able to carry on with their careers and livelihoods, with just the "blemish" on their record of their endorsing, encouraging and performing torture in the past which, whilst not longer acceptable, is otherwise ignored? Or are they going to be at least publicly and officially censured, if not have sanctions and penalties applied - at least social and economic if not legal? After all have they not committed crimes against humanity? Are they any better than the terrorists they were pursuing? Does not Obama need to show, in addition to what he has already done, on behalf not only of civilised citizens in the U.S.A. but across the world, that such people need to be punished for their crimes - to show that torture is not acceptable and discourage its support?
If Obama does not act but practices some sort of non-partisan diplomacy managing conflicting interests for the "good" of the country, what then? What happens in a few years time when, sooner or later - and it will - the Republicans get back into power? Might they not do what Obama himself has done in, not surprisingly, employing members of previous Democratic governments? Will it then be acceptable to re-employ these perpetrators of crimes against humanity again? Might they not be back in power, having suffered no more than a slap on their wrist - if that - in the meanwhile having found well paid employment in big business whilst out of power - and in spite of dire economic suffering of the ordinary USA citizen? Can they be allowed to benefit from having being in power like any other politician and state official? Would they not see it as reasonable to resume their past actions - to re-reverse what was reversed by Obama, to see this as just different moves on political landscape?
No, they and their supporters must be made to realize these types of actions and the use of the law to purportedly legitimize such policies are far beyond the normal scope of how a modern liberal democracy - however powerful and however threatened - can and should act. Such a republican model is based on power being granted by its citizens to the government, in return it is limited by a set of constraints - on what it cannot do to its citizens - and must not overstep these constraints and indeed defend these as "rights" of individual citizens. Only this way will this not be seen as part of the ebb and flow of USA politics. The instigators and perpetrators of torture must be seen to suffer and their supporters castigated and condemned for such support. Only then, in the future, will this not be seen as a viable and pseudo-legitimate course of action for a future USA government to take. It will also set an example for everyone, everywhere to condemn and censure the tyrants (would be and actual) and terrorists of the world - and that their support even if only through words not actions is unacceptable. Only then can we really say we have start reversing rather than just temporarily stopping the damage done to the civilised world, that the Bush regime has done through the encouragement and endorsement of torture.
This is, amongst many others, a real challenge for Obama to deal with and one that he is capable now of doing, whilst his presidency is new and there is much popular support worldwide and high expectations of what he can do. Will he deliver or is he just going to sweep it under the carpet with the excuse of dealing with the bigger immediate issues such as the financial meltdown? Is this just politics as usual or can he show himself on behalf of the USA and as an example to the world, of being a real statesman and ethical leader rather just a novel diplomatic politician just promising hope?
For an excellent post on the related issues of the morality and legality of torture and rights, quite consistent with my points made yesterday and today (at least in my view) see Alonzo Fyfe's Moral Rights and the Issue of Torture