Who Are We?

Policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the early months of the Obama administration has been its unwillingness to end many of the mind-numbing abuses linked to the so-called war on terror and to establish a legal and moral framework designed to prevent those abuses from ever occurring again.

The president deserves credit for unequivocally banning torture and some of the other brutal interrogation techniques that spread like a plague in the Bush administration’s lawless response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But other policies that offend the conscience continue.

Americans should recoil as one against the idea of preventive detention, imprisoning people indefinitely, for years and perhaps for life, without charge and without giving them an opportunity to demonstrate their innocence.

And yet we’ve embraced it, asserting that there are people who are far too dangerous to even think about releasing but who cannot be put on trial because we have no real evidence that they have committed any crime, or because we’ve tortured them and therefore the evidence would not be admissible, or whatever. President Obama is O.K. with this (he calls it “prolonged detention”), but he wants to make sure it is carried out — here comes the oxymoron — fairly and nonabusively.

Proof of guilt? In 21st-century America, there is no longer any need for such annoyances.

Bob Herbert | CommonDreams.org