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Boycott Obama’s new children’s book until he stops defending Bush-era torture.

September 16, 2010

As a literary journalist, I generally try to avoid politics as beside the point and outside my expertise. But I cannot help but laugh when I hear Tea Baggers labeling President Obama as “liberal,” “progressive,” or even “socialist.” The man’s a Clinton-style centrist — except when he veers wrecklessly toward Bushian neo-conservatism.

That’s why I’m calling for a boycott of the President’s new children’s book, Of Thee I Sing: Letters to My Daughters. Set for publication on Nov. 16, two weeks after the midterm elections, the book profiles 13 exemplary Americans, from George Washington to Jackie Robinson to Georgia O’Keefe.

Obama’s new book is already in the Amazon Top 25, a mere two days after it was announced, reports USA Today, and Random House plans a first printing of 500,000. I’m not fool enough to think my little boycott is going to make much difference. But maybe it can contribute in some small way to the conversation.

And maybe someone out there, someone smarter than me, can explain why the so-called liberal Democratic president is defending corporations and individuals complicit in the torture policies of the previous administration…?

Announcement of Obama’s book came less than a week after a federal appeals court in California tossed out an ACLU suit in behalf of five men subjected to “extraordinary rendition” during the Bush Administration.

You know extraordinary rendition, right? That’s when we outsource torture. In this case, the five men were sent to Morocco, Egypt and Afghanistan. One of them suffered broken bones, according to this editorial in The New York Times. The ACLU had filed suit against a subsidiary of Boeing, which transported the men to their torture destinations.

As journalist Andy Worthington explains at the Huffington Post, the Ninth District Court of Appeals ruled 6-5 to dismiss the case on the grounds that forcing the company to defend itself in court would present “an unacceptable risk of disclosure of state secrets.”

Judge Raymond Fisher said: “We have tried our best to evaluate the competing claims of plaintiffs and the government and resolve that conflict according to the principles governing the state secrets doctrine set forth by the US Supreme Court.”

But as Worthington and the Times editorial note, more than enough public information exists to try the suit. For example, The New Yorker reported extensively on Boeing’s lucrative participation in the Bush Administration’s extraordinary rendition program in 2006.

More is at stake here than the morality of torture involving “enemy combatants” — like your rights and mine. Based on the reasoning used by the majority in this case, the White House can remove anything from judicial consideration simply by declaring it a “state secret.”

“The state secrets doctrine is so blinding and powerful,” argues the Times editorial, “that it should be invoked only when the most grave national security matters are at stake — nuclear weapons details, for example, or the identity of covert agents. It should not be used to defend against allegations that if true, as the dissenting judges wrote, would be ‘gross violations of the norms of international law.'”

What amazes me is that this is the Obama Justice Department — Obama!— vigorously defending questionable practices (or, if you prefer, “crimes against humanity”) committed by the Bush Administration. Indeed, the government’s defense against the ACLU suit began under Bush, but has been continued by Obama.

Barack Obama campaigned against excessive state secrecy. He campaigned against torture. He campaigned on the slogan, “Change you can believe in.” I guess, what he really meant was, “Change you can believe when you see it.”

11 Comments leave one →
  1. September 16, 2010 8:59 pm

    Putting it mildly, Obama has been a DISAPPOINTMENT. He and Biden both should have been a one-two punch against the Bush admin’s continuing destruction of what used to be called “American values.” Why were Bush and his monstrous VP not even investigated for what many of us believe are crimes against humanity? Why didn’t the World Court indict those SOBs? Look at the wreck our country has become and who is paying the price for it! Bah, it’s sickening and makes me want to move to Ireland or wherever. Wish I could afford to. I’m with you on this one totally, Chauncey. That book will be a best-seller by a man has SOLD OUT. Again, you’ve pushed a button. God, don’t get me started.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      September 16, 2010 9:20 pm

      Uh, Duff, I think it’s too late…

  2. John Karwacki permalink
    September 17, 2010 12:18 pm

    To paraphrase George Orwell, “All politicians are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Unfortunately, disappointment has become an understatement when it comes to politics.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      September 17, 2010 1:13 pm

      Lied to, once again. My suspicions first arose when Obama kept Bernanke and appointed Geithner and Summers as his economic team. Christ! Talk about foxes guarding the hen house.

  3. Candice Simmons permalink
    September 17, 2010 2:59 pm

    I’ve got to take up for President Obama here. He’s doing a great job given the hand he was dealt. Hang in there, and I think we will all notice a difference eventually. Just doesn’t happen overnight.

    As for the book, I’ll read it. I’ve read the others.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      September 19, 2010 10:02 am

      How exactly does having his Justice Department defend Boeing against a suit brought by victims of torture promote a liberal agenda?

  4. jean-philippe permalink
    September 18, 2010 8:55 pm

    Expecting that Obama would change the Pentagone is naive. And calling for the boycott of a book when Obama is donating the money to charity is selfish. Lower your expectations – the guy passed a puny health reform without any public option and the world almost collapsed.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      September 19, 2010 10:05 am

      The Pentagon is not in play here. It’s the Justice Department I’m riled up about. And I acknowledge at the outset that I don’t really expect my call for a “boycott” to be heeded. But I do think the discussion about why the Obama administration is defending Boeing against suits brought by torture victims is not loud enough. My country should not be torturing people, nor should it be outsourcing torture to other countries with less lofty values (or, I suppose you could say, less hypocrisy).

      • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
        September 19, 2010 10:10 am

        Besides, military leaders were opposed to torture until Rumsfield got to the Pentagon. So if he can change the military culture in a few short years, why can’t Obama?

  5. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    September 19, 2010 10:11 am

    Sorry, I meant Rumsfeld, of course.

  6. Candice Simmons permalink
    September 20, 2010 9:14 am

    Jean-Phillipe is right, Chaunce.

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