To Obama and others of his ilk: Quit now!

by Ted Rall

MIAMI — We expected broken promises. But the gap between the soaring expectations that accompanied Barack Obama’s inauguration and his wretched performance is the broadest such chasm in recent historical memory. This guy makes Bill Clinton look like a paragon of integrity and follow-through.

From health care to torture to the economy to war, Obama has reneged on pledges real and implied.

So timid and so owned is he that he trembles in fear of offending, of all things, the government of Turkey. Obama has officially reneged on his campaign promise to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. When a president doesn’t have the grit to annoy the Turks, why does he bother to show up for work in the morning?

Obama is useless. Worse than that, he’s dangerous. Which is why, if he has any patriotism left after the thousands of meetings he has sat through with corporate contributors, bloodsucking lobbyists and corrupt politicians, he ought to step down now — before he drags us further into the abyss.

Take Obama’s plan for “preventive detentions.” If a cop or other government official thinks you might want to commit a crime someday, you could be held in “prolonged detention.” Reports in U.S. state-controlled media imply that Obama’s shocking new policy would only apply to Islamic terrorists (or, in this case, wannabe Islamic terrorists, as well as kinda-sorta-maybe-thinking-about- terrorism dudes). As if that made it OK. In practice, Obama wants to let government goons snatch you, me and anyone else they deem annoying off the street.

Preventive detention is the classic defining characteristic of a military dictatorship. Because dictatorial regimes rely on fear rather than consensus, their priority is self-preservation rather than improving people’s lives. They worry obsessively over the one thing they can’t control, what Orwell called “thought crime” — contempt for rulers that might someday translate to direct action.

Locking up people who haven’t done anything wrong is worse than un-American and a violent attack on the most basic principles of Western jurisprudence. It is contrary to the most essential notion of human decency. That anyone has ever been subjected to “preventive detention” is an outrage. That the president of the United States, a man who won an election because he promised to elevate our moral and political discourse, would even entertain such a revolting idea offends the idea of civilization itself.

Obama is cute. He is charming. But there is something rotten inside him. Unlike the Republicans who backed George W. Bush, I won’t follow a terrible leader just because I voted for him. Obama has revealed himself. He is a monster, and he should remove himself from power.

“Prolonged detention,” reported The New York Times, would be inflicted upon “terrorism suspects who cannot be tried.” Interesting choice of words.

Any “terrorism suspect” (can you be a suspect if you haven’t been charged with a crime?) can be tried. Anyone can be tried for anything. At this writing, a Somali child is sitting in a prison in New York, charged with piracy in the Indian Ocean, where the U.S. has no jurisdiction. Anyone can be tried.

What they mean, of course, is that the hundreds of men and boys languishing at Guantanamo and the thousands of “detainees” the Obama Administration anticipates kidnapping in the future cannot be convicted. As in the old Soviet Union, putting enemies of the state on trial isn’t enough. The game has to be fixed. Conviction has to be a foregone conclusion.

Why is it, exactly, that some prisoners “cannot be tried?”

The Old Gray Lady explains why Obama wants this “entirely new chapter in American law” in a boring little sentence buried past the jump and a couple of hundred words down page A16: “Yet another question is what to do with the most problematic group of Guantanamo detainees: those who pose a national security threat but cannot be prosecuted, either for lack of evidence or because evidence is tainted.”

In democracies with functioning legal systems, it is assumed that people against whom there is a “lack of evidence” are innocent. They walk free.

In countries where the rule of law prevails, in places blessedly free of fearful leaders whose only concern is staying in power, “tainted evidence” is no evidence at all.

If you can’t prove that a defendant committed a crime — an actual crime, not a thought crime — in a fair trial, you release him and apologize to the judge and jury for wasting their time.

It is amazing that, after eight years of Bush’s lawless behavior, to have to still explain these things.

Ted Rall, president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, is author of the books “To Afghanistan and Back” and “Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?” © 2009 Ted Rall