We all have "to-do lists," but rarely is the very foundation of an entire, 230-year-old governmental system at stake when we jot down the do this and get that of day-to-day living.
Sorry Obama, but you have much more riding on your "to-do list" than picking up the cleaning, getting pet food and finally washing windows.
We live in a country where the legal system and government are based on precedent, and the last seven-plus years have seen a number of bad precedents set. If we go another 4 years without those changes challenged, it is likely that we will never get rid of them.
So, Mr. President-Elect, here is a to-do list that you might…really, you must…take on as soon as you settle into that chair…behind that desk…in that office:
1. End Torture: Okay, you’ve promised to shut down Gitmo. But that was sorta in the cards, so no props for that. How about re-defining torture along the lines of the Geneva Convention? Issue an Exec Order…or prod Congress to pass a law that includes waterboarding, extreme stress positions…all of it…as torture. Stop the semantic games about "enhanced interrogation," which Naomi Wolf points out in my film–The Warning–is what the Nazis called torture. Shut down all secret prisons, too. And how about a commission to investigate the claims by those who were "rendered" to other countries and those who we, often using private contractors, tortured. They deserve justice.
2. Recind Executive Orders: Team Bush was like a drunken sailor with a fist-full of dollars in a strange port when it came to using Exec Orders and signing statements. Stop the insanity. Stop the abrogation of Constitutional precepts, like Separation of Powers. They did a bunch of Continuity of Government planning, ramping up the establishment of a shadow government that can take over in the case of an emergency. Rep. Peter DeFazio-D of Oregon tried and tried to get the White House to let the Congress know what they were doing. Let Congress know. Let the people know. There were orders on all sorts of things, but this order seems to state that the president can declare national emergency–economic, natural disaster, terrorist attack, etc.–and gather all of the powers of the federal government into the office of the president. In other words…make the President the supreme dictator and pull the plug on Congress. I suggest you rescind that. Immediately.
3. Publicly Renounce the Unitary Executive: It only took John Yoo, then at the Justice Dept., two weeks after 9/11 to issue a memo that asserted the supreme will of the president in the time of war. It’s a “secret power” that Yoo "found" in the Constitution which allowed the Commander-in-Chief to ignore Congress, ignore legislation and the laws of the land, and green-light the prosecution any "war" however he see fits. Just issue a statement saying that "the Unitary Executive" is wrong, un-Constitutional and no longer operative in American governance. Re-assert the Separation of Powers. Just to get it on the record. Don’t be bashful about looking into the emails and documents that Team Bush doesn’t destroy or hide…find out what other interesting powers they have created and used…and abused.
4. End the "War on Terror": Language matters. We’ve seen it with "rendition" and "enhanced interrogation." But it’s the “Global War on Terror" that is the linguistic foundation of all the illegality and abuse we’ve seen over the last seven-plus years. First, they didn’t call it “terrorism” for a reason…they called it "terror." So open-ended. So amorphous. You cannot make a war on "terror." Are we going to fight the makers of the Saw film series? A war on those who stage frightening practical jokes? On those who want to stage a revival of Starlight Express? No. We are not. We are not fighting terror. Terror-ism…is a tactic. It has always been with us. Probably always will. Wherever a lesser force fights a greater force, you find terrorism. How about un-declaring the war in terror and using precise language: the War in Afghanistan (which you seem so hot and bothered to escalate); the War on Al Qaeda (most everyone will support that); the Iraqi Civil War (which, you should admit, we illegally unleashed but have taken sides and hope it continues to fade). The "global" war on terror must end. We are not making progress or friends fighting fear everywhere it can be found around the globe.
5. Renounce the doctrine of Pre-emptive War: Phillip Zelikow, before he man-handled the 9/11 Commission and wrote the report despite the protestations of the Commissioners, came up with this swell idea of declaring war before a war was declared. See the Unitary Executive…handy to have both of these things going if you want to take over everything. Let’s get you to write a new doctrine that re-establishes our tradition of not attacking those who don’t attack us first. It’s a better idea. Safer. Makes more friends, and less enemies. If you get some intel that Canada is about to invade, and you can see them massing on the border? Let them take a step over the line…then roll out the shock and awe. But this pre-emptive stuff just makes everyone who disagrees with us a target. Stop it.
6. Restore the Pentagon and end the use of private armies: Donny Rumsfeld and Dickie C had this great idea back in the early 90s. It became the Revolution in Military Affairs, the RMA, and it proposed using technology to overwhelm opponents and stripping the Pentagon and the Armed Forces of all duties and responsibilities other than recruiting and training soldiers. Food? No more kitchen patrol or peeling potatoes. Rather, we set up Taco Bells in war zones. Water? Nah, let Halliburton bring that…and the fuel. In fact, we might not even have troops…people who have sworn to defend the Constitution and have some legal limits on their behavior…to do all the soldering. Mercenaries can do some of the work, too. They can do jobs like protecting State Dept officials. Mr. President-Elect, this needs to stop now! Right now. The military was slowly starved and then the knock-out blow came, quite intentionally, when Team Bush opened up a two-war scenario. With so few troops and supplies, there was only the private sector left to fill the gaps. Funny how that worked out in favor of companies like KBR and Blackwater. Funny how interrogations done by CACI left Pentagon and CIA personnel out of the line of fire, and how those private contractors did not have to be held accountable by the same rules as those employed by the federal government. This needs to stop. And no more hiring mercenaries to act as "’police" during disasters like Katrina. Restore the Pentagon, make them do what they are supposed to do and, therefore, we have someone to hold accountable if something goes wrong.
7. Full vetting of the Terror Watch List: One million people on the Terror Watch List. If you do not immediately open this up to scrutiny, allow those who have been, in effect, accused to face their accusers…I think there is little hope for us over the next four years. Nothing is more open to the abuse of political enemies than this. And many people are on there for political reasons. Naomi Wolf? I interviewed her. She is not a terrorist. She’s someone who can write about it, get people’s attention and expose it. How about all those who get harassed at the airport but don’t know why? America cannot have "enemy lists." We cannot. It undermines the basis of this system. It would be a good first step to re-establishing habeas corpus, something people like Jose Padilla needed before they were driven insane in a military prison. Start with reviewing and scrutinizing the one million “enemies” on the list, and let’s get back to a government for the people.
8. Absolute end of domestic surveillance: Uh…I know it was said that you had to change your mind on surveillance and FISA. On telecom immunity. All to “move to the center” for the election. But…come on! This is one time when we will all give you a pass for flip-flopping…if you come back to the light and lead us out of the darkness that necessarily surrounds domestic spying, keeping tabs on people without due process, without probable cause and without real legal oversight. No more wiretapping of activists. Of anyone who dares to say something contrary to presidential edict. This spying stuff is dangerous. It is the engine of totalitarianism…look at the Nazis and the Soviets. We must be free to speak, to move freely in our society without fear of being targeted. We had all those abuses during the civil rights movement, during the Cold War…and we tried to get past it. Now? Thanks to technology, it is ten times worse. Please, flip-flop one more time and end this…before it ends us all.
9. Restore the Rule of Law: This is last because it is the last thing I think you will do. Humor me, though, as I make the case for prosecuting criminals. For torture. For falsifying intelligence. For lying during sworn testimony before Congress. For ignoring subpoenas. For corruption in the Dept of Interior. For destroying the integrity of the Justice Dept. For all of it. Yes, there may be pre-emptive pardons. Bush may give people a pass before you get the key to the White House. But he cannot pardon them all. He can’t. There literally isn’t enough time or ink in pens to sign all those pardons. Do not make the mistake that Bill Clinton did in 1993 when he pulled the plug on the Iraq-gate investigation and let all those Neo-Cons in training off the hook. They will be back. They will. You must stop them. This is not just about keeping ideologues out of future policy-making positions…but it is about the rule of law. It’s about the idea that no man or woman is above the law. If you decide to "just move on," you will cement the feeling we all have that while we pay our speeding tickets, and our taxes, and our credit card bills, those with power and influence simply run rough-shod over the law and use power connections to get a pass. And we are not talking about going 50mph in a 40. We are talking about the destruction of an entire country. About the death and serious injury of thousands of Americans, and tens of thousands…hundreds of thousands…of innocent Iraqis. We are talking about the various crimes on this list. We are talking about the most important principle of the American Constitution. We are talking about the rule of law.
Well, I know you have quite a bit on your plate. And that the economy is looking desperate. But I think you can knock much of this list out in a few days. Just whip out that pen, grab the bully pulpit…and be the President many of us hope you will be.
And I’ll be happy to pick up your cleaning.