President Obama took the oath of office on Tuesday, January 20th becoming the 44th President of the United States. The oath, however, is regarded as the “flub heard round the world.” Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Roberts, got the words of the oath a little off, which prompted Obama to do so, too. This mistake was widely noticed and even prompted a “do-over.” In fact, for the second time, and with the constitutionally correct wording, President Obama was sworn in by Roberts on the following Wednesday night. So his first official act, being sworn in, was a stumble. However, the actions that President Obama took on the following Thursday speak volumes about the change that he promised and the change that he is now going to deliver.
Thursday, President Obama signed executive orders ending the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret overseas prisons, banning coercive interrogation methods and closing the Guantánamo Bay detention camp within a year. These actions signify a change in policy from the prior Bush regime, and these actions certainly speak louder than any words. Surrounded by retired generals and admirals who have continuously fought for a ban on coercive interrogations, President Obama signed the three executive orders. The generals and admirals applauded during the White House ceremony as the orders were executed.
According to President Obama, “We believe we can abide by a rule that says, we don’t torture, but we can effectively obtain the intelligence we need.” Again, this act is a distinct change from the Bush administration. For many years now, the Bush administration was accused of permitting torture, secret prisons, and damaging the country’s moral standing around the globe. These accusations turned out to be right. In further showing his commitment to change, the order signed by President Obama also directs an immediate assessment of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp itself to ensure that the prisoners are held in conditions that meet the humanitarian requirements of the Geneva Convention. That provision appeared to be a pointed embrace of the international treaties that the Bush administration often argued did not apply to detainees captured in the war against terrorism. This is also a significant change.
Indeed, Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “Today is a great day for the rule of law in the United States of America. America is ready to lead again – not just with our words, but by our example.” From my understanding, the rule of law is a foundation for both our liberties and for order. The rule of law respects us as equals; it allows us to organize our lives, plan our futures, and resolve disputes in a rational way. Even though President Obama was tripped up by the oath of office, which was mostly due to Roberts’ mistake, he was not discouraged from taking major steps to effectuate change. Hopefully this change will strengthen our country’s standing around the world, encourage peace, and put America back on the moral high ground that is has so long occupied.
As a personal injury trial lawyer, I applaud President Obama for following through on what he promised (change) and strengthening the rule of law. While he has a long way to go, this is a great first step. I think we all need a little more compassion, logic, and change in our lives. Let’s hope he can keep this up and work on fixing the economy, the financial and banking industry, and getting our troops home safely.