What Country Is This?

First, I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture.

— President Obama

Three days after Barack Obama’s inauguration and the new president has instituted perhaps the toughest lobbying rules for prospective and former members of his administration in the history of the office. He has revoked the veto power of former presidents and vice presidents to hide their papers from public view. He has signed executive orders setting a closing date for the prison at Guantanamo Bay, set up a panel to review the status of all prisoners there, and ordered the CIA to close its overseas black sites. He has ordered that all detainees be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, and interrogations follow guidelines established in the Army Field Manual, which prohibits waterboarding, prolonged sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced nakedness and sexual humiliation, exposure to extreme temperatures, and other techniques up to and including direct physical harm. In announcing that order, President Obama became the first person in the Executive Branch in about seven years who was not lying when he said the United States does not torture.

Three days into his administration and the entrenched malevolence of the Bush administration is evaporating as quickly as the ink dries on Obama’s signatures.

Watching and studying politics, both current and historical, is to know the extent of human deceit and corruption, to know the contortions very intelligent and once noble men will go through to gain and hold onto power. When decisions are made in government by fiat, mountains grow around them, seemingly impervious to any efforts to get at the new rules and reverse them. When the Bush administration so carelessly destroyed so much of our moral standing, undermining the foundations of our freedoms, it was understandable for one to feel that these new rules, this new way of operating, was permanent. Our leaders in the highest offices in the land established a new paradigm, defining down the threshold for malicious government conduct, from how they treated terrorism detainees, to how they eavesdropped on telecommunications, to how they marginalized facts, opinions, and even people who differed from the party line, and more. The list is long, and after eight years, grew to represent the norm.

Normally, we could expect out of a new president some reluctance to act on the promises they made during their campaign, and that is why Obama’s initial conduct is surprising. He is wasting little time and political capital in refuting all the actions of Bush and company that weighed so heavily on the consciences of so many Americans. It’s astounding to see that there is such a thing as a politician that does the right thing. After Bush and Cheney worked so hard towards their twisted ideal of unitary executive power, erasing accountability and making our inalienable rights subject to approval from the Oval Office, there was every reason to believe that the next president would not give back an inch. It’s still early, but all of us can wonder, at what point is absolute power going to begin corrupting Obama absolutely?

Now that we are seeing just how easily a determined leader is beginning to set things right, it makes the actions of the Bush administration stand in an even harsher light. Such awful conduct so efficiently reversed means it was entrenched only in the minds of hateful men.