2008 Archive

A "Bailout Package'' for the Constitution

By Sharon Rohwer

In an interview with “60 minutes” recently, President-elect Barack Obama confirmed his intent to close Guantánamo and end policies of torture.

Although welcome, the move is not enough to undo what some view as eight years of Constitutional abuse by the Bush Administration, says Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).

“It’s a significant victory,” said Warren, “but it’s just the beginning.”

Warren, who spoke at the law school recently, is hoping the Obama administration will roll back some of the controversial polices of the Bush Administration that he feels have undermined Constitutional protections. His talk, sponsored by the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice, was called “Beyond Guantánamo: How the Next President Can Restore the Constitution in 100 Days.”

Appropriately, Warren’s talk came on the heels of the release of “Guantánamo and Its Aftermath: U.S. Detention and Interrogation Practices and Their Impact on Detainees,” a report published by the International Human Rights Law Clinic and UC Berkeley's Human Rights Center, in partnership with CCR.

Seeds of Justice

CCR filed its initial habeas corpus petition challenging Guantánamo in February 2002, just one month after the first prisoners were sent to the facility. For nearly seven years CCR has pushed back against what it considers government abuses and injustices at Guantánamo, culminating in a June 2008 Supreme Court ruling (Boumediene v. Bush) giving detainees the right to challenge their detention in civilian courts.

The case, Warren said, is “the seed we have planted to lead the country beyond Guantánamo and toward a just vision—one anchored in the protections of the Constitution as well as the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

100 Days to Restore the Constitution

Striving to complete the unfinished civil rights movement, CCR is calling upon Obama to move forward and take action on what Warren refers to as a “bailout package for the Constitution.” 

He offered a partial list of ways in which Obama can restore, protect and expand fundamental rights in his first 100 days of office:

  • End torture, rendition and illegal detention.
  • Abolish preventative detention and repeal the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Acts.
  • Protect the right to dissent and repeal the Patriot Act, other repressive legislation and all FBI guidelines that allow enhanced surveillance of activists.
  • Limit state secrets privilege and end its use to allow military contractors to evade accountability.
  • Stop warrantless wiretapping and repeal amendments to FISA and immunity for telecommunications corporations who broke the law.

After watching an unprecedented expansion of executive power over the past years, Warren admitted “it will be hard to put the presidency back in the Constitutional box.” He also realizes that not everything on CCR’s 100-day list is high on the daunting to-do list of the new administration. Yet somewhere between Obama and the involvement of ordinary citizens, he sees hope.

“The Center was founded in 1966 to fight for racial justice,” he said. “It was born out of the need to challenge the Democratic party over the voting rights of blacks in the South. Today, we’re fighting for rights around the globe. The irony isn’t lost on me that we’re pinning our hopes on an African American from the same Democratic party we fought against.”