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Posted: February 6, 2009 12:00 a.m.

A bit of history

 Mr. Harwell, there are so many things wrong in the column you wrote last Sunday ("USA: Beware the USB") that I just couldn’t let it stand unchallenged. The record needs to be cleared on a number of issues.

You accused President Obama of usurping powers not granted to him by the Constitution by issuing executive orders reversing Bush administration Justice Department policies. The truth is that presidents derive their legal authority to issue executive orders from Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution which gives the president "executive power." Executive orders have been used by American presidents for more than 200 years.

Now it’s true that the issuance of executive orders has been a controversial matter for many years (the executive order authorizing the rounding up of Japanese-Americans and placing them on internment camps during World War II comes to mind).

Congress has often chafed under executive orders, but other times Congress has happily passed the buck to the president to issue a necessary but unpopular executive order that is in the nation’s best interests. Probably the most famous and impactive executive order ever issued was by President Abraham Lincoln. It was the Emancipation Proclamation.

It is highly likely that the Democrat-controlled Congress will try to codify into legislation a number of President Obama’s executive orders reversing Bush administration policies regarding the use of water boarding in interrogations, the closure of Guantanamo Bay and the preservation of presidential records.

If later Congresses object to Obama’s executive orders, just as the current Congress has raised many weighty objections to those of George W. Bush, they can rewrite them or amend them. Executive orders may also be challenged in court. That is American government at work. Checks and balances playing out.

The column stated that "the most heinous known terrorists and terror suspects" are detained at Guantanamo Bay. Have Al Qaeda terrorists been held there? Absolutely, but they are in the large minority. Many of the men presently held there were captured in Afghanistan under blurry suspicions of being Taliban fighters. They are not known terrorists. The damage done to the United State’s image abroad and consequently to our foreign policy agenda by the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay can not be understated.

For the dubious claim of temporary domestic safety from terrorist attacks, we sacrifice our good name and the principles which we hold essential as a society. This is a clear case of where the ends do not justify the means. In the words of one of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin:

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

President Obama has not "subverted the will of the people." The elections of 2006 and 2008, which saw the Republican Party roundly defeated at the polls clearly demonstrates that the will of the people is not a continuation of the last eight years of shameful human rights policies. The will of the people is a return of America’s good name and international respect.

I do not believe it is "perfectly fine to racially profile persons" whether they be black, Arab, Hispanic or white at the airport, at the train station, at school or on the job. These are values that I hold dear and essential to my identity as an American.

I see no problem with the symbolism of President Obama granting his first official interview to Al-Arabia or in granting his first official telephone call to the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen. The significance of those two acts is not lost on the rest of the world particularly in the Middle East and has largely been welcomed as a significant change from the harsh absolutist rhetoric used by the Bush administration.

If there is ever to be peace between Israel and Palestine, a dear hope for many, many Americans, the Palestinians must first resolve their own internal disagreements between the radical Islamist party of Hamas and the more moderate secular party of Fatah, headed by Abbas. If there is a side we need to be cheering for, it most certainly is that of Fatah. Hopefully the support offered by Obama to Abbas will strengthen his support among Palestinians.

Islam is the second most populous religion on the planet with 1.5 billion adherents. Much of future population growth is predicted to come from Muslim countries. So how can it be good for our country’s long-term interests if Muslims worldwide believe the United States to be a country that is hostile to and disdainful of their faith?

 

 Rachel Oswald is the senior reporter at The Covington News. Her primary reporting responsibilities are local government and business.

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