As President Obama signed the first executive order this morning, he explained who the officers standing around him were, and the role they have played in fighting for the rule of law:
“The individuals who are standing behind me represent flag officers who came to both Joe and myself, and all the candidates, and made a passionate plea that we restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great, even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism. They’ve made an extraordinary impression on me. They are outstanding Americans, who have fought and defended this country, and for them to fight on behalf of our constitutional ideals and values, I think, is exceptional, so I wanted to make sure that they were here to witness the signing of this executive order.”
As the President mentions, in December 2007, Human Rights First hosted a series of meetings in Des Moines, Iowa, during which seven presidential candidates from both parties (including Obama and Biden) met with fifteen retired military leaders. Members of the group also traveled to key states in the presidential campaign because of their commitment to ensuring that the next commander-in-chief understand the fundamental importance of prisoner treatment issues to our national security. In December 2008, during the transition, HRF convened a group of retired generals and admirals to discuss the Bush Administration’s interrogation and detention policies with some of the President-elect’s top legal advisors, including Eric Holder, Obama’s pick to be attorney general, and Greg Craig, incoming White House counsel.
The message from the retired military leaders was certainly well received – they made an “extraordinary impression” – and today President Obama signaled an abrupt departure from the Bush Administration’s polices of torture, unjust trials, and prolonged detention without criminal charge by issuing the three executive orders.