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Bush Administration's Human Rights Legacy 'abhorrent'

This story was written by Shawn Gude, The Daily Iowan


For Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Human Rights Program, the Bush administration's legacy on upholding civil liberties and human rights is clear: abhorrent.

"It's a legacy of unchecked executive power," said Dakwar, who will speak today at an Iowa City Foreign Relations Council-sponsored event. "It's a legacy of all means justifying the goals. It's a legacy Americans cannot be proud of."

In addition, he contends the methods used by the administration haven't just been immoral but a "failure."

Interrogation techniques used that critics deride as torture have "made the U.S. look not as a democracy and a country that believes in the rule of law and human rights but rather makes mockery those values."

Dakwar is on the legal team of Ali v. Rumsfeld. The team is seeking compensation for torture allegedly inflicted on their nine clients - five Iraqis and four Afghanis.

But the correct balance between civil liberties and antiterrorism remains controversial.

Many conservatives, including University of Iowa College Republicans member Sarah Milani, argue that in times of war, citizens must be ready to set aside personal liberties for the greater good.

"All know that as citizens of the United States, they are entitled to these civil liberties and all the rights that the Constitution gives them, but they have to understand that the country is bigger than themselves," Milani said.

Their differences are all the more important in a year that will likely see some sort realignment of U.S. policy.

Obama - at least based on his campaign promises - will chart a decidedly different path from that of the Bush administration on the proper balance between the war on terror and civil liberties.

The president-elect has pledged to close the United State's prison in Guantnamo Bay, Cuba. He has argued the CIA needs to be held to the same guidelines on torture as the military.

And he has called for increased transparency and a return to the "American values" he contends were lost under his predecessor.

Dakwar is relatively sanguine about a shift under the Obama presidency, hoping there will be a shift "from the war on terror paradigm of seeing the war on terror as a conflict that has no end and going back to the criminal-justice paradigm in which the government can still fight terrorism forcefully while preserving basic principles and values."

Milani is more skeptical.

"When he is president he's going to have a lot of learning to do," she said. "And I think people that will be working for him in his Cabinet will enlighten him about ways to protect Americans that Obama may have not fully understood."

According to recent polls, the American public opposes further curtailing civil liberties. In a September CBS News/New York Times poll, 51 percent of respondents said they were more concerned the government would restrict civil liberties than the government would fail to enact strong antiterrorism laws. Thirty-one percent said the opposite.

That gap has widened since 2006, when it was 7 percentage points.

On more specific human-rights and civil-liberty issues, polling has shown Americans are opposed to waterboarding and allowing detainees to challenge their detentions in the civilian court system.

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