My Column For This Week

Here’s my syndicated opinion column for this week:


With Democrats Like Him, Who Needs Dictators?

MIAMI—We expected broken promises. But the gap between the soaring expectations that accompanied Barack Obama’s inauguration and his wretched performance is the broadest such chasm in recent historical memory. This guy makes Bill Clinton look like a paragon of integrity and follow-through.

From healthcare to torture to the economy to war, Obama has reneged on pledges real and implied. So timid and so owned is he that he trembles in fear of offending, of all things, the government of Turkey. Obama has officially reneged on his campaign promise to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. When a president doesn’t have the ‘nads to annoy the Turks, why does he bother to show up for work in the morning?

Obama is useless. Worse than that, he’s dangerous. Which is why, if he has any patriotism left after the thousands of meetings he has sat through with corporate contributors, blood-sucking lobbyists and corrupt politicians, he ought to step down now—before he drags us further into the abyss.

I refer here to Obama’s plan for “preventive detentions.” If a cop or other government official thinks you might want to commit a crime someday, you could be held in “prolonged detention.” Reports in U.S. state-controlled media imply that Obama’s shocking new policy would only apply to Islamic terrorists (or, in this case, wannabe Islamic terrorists, and also kinda-sorta-maybe-thinking-about-terrorism dudes). As if that made it OK.

In practice, Obama wants to let government goons snatch you, me and anyone else they deem annoying off the street.

Preventive detention is the classic defining characteristic of a military dictatorship. Because dictatorial regimes rely on fear rather than consensus, their priority is self-preservation rather than improving their people’s lives. They worry obsessively over the one thing they can’t control, what Orwell called “thoughtcrime”—contempt for rulers that might someday translate to direct action.

Locking up people who haven’t done anything wrong is worse than un-American and a violent attack on the most basic principles of Western jurisprudence. It is contrary to the most essential notion of human decency. That anyone has ever been subjected to “preventive detention” is an outrage. That the President of the United States, a man who won an election because he promised to elevate our moral and political discourse, would even entertain such a revolting idea offends the idea of civilization itself.

Obama is cute. He is charming. But there is something rotten inside him. Unlike the Republicans who backed Bush, I won’t follow a terrible leader just because I voted for him. Obama has revealed himself. He is a monster, and he should remove himself from power.

“Prolonged detention,” reported The New York Times, would be inflicted upon “terrorism suspects who cannot be tried.”

“Cannot be tried.” Interesting choice of words.

Any “terrorism suspect” (can you be a suspect if you haven’t been charged with a crime?) can be tried. Anyone can be tried for anything. At this writing, a Somali child is sitting in a prison in New York, charged with piracy in the Indian Ocean, where the U.S. has no jurisdiction. Anyone can be tried.
What they mean, of course, is that the hundreds of men and boys languishing at Guantánamo and the thousands of “detainees” the Obama Administration anticipates kidnapping in the future cannot be convicted. As in the old Soviet Union, putting enemies of the state on trial isn’t enough. The game has to be fixed. Conviction has to be a foregone conclusion.

Why is it, exactly, that some prisoners “cannot be tried”?

The Old Grey Lady explains why Obama wants this “entirely new chapter in American law” in a boring little sentence buried a couple past the jump and a couple of hundred words down page A16: “Yet another question is what to do with the most problematic group of Guantánamo detainees: those who pose a national security threat but cannot be prosecuted, either for lack of evidence or because evidence is tainted.”

In democracies with functioning legal systems, it is assumed that people against whom there is a “lack of evidence” are innocent. They walk free. In countries where the rule of law prevails, in places blessedly free of fearful leaders whose only concern is staying in power, “tainted evidence” is no evidence at all. If you can’t prove that a defendant committed a crime—an actual crime, not a thoughtcrime—in a fair trial, you release him and apologize to the judge and jury for wasting their time.

It is amazing and incredible, after eight years of Bush’s lawless behavior, to have to still have to explain these things. For that reason alone, Obama should resign.

(Ted Rall, President of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, is author of the books “To Afghanistan and Back” and “Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?”)


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About the Author

Ted Rall
Ted Rall
Setting himself apart from the herd with a unique drawing style and a take-no-prisoners approach, Ted Rall began editorial cartooning in the 1980s with a handful of alternative weekly newspapers whose editors saw his photocopied work hanging from lampposts in New York City. In 1991 San Francisco Chronicle Features began syndicating Rall’s three-times-a-week editorial cartoons syndication with newspapers including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Des Moines Register and Philadelphia Daily News.

Universal Press Syndicate picked up Rall’s cartoons in 1996. Today the man often called “the most controversial cartoonist in America” appears in more than 100 newspapers throughout the United States, ranging from the Washington Post to the Village Voice.

His trademark “Generalissimo El Busho” is an iconic caricature of President Bush. It has drawn criticism from conservatives. He was called “treasonous” by the right-wing Weekly Standard and “anti-American” by the Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page. The Right Wing News website named him 2003’s “Most Annoying Liberal” and was named number 15 in Bernard Goldberg’s book 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America. He has received numerous death threats.

Rall has also won awards, including the 1995 and 2000 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards for Outstanding Coverage of the Problems of the Disadvantaged. In 1996 he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Rall also draws non-political strips for MAD magazine and cartoon journalism for EurasiaNet, a news website about the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

"Editorial cartooning is an intrinsically negative medium,” Rall says, “but I’m an optimistic person. My hope is that, by calling attention to hypocrisy in our government and the inward focus of American culture in an amusing way, things will change for the better.”

Four collections of Rall’s cartoons have been published: Waking Up In America, All The Rules Have Changed, Search and Destroy, and America Gone Wild, as well as three award-winning graphic novels, My War With Brian, Real Americans Admit: The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done! and 2024, a parody of Orwell’s 1984. He edited an influential three-volume anthology of edgy alternative weekly political cartoons, Attitude. He wrote the bestselling 1998 “generational manifesto” Revenge of the Latchkey Kids.

Rall covered the war in Afghanistan in cartoon form, where his harrowing experience—3 of the 44 journalists with whom he traveled were killed—led to the critically acclaimed book To Afghanistan and Back. He released two books of prose during 2004, Wake Up, You’re Liberal: How We Can Take America Back From the Right and Generalissimo El Busho.

Rall’s most recent book is Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?, a detailed analysis of the region in prose and cartoons.

See his books from NBM!

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