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Saturday, January 24, 2009

America the Beautiful

The video speaks for itself. Enjoy and share it with others.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Executive Orders for Guantanamo Bay

Earlier today on the second day of his Presidency, Barack Obama signed four executive orders related to Guantanamo Bay. The four orders spiraled from an anticipated desire to break from the Bush administration policies, and for the new President's wish to win the war on terror on his own terms.

Gitmo History
After the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan which began in October 2001, the U.S. government contemplated what to do about potential enemy captives that were held in military custody. These captives were arrested by American soldiers during battle, turned over to troops by Afghan allies, and collected by bounty hunters who seeked big profits for their capture.

Following September 11, 2001, now former President George W. Bush declared that the U.S. was in a "war on terror." Shortly thereafter, a question lingered as to if the captives were deemed as prisoners of war? The U.S. government thought otherwise. They believed that because these captives were not affiliated with any recognizable military force, they didn't qualify for protection as prisoners of war under the international rules of war via the literature and protocols of the Geneva Convention. Therefore, these captives did not fall into a category which kept them in legal bounds for trial and dodging extensive interrogations.

And then there was Guantanamo Bay Prison, or 'Gitmo' for short. The first prisoners arrived at the U.S. detention facility in Cuba in 2002. U.S. officials who supported the detention facility argued that the prisoners in custody were enemy fighters who had few legal rights and could be interrogated about their potential links to Islamist extremist groups. At the time, the U.S. announced that it was to try these prisoners using military commissions, a process that was intended for dispensing battlefield justice to captives or suspected war criminals caught outside the United States (more information involving military commissions can be found on the Department of Defense website). This process had not been used since after WWII, and legal-rights activists around the world and within the U.S. were distraught with this decision.

In 2003 and onward, many court challenges were brought forth demanding full legal rights for prisoners at Guantanamo, plus the right to be tried in a civilian or military court. This would allow for the inmates to challenge evidence against them in the prosecution, and to call on any witnesses necessary, as well as to form an appeal to higher courts. Courts in the U.S. began to make rulings on these challenges, and many courts discovered that the inmates should be entitled to certain rights.

In 2004, the inmates were put before a panel for their review, to determine whether they were captured foreign soldiers or not. Nearly all the inmates were declared "unlawful enemy combatants," which prevented them from receiving the rights outlined in the Geneva Convention. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court reached a split decision, declaring that military commissions were in fact illegal, which created a violation of the Geneva Convention for the United States government. The ruling followed cases filed by inmates who challenged their detention. A then Republican-controlled U.S. Congress responded to the Supreme Court ruling by passing the Military Commissions Act. It took the court's concerns into account, allowing avenues of appeal and explicitly prohibiting evidence obtained through torture.

In June 2008, a more recent U.S. Supreme Court decision was ruled in favor of the Guantanamo detainees. This new ruling allowed them the right to habeas corpus, a mandate allowing prisoners the right to be brought to court to determine if the individual is imprisoned lawfully.

Overall, in the history of the detention facility, the U.S. government has charged only 21 inmates with crimes, including alleged alleged Sept.11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammed are among those who've been charged. Many questions remain unanswered after the numerous court proceedings brought forth during the Bush administration, which shed mass confusion as to the process of detaining potential terrorists. This leads us to the new administration which will decide the legal proceedings and the fate of the current detainees at Gitmo.

Executive Orders

The first of the orders will require the eradication of the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within a year. The second order formally bans torture by requiring that the Army uses its field manual as a guide when conducting terror interrogations. This will eliminate any additional interrogation methods that the Bush administration was criticized for potentially using, such as waterboarding. The third order actually establishes an interagency task force which will be responsible for the review of all detention policies and all individuals on a case-by-case basis. And the final executive order will delay the trial of a man by the named of Ali al-Marri. He is a legal U.S. resident who has been contesting his detention for more than five years, meanwhile the government has failed to bring any charges against him.

These executive orders were long awaited by some who believed that the Bush administration had used torture methods on terror detainees at the detention facility, although these claims were repeatedly denied by the government. However, Obama's move does not come without criticism either. The dilemma he now faces is where the 245 current detainees will be placed when the facility is closed. This vital question is being tossed around due to the severity of implications that may arise if the prisoners are brought back within U.S. borders. Also, another question remains of what the U.S. government will do with the $500 million facility built at Guantanamo Bay following the release of the prisoners. We will have to listen closely to the debates that pan out between President Obama and Congress in the near future, as heated arguments are sure to arise given the significance of the issue.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mr. President - Day One

Following a day of celebration for President Obama and his family, reality sank in Wednesday morning when he started his first day on the job. Obama and his wife began their day at a prayer service at the National Cathedral, a long-standing tradition on the first day of a new administration. The Obama’s were joined by Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, as well as former President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton, who would be sworn-in as Secretary of State later on.

The First-family also hosted a reception at the White House for 200 inauguration volunteers and other guests through an internet lottery. But not all was play, as President Obama displayed his efforts early on to revive the economy, map out a new course in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to showcase his hope for diplomacy between leaders of the Middle East.

Obama’s schedule included a session on the economy, in which he pledged to take pertinent steps in reviving. Following last week’s decision of approval for Obama to use $350 billion in leftover bailout money from the financial industry, he led the meeting on the economy which included discussion of the House Appropriations Committee movement toward approval of billions in new spending. These funds are all part of the economic stimulus package making its way to the executive desk for the President’s signature.

His schedule also included a session on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The new Commander in Chief held his first meeting in the Situation Room, along with Vice President Joe Biden and senior military and foreign policy officials. Obama campaigned on a pledge to withdraw U.S. combat forces from Iraq within 16 months, and to step up the commitment in Afghanistan. He placed several phone calls to Middle East leaders in pursuit of peace between Arab and Israeli forces, especially following the latest Israeli attacks on Hamas in the Gaza strip.

White House aides developed a draft of executive orders for the President on Guantanamo Bay, which was rumored to be signed as early as Thursday.
Among other things imposed by Obama on his first day, he implemented a ban on gifts by lobbyists to anyone serving in the administration. He also imposed a pay freeze for about 100 White House aides who earn $100,000 or more.

Meanwhile, the Senate confirmed Hillary Rodham Clinton as the new Secretary of State at the Capitol, while Secretary of Treasury-designate Timothy Geithner underwent his confirmation hearing. He was faced with brutal questions that he answered honestly, apologizing for having failed to pay $34,000 in taxes earlier years prior.

Let's hope that the pace of President Obama on day one remains throughout his Presidency - a pace of determination for the American people.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Congratulations President Barack H. Obama

Congratulations to Barack Obama, the newly sworn-in 44th President of the United States of America. An estimated 2 million people embarked on a journey from other countries, all 50 states, and even down the street to witness the historical event in person. It was a day filled with preponderance of the future, as Obama's Inaugural address reflected upon the current situation of the country and the shift in direction he must lead citizens to meet all challenges.

"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

The above is taken from Obama's inaugural speech delivered after being sworn in shortly after noon. His speech lasted approximately 18 minutes and every second was filled with an optimism for change, and a reflection of the dreams of our leaders in the past. It contained reminders of the very foundations and promises that the United States was established upon, and the commitment of the government to maintain those ideals. It also contained a renewal of energy for people of all ages, races, religions, and backgrounds, to feel a sense of responsibility and accountability for their actions, and for the actions of the government that represents them.

"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."

We also cannot forget the historical significance of this Presidential Inauguration, as it comes on the brink of a holiday celebrated in the remembrance of a man who stood up against all odds and defied those against him. In Obama's speech he denoted the melting pot characteristic of our nation - a place where freedom rings and where opportunity is abundant for all. He reminded us that we have emerged from treacherous battles of segregation and division, and have evolved into a nation more united and able to find commonalities as human beings without racial or religious differences.

As for myself, I wanted to share the moment with my family, although regretfully we did not attend the actual Inauguration ceremony despite living thirty miles outside of the city. But I was lucky to have celebrated with them, all together, sitting in front of our television set with tears of joy flowing as the new President was sworn-in. Today was not only an emotional day, but it was also a defining moment in United States history and politics. January 20, 2009, will forever be remembered as the day that marked a culmination of a historic struggle and the fulfillment of the American dream. Congratulations again to our 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday

"Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream." These words were taken from the well-known speech given by Martin Luther King Jr. on August 28, 1963. Although lacking the artic chilled air from yesterday during the Inauguration concert, the feeling of hope and a need for change was just as familiar. Hundreds of thousands gathered for an African-American - one who spoke for change and for the betterment of citizens and the country they occupy. The United States of America has diverged a great deal from the Civil Rights era when Martin Luther King Jr. took on a voluminous amount of risk for those who were denied the proper rights as citizens of this country. He changed the course exponentially for African-Americans following his death and 46 years later, we resound his actions that enabled a person of the same race to become the 44th President of the United States of America. On this day in 2009, we celebrate this holiday unlike we ever have before. For today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day falls on the eve of the Presidential Inauguration of an African-American Barack Obama, and we celebrate this as a monumental time for people of all races.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Inauguration Opening Concert

This morning, I woke up at 6:15 am, quickly layered up, and hopped on the metro to Washington, DC, in order to be in line for the opening of the gates at 8:00 am. Once inside, myself and three others placed our blankets over the chilled grass and brought out cards and snacks to keep ourselves occupied for the next 6 and 1/2 hours. We were attending the Inaugural Concert for the future President Barack Obama, which consisted of a lengthy list of performers and actors/actresses. From Bono to Beyonce, songs of unity and pride in country, as well as celebratory speeches, helped kick-off the most anticipated Inauguration in history. Some thought we were insane for being outside in the cold weather for the duration that we did, but we simply knew we were experiencing a piece of history.

I looked around at all the diverse faces of people who were filled with excitement and hope as they anxiously awaited the President-Elect to speak to them with words of encouragement about the future of our country. Always a brilliant orator, the President-Elect delivered a promising speech that filled the ears of the hundreds of thousands of people and left them feeling more empowered than ever before. This was not only a historic moment for African Americans in the United States of America and across the world, but this was a historic moment for every race and background in our country. Whether you voted for Obama or voted otherwise, we as a people must look forward to the future and celebrate the obstacles this country has overcome in regards to racial boundaries. Congratulations to the President-Elect, the Vice President-Elect, and to the United States of America.

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