democracy

With the President delivering his final State of the Union address as I write these lines, I couldn’t help but have a look at my own very early endorsement of and pledge to work for (as a member of his campaign’s Human Rights Policy Committee) then-Senator Barack Obama. It holds up pretty well 8 years later, even if not everything turned out as, well, hoped. Here, once again, is my Jan. 3, 2008, IntLawGrrls post:

(An Iowa Caucus Day item) Soon after the 2d inauguration of George W. Bush, whose Presidency already had been marked by abuse scandals at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, by the folly of the Iraq invasion, and by the failure to incapacitate Osama bin Laden, I began to prepare for the next election cycle. 
My road to 2008 began on the freeway, listening to politicians read aloud the books in which they endeavored to tell their own stories in their own words. My Life, the memoir by Bush’s immediate predecessor, Bill Clinton, filled in some details about a man who in the 1990s had dominated current events. In Living History his wife, Hillary Clinton, read her precise account of those same times. The works left me appreciative yet disengaged.
Then, on a colleague’s recommendation, I listened to Barack Obama read Dreams from My Father, the “story of race and inheritance” he’d written a decade earlier. The last thing I expected to discover were things in common. And yet here was someone who’d also moved about as a child, been raised at times by grandparents. Who’d also witnessed Harold Washington’s milestone mayoral election while working in Chicago — who’d worked a few years before moving on to law school, then to law teaching. Whose family ties put him in close contact with newcomers to America and with relatives overseas. (Yesterday, in the Voice of America interview here, Obama urged political rivals in Kenya, his father’s homeland, to “address peacefully the controversies that divide them.”) A progressive Illinoisan who preferred consensus to conflict.
His campaign’s followed lines sketched in Dreams and detailed in his 2d book, The Audacity of Hope. The operative word remains “hope” — discussed by means not of doe-eyed promises of the impossible, but of substantive policy prescriptions. There’s a focus on building a movement, one that underscores the significance of a fact seldom studied despite the reams of copy written about Obama: This is someone whose sensibilities were shaped by years of organizing poor people in job-starved communities, a real world experience that all politicians could use but few have. The campaign’s unabashed reaching across the aisle, moreover, comes as a relief to all exhausted by the pitched political battles of the recent past.
And then there’s Obama’s foreign policy.
This is a candidate who fears not to speak with favor of the United Nations and other international bodies. Who speaks of the essential need for the United States not simply to demand from its allies, but rather to earn from them, respect and assistance. Who understands “security” to mean more than military might. A candidate who persists in a plan to meet personally with world leaders of all political persuasion, to cut in on diplomatic dances of avoidance that sometimes extend distance between cultures.
Not least is Obama’s denunciation of Guantánamo and all it stands for: indefinitedetention for purposes of interrogation, abandonment of habeas corpus, cruelty and torture. It’s unequivocal and delivered to all audiences.
Aiding Obama are scores of foreign policy experts and international lawyers. They include many noted and respected women, among them: Pulitzer Prizewinning Harvard ProfessorSamantha Power; Patricia Wald, former judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District ofColumbia Circuit and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; and Dr. Susan E. Rice, formerly assistant U.S. Secretary of State for African Affairs.
It may seem odd that someone who’s spent nearly a year blogging the achievements of the world’s women leaders is working for this candidate. Would I welcome as President a woman who’s made her own way, who stands on her own feet, who promises to bring the best to the job? Certainly. I’ll embrace that candidate, when she emerges.
Now, though, this IntLawGrrl’s honored to be doing her wee bit for Barack Obama, the human who pushes people to “Change the World.”

mdmAmid this weekend’s reminiscences of the birth of the United States, I found much to ponder in one reading – not in English, but rather in French.

Entitled La démocratie dan les bras de Big Brother – that is, Democracy in the Arms of Big Brother – it’s the transcript of Le Monde journalist Franck Johannès‘ recent interview with a longtime colleague of mine, Mireille-Delmas Marty, emerita professor of the Collège de France de Paris. (photo credit; prior posts)

Delmas-Marty sounds a warning about the “downward spiral” that, in her view, has created an unwelcome “metamorphosis in criminal justice” in the years since terrorists attacked New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. 1st in the vortex was the United States, she says, and she fears that her own homeland, France – and, indeed, the planet – are following suit.

Contributing to this analysis, in her view:

► Characterization of terrorist acts as “exceptional” offenses, related to more to war than to ordinary crimes, coupled with the redefinition of unlawful association so that it may apply to “only one person,” without proof of actual association with another.

► Globalization of surveillance and “social control,” in an effort to predict offenses before they happen. Post-9/11, the United States moved from notions of preemption to notions of prevention, she notes. She argues that today the United States, and others, have moved further, to “prediction” – a shift that lends justification to confinement of persons deemed harmful, not only before they have been proved to commit an offense, but also after they have served postconviction sentences. She contends (all translations mine):

‘To lock up a human being, not to punish harm but rather to prevent harm, as if he were a dangerous animal, is in truth an act of dehumanization…’

► Persistence of nonstate actors that once would have been deemed exclusively “criminal organizations,” but now are seen as parties waging armed conflict. Not long ago, Al Qaeda dominated this discourse; today, it is “the so-called ‘Islamic State.'” Delmas-Marty continues:

‘With whom is a treaty of peace to be concluded? We now have all the ingredients for a global, and permanent, civil war.’

liberteAmong Delmas-Marty’s recent books is Libertés et sûreté dans un monde dangereux (2010). In the Le Monde interview, as in that book, she calls for restoring a balance between desires for security and the value of liberty. (It’s a balance that I’ve explored in my own writings, including “Punish or Surveil” (2007).)

“To dream of perfect security,” Delmas-Marty maintains, is an “illusion.” She allows that “[i]n the name of the struggle against terrorism, there can be restrictions on the right to respect for privacy,” yet she would require that such restrictions themselves be constrained in accordance with the principles “of legality, proportionality, and democratic control.”

Much to ponder as the United States begins its 240th year of democracy.

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Each of us will remember Nelson Mandela, who died today at age 95, in our own way. Powerful for me is the memory of Mandela’s almost incomprehensible forgiveness – his setting-aside of violence in order to bring to all of his people the promise of peace. (credit for 1994 photo)

But I will also remember what a judge from Burundi once told me was Mandela’s greatest gift:

‘He was the first African leader to leave office after a single term, to permit a peaceful transition of power. He showed us the way.’