The Coup in Honduras: A Teachable Moment for Obama?

“I bewail the consequences of those furious passions which seem to belong to man.”

— Chief Justice John Marshall

A surreal event took place on July 7, 2009, at the National Press Club, (NPC), in Washington, D.C. Some of the representatives of the “de facto” regime in Honduras, repeatedly denied, in differing fashions, that President Manuel Zelaya was overthrown in a military coup d’etat on June 28, 2009. Not long after the press conference began, however, three gutsy protesters, holding the banner, “Fuera Golpistas,” staged a brief demonstration. They insisted on injecting some reality into the proceedings. They shouted that the coup is “illegal, there is blood on your hands!” They were quickly escorted out of the room, which, incidentally, is named in honor of the late, “Free Press” icon–Edward R. Murrow.

Then, the ex-Honduran Ambassador to the U.S., Norman Garcia Paz, stood up and calmly gave his spin on the ongoing crisis in his country. A key question was put to him by a reporter from “La Prensa Grafica.” He wanted to know if it was true, or not, that the removal of President Zelaya by the Army, at gun point, and his forceful transfer to Costa Rica, was “outside the law?” Mr. Paz answered: “Probably, we could have done it a different way…What is done is in the past. We have to move forward.” [1]

On the way back to Baltimore that day from the NPC, I thought to myself that those Honduran guys were just full of hot air. They were in to denying reality–big time! Then, I had an epiphany! Aren’t the lame excuses for not acknowledging the coup, for not following the laws of Honduras in the removal of President Zelaya, and for not doing any thing about the coup afterwards, the same kind of silly crap that we have been getting about the lack of accountability on torture, which occurred under the reign of the Bush-Cheney Gang? How many times have we heard from our elected congressional politicos, their shills in the media, and the White House operatives, too, something such as this: “Torture, rendition, waterboarding, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, they are all in the past. Let’s move on!” [2]

Move on to where? Move on to what? “Move on” is a slippery slope leading to a nation, not of laws, but of lies and liars and torturers. It will mean that torture will be institutionalized in this nation as part of its customs and traditions, and become–acceptable! Is that what the law says? Is that what the people of America truly want and deserve? I don’t think so.

Meanwhile, David Swanson, Kevin Zeese, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Marjorie Cohn, Njambi Good, Patricio Rice, Enver Masud and Marcus Raskin, and so many other activists, (just like the banner wavers at the Honduran press conference at the NPC,) have been insisting on a realty check! They have been shouting it out at the top of their lungs: “Stop the Torture! Bring the Torturers to the Bar of Justice! Uphold the law! We can’t move on. Torturers must be punished. We want accountability.” [3]

In fact, the activists were so vocal, at a “Torture Accountability Rally,” back on June 25, 2009, at the John Marshall Park, in Washington, D.C., that I thought the old jurist and Revolutionary War patriot himself, the Hon. John Marshall, (a legendary son of Virginia), was going to rise up off his monument, situated on the north side of the park, and come down and join in the spirited protest. The demonstrators were demanding the appointment of a “Special Prosecutor for Torture!”

Why would Justice Marshall participate? The Supreme Court Chief Justice was a great champion of the U.S. Constitution, and of the duty of officer holders to obey the law, and of the important proposition that sovereignty rested, not in some artificial entity, but “in the people.” The esteemed jurist, in the landmark 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison, upheld this seminal principle: “The people, not the government, are sovereign, and the Constitution reflects their will.” [4] In other words, under the Republic, the people are the real boss. We all live under the Law–no exceptions. And, we all must abide by it.

I’m sure Justice Marshall would be appalled by the apathetic attitude towards torture, and the failure to firmly uphold the law with respect to it, as revealed by the conduct of President Barack Obama. Attorney Bruce Fein was right to sharply take the president to task on this critical subject matter, at an event, held at the National Press Club, on June 29th. Mr. Fein is a former Associate Deputy Attorney General and senior Justice Department official in the administration of President Ronald Reagan. He is also a highly respected author, Constitutional expert and legal scholar.

Mr. Fein ripped into President Obama for his indifference, bordering on gross negligence, to the important matter of torture and prosecuting wrongdoers. He said: “We have an instance where the President of the United States–Harvard Law Review–Chicago Constitutional Law professor–he knows what the rules of law means–shuts his eyes to open confessions–we authorized torture, for which [under the Law], there is no exception.” [5]

In summing up, holding torturers accountable is not a Liberal or Conservative, Left or Right idea. It is one, however, that deals with Right and Wrong. Opposition to torture is quintessentially an American ideal, which is consistent with the deepest values and moral code of the vast majority of the people. The late President, Ronald Reagan, fully endorsed, in 1988, the “UN Convention Against Torture.” And, in his message urging the U.S. Senate to approved that Treaty, which it later did in 1994, he wrote these words: By giving your consent to this Convention, “you will demonstrate our desire to bring an end to the abhorrent practice of torture.” [6]

That was the Gipper speaking! Will President Obama listen to him, obey the law, and do his sacred duty under the U.S. Constitution? Stay tuned.




[3]. See:
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[4]. “John Marshall: Definer of a Nation” by Jean Edward Smith.

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