The good, the bad, the Barack

Many of the new president’s early moves are encouraging. One, of those moves, however, is less so.

Strange things are afoot in our fair land. After eight years of torture and law breaking, we might actually be getting back on the side of good. The Obama administration is still but an infant, but already shows great promise âÄî at least, in most areas. One early slip up, though, sends an ominous signal. This opinions page has debated the Guantanamo detention facility before, and we probably donâÄôt need to revisit that conversation now; suffice it to say, your humble correspondent doesnâÄôt think highly of the prison or what it represents. Neither does the president. One of his first acts after taking office last week was to sign an executive order signaling the end of the Guantanamo prison. If all goes according to plan, the detention facility will be permanently shuttered within a year. Now, the administration will have to confront difficult issues before the Guantanamo facility can finally be shut down. Closing a prison means figuring out what to do with the inmates. Some will probably be released, which inevitably raises security questions. Some of those previously released from Guantanamo have âÄúreturned to the fight,âÄù so to speak, becoming involved in various terrorist operations. The true number of former offending inmates is small and hotly debated. However, they have returned to flight and we shouldnâÄôt pretend it will not happen again as we release more prisoners. We are taking a risk âÄî but itâÄôs a justified one. Living in a free society necessitates certain sacrifices: chief among them, absolute security. We live by certain principles âÄî habeas corpus and the like âÄî that make life in a free and democratic country great. Once we begin to play fast and loose with our first principles, we forfeit the very things that make our cause the right and just one. The need to stay true to ourselves extends to another of ObamaâÄôs major first-week orders: bringing an end to torture and ensuring all interrogations âÄîwhether conducted by the military, CIA or other agencies âÄî fully comply with the Geneva Conventions. The notorious secret âÄúblack sitesâÄù will be closed, and the Red Cross will be guaranteed access to detainees. One can hardly overstate how important this order is: During the last eight years, the United States tortured people. ObamaâÄôs order represents, as Yale law professor Jack Balkin puts it: âÄúa pretty thorough repudiation of the last eight years.âÄù But ending torture is about more than just shunning Bush-era practices: itâÄôs about reasserting our place as a moral force in the world and ensuring that we can lead in the 21st century. The world is a particularly messy place right now. WeâÄôre trying to wrap up a war in Iraq . Things in Afghanistan are getting nastier every day. Pakistan remains tenuous and terrifying while the Israel and Palestine conflict could bubble over at any moment, and so on. We need every bit of international credibility we can get right now: diplomacy reigns. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been encouraging in the early going, as has the appointment of new mid-east envoy George Mitchell . But even with the best diplomats, we canâÄôt hope to accomplish much on the global stage when weâÄôre locking people up without charges, drowning them and refusing to release them. For right-thinking progressives, this is all still a bit surreal. For two years, all of these measures have been campaign promises at best, and even after ObamaâÄôs victory in November it was still a bit hard to believe any of this would happen. Suddenly, itâÄôs law: no torture, no black sites and no Guantanamo. ThatâÄôs why the occasional Obama misfire sticks out so badly: thereâÄôs been so much good, that the bad seems strange and alien. But there has been bad: most notably, the appointment of Bill Lynn to the post of Deputy Secretary of Defense. The Obama administration has trumpeted its tight new ethics rules covering lobbyists and appointments to government posts: If youâÄôve lobbied on relevant issues within the last two years, you canâÄôt take the job. ThatâÄôs an excellent idea. After all, it looks pretty bad if someone working for, say, a major farming corporation suddenly lands a sweet gig at the Department of Agriculture . So, the Obama camp set up this great new rule. Then, they proceeded to promptly rip it to shreds. Obama nominated Lynn to be the next Deputy Secretary of Defense. One problem: Lynn is an employee of Raytheon , the massive defense contractor. Not a former employee, even âÄî he was working for them up to the moment he received the nomination. At first, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) , chair of the relevant Senate committee, raised warning flags. And, of course, he should have: Obama was flagrantly breaking one of his own rules. But then, one day later âÄî on a Friday afternoon, excellently timed to receive minimal media scrutiny âÄî Levin and the Obama White House snuck Lynn in anyway, getting a vague âÄúwaiverâÄù to exempt the former lobbyist from the new rules. Just like that, ObamaâÄôs sweet new ethics rules got booted out the door. The Lynn appointment is flat-out egregious; national-security journalist Spencer Ackerman called it âÄúcraven.âÄù And it serves as a warning for all of us who may be too quick to fall in line behind every act of the Obama administration. Our new president represents great opportunity: to reaffirm our national values and to wash off the stink of the Bush years. But it is not a White House full of saints. Among those of us on the left, one of the major complaints of the last eight years was the way any and all dissent was shouted down as âÄúun-American.âÄù That is, of course, absurd. Obama requires our dissent as well, or we could end up with a pack of Bill Lynns. John Sharkey welcomes comments at [email protected]