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Column: We Must Rebuild America (New York Metro)

By Donna Lieberman — Every four years, Americans pour all of their hopes and dreams into their potential political leaders. That’s especially true this year.

But for those who think a new man in the White House will solve our national civil liberties crisis, I’ve got news for you: The damage done to our most precious liberties during the past eight years will take decades to undo, even under the best of circumstances. No matter who takes office, there will be work to do and battles to fight. If anything, the end of the Bush regime should be a call to action for those who care about civil rights and the Constitution.

When the next president says, “America stands against and will not tolerate torture,” as President Bush said in 2004, we can’t let him or Congress get away with calling it something else and doing it anyway. Americans know that waterboarding and freezing detainees and hanging them from the ceiling for days is torture – and we must do everything we can to stop it.

As soon as he takes office, the next president must ban the use of torture by the government, without exception. He must close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and try those detained there under criminal law. And he must end the practice of extraordinary rendition – kidnapping people and sending them to countries where they are likely to be tortured.

But that’s only the start. During his first 100 days in office, the next president must stop the government from eavesdropping on Americans without a warrant. Then he must end government monitoring of political activists who are not suspected of any wrongdoing, end the culture of secrecy and deceit perpetuated by the Bush Administration, and reverse course on President Bush’s plan for a national ID card, both a danger to privacy and an enormously expensive unfunded mandate.

The list of tasks is long. We must remember that this election is just the beginning. It’s a lot easier to criticize what is than to make things right. The people we elect need to hear from all of us that we count on them to make the hard choices and take the principled positions to restore the rights that have been so eroded these last eight years.

No matter who we put in the White House, in the halls of Congress, and in the state and local legislatures, it is the duty of all of us to ensure our most basic and fundamental rights continue to form the foundation of a strong and just nation.

Donna Lieberman is the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

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