By HELEN THOMAS
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is already back-tracking on some of his high-road campaign stands and is copying some of former President George Bush's dubious policies.
A couple of weeks ago the Obama administration invoked the controversial state secrets act in the case of Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian native, and four other detainees. They claimed they were victims of the Bush administration's rendition program under which terrorism suspects were secretly taken to other countries where, they say, they were tortured.
The Bush administration's position has been that the case should be dismissed because even courtroom discussion of their treatment could threaten national security.
When the case was heard earlier this month before a panel of Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judges sitting in San Francisco, the Obama administration made the same argument.
One judge asked the Justice Department lawyer if the change in administrations had any bearing on the case.
"No, your honor," came the reply.
According to The New York Times, "even the judges on the panel seemed surprised by the administration's decision to go forward" with the same argument.
That's not "change," the theme of the Obama presidential election campaign. It's more of the same.
Former President Bush's legal advisers went out of their way to cleanse new laws of any penalties for White House officials and CIA agents to be tried for abuses of power. A "heavy" among them was newly departed Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the same official who said he couldn't decide whether the use of waterboarding during interrogation was torture.
And he was a former federal judge!
Another instance of Obama in lock step with his predecessor was the new president's executive order perpetuating Bush's "faith-based office in the White House," but failing to provide safeguards against the blurring of separation of church and state.
During his campaign, Obama agreed to uphold the Bush administration program of granting federal aid and contracts to churches, temples and mosques for charitable work but promised to bar religious discrimination in hiring. There was no such prohibition in his directive.
Obama also has backed Bush's last-minute move to allow concealed firearms in national parks. He did so even while a review is underway to see if the firearms measure meets environmental restrictions.
Obama has been true to some of his big pledges by issuing orders to shut down the controversial prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the shameful CIA's secret prisons abroad -- prisons known for cruel and inhuman abuses of prisoners.
Whether out of charity toward his predecessor or a protective spirit for the reputation of the country, Obama has ruled out a "truth commission" that would re-examine the policies and practices of his predecessor. Instead, the new president insists that we have to "move forward" without assigning blame to those who dishonored us.
So much for the much touted Obama campaign slogan of "change." And to think that he once taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School and was head of the Harvard Law Review.
Meantime, two Senate Democrats -- Richard Durbin of Illinois and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island-- are urging the Justice Department to release its findings of an ethics investigation into legal opinions of the Bush administration that paved the way for waterboarding and other harsh questioning of prisoners captured during the "war on terror."
The Bush advisers then serving in the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel --John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee-- wrote memos that narrowed the definition of torture. A separate Yoo memo suggested that those acting under the president's authority as commander in chief would be immune from prosecution for torture.
Unless Obama acts to clear our name we may forever be identified with the horrors of the American Gulag in our treatment of prisoners.