FIVE IDEAS: Reversing Bush administration policies on terror suspects

Friday, January 23, 2009 | 2:08 p.m. CST; updated 4:08 p.m. CST, Friday, January 23, 2009

Closing Gitmo

One of the first things President Barack Obama did once he took office was issue an executive order Thursday to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within one year.

Obama also ordered an end to the torturous interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, that were so controversial during George W. Bush's years in the White House. He also ordered the CIA to close secret overseas prisons.

Many pundits have praised Obama's actions as a victory for the nation's international image. The closing of Guantanamo is also a reversal of what some saw as abuses of executive power by Bush. Detainees at Guantanamo were denied the rights of habeas corpus and due process, two of the pillars of the American justice system.

But Obama's move to shut down the detention center is not without its detractors. Some members of Congress have expressed concern that Obama is not taking the safety of the American people and national security into great enough consideration.

How to go about closing the facility certainly presents several challenges. A decision must be made about what to do with the estimated 245 men still being held at Guantanamo.

European nations have long opposed the Guantanamo Bay facility. But it is unclear whether European nations would accept detainees if Obama asked them to.

The delicacy of that process is emphasized by a recent CIA report that says 61 former Guantanamo detainees have rejoined terrorist organizations to fight against the U.S. On Friday, the Associated Press reported that a former Guantanamo detainee has become al-Qaida's second in command in Syria.

Is the closing of Guantanamo Bay a victory for U.S. civil liberties, a weakening of national defense, or both?

Funding promise

Pending approval by the General Assembly, Gov. Jay Nixon has made sparing Missouri's four-year colleges and universities from funding cuts in fiscal year 2010 a top priority.

Nixon announced at a news conference on Thursday that he would recommend that funding for higher education remain equal to last year. In exchange, school leaders have agreed not to raise tuition. Tuition at Missouri's public universities has increased an average of 7.5 percent a year over the past 10 years.

The governor announced his plan without consulting the legislature. Some members of the General Assembly felt it was inappropriate that Nixon did not consult them before making his announcement.

Nixon's announcement signals an increase in the respect given to higher education in Jefferson City.

Still, Missouri is facing a serious shortage in its state coffers. The state needs to cut several hundred million out of its budget, according to some estimates. If that money isn't coming out of higher education, then funding for something else will have to be cut.

Is Nixon right to place such high priority on higher education?

No smoking ... anywhere?

A statewide smoking ban moved one step closer to becoming a reality.

On Wednesday, Rep. Joe Fallert, D-Ste. Genevieve, introduced a joint House-Senate resolution that would allow voters to decide whether to add a ban of smoking in public places to the state constitution.

Fallert isn't sure if the measure he introduced will gain much traction. Last year, a bill proposing a state smoking ban received little support from legislators.

Several cities in Missouri already have smoking bans, including Kansas City and Columbia. Many other cities, like St. Louis, have rejected smoking bans.

When Columbia's smoking ban passed on Oct. 10, 2006, in a 4-3 vote by the Columbia City Council, it was not without controversy. More than 60 people spoke during a 4 1/2-hour public hearing about the ban.

Proponents of the smoking ban cited the health of those who work in bars and restaurants as their primary concern. Many nonsmokers who worked in smoky establishments have been diagnosed with lung cancer. Compounding matters, most bars and restaurants do not offer insurance to their employees.

It is also argued that the smoking ban protects the health of nonsmoking patrons, who should not be subjected to a smoky environment when they go out for a meal or a drink.

Opponents of the smoking ban cite its negative effect on the local economy. One study found that Columbia bars and restaurants saw a five percent decrease in revenue over the first seven months of 2007. Those who oppose the ban have called for it to be put to a public vote.

Based on your experience with Columbia's smoking ban, do you support a statewide ban?

Bad shots

Shooting a protected trumpeter swan is a really, really bad idea.

About a month ago, five trumpeter swans were killed in the Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area near Columbia. The hunters blamed for the shooting are due in court in February.

In 2005, hunters who killed three trumpeter swans in Lawrence County were hit with a $5,000 fine and six months in prison.

It might seem like a steep penalty, but the Missouri Department of Conservation takes protecting species from extinction seriously.

The hunters who shot the five trumpeter swans near Columbia claimed they confused the birds with snow geese, despite the significant differences in size and coloring between the two species of birds.

Should hunters be more concerned with following a code of ethics?

Another tragedy

Tragedy has struck Virginia Tech University once again.

Xin Yang, a Virginia Tech graduate student from Beijing, was gruesomely stabbed to death Wednesday night in a cafe at the university's Graduate Life Center. Yang was decapitated in the stabbing.

Authorities have charged another Chinese graduate student, Haiyang Zhu, with first degree murder. It is believed that the victim and the suspect knew each other.

It is the second high-profile tragedy on the Virginia Tech campus in the past two years. On April 6, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded many others before committing suicide. It was the deadliest university killing in U.S. history.

On Feb. 14, 2008, a gunman at Northern Illinois University killed five people and wounded many others before also committing suicide.

Each of these tragedies emphasize the importance of emergency alert systems, like the one used by MU and the need for strong mental health services on campuses across the country.

What else should be done to help prevent school shootings?

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