Barack Hussein Obama has been sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. Just after noon Tuesday, Obama laid his hand on the same Bible used by Abraham Lincoln at his inauguration in 1861. Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office.
Chief Justice John Roberts: “I, Barack Hussein Obama…”
President Barack Obama: “I, Barack…”
Roberts: “…do solemnly swear…”
Obama: “I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear…”
Roberts: “…that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully…”
Obama: “…that I will execute…”
Roberts: “…faithfully the office of president of the United States…”
Obama: “…the office of president of the United States faithfully…”
Roberts: “…and will to the best of my ability…”
Obama: “…and will to the best of my ability…”
Roberts: “…preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Obama: “…preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Roberts: “So help you God?”
Obama: “So help me God.”
Roberts erred in administering the oath, re-doing a line because he misplaced the word “faithfully.” Obama repeated Roberts’ initial error. He should have said he will “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States” but instead said he will “execute the Office of President of the United States faithfully.”
Moments later, Obama delivered his inaugural address. The speech contained what appeared to be several subtle criticisms of the Bush administration. In an apparent reference to torture and civil liberties violations in the so-called war on terror, Obama spoke of ending what he called a “false choice between our safety and our ideals.” And he also said, “Our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please.” Speaking one day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Obama noted the historical significance of his becoming the nation’s first black president.
President Obama: “This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”
An estimated two million people braved freezing temperatures to witness the historic ceremony.
The inauguration of President Obama also meant a farewell for the now former President George W. Bush. Bush was greeted with boos as he took the stage at Obama’s inauguration. After the ceremony, Bush left the White House in a helicopter to Andrews Air Force Base. He was then flown to Texas for his first night as a private citizen. Nature intervened to deny Bush the red carpet treatment. A red carpet laid out for Bush to board his flight was removed after heavy wind kept dislodging it, forcing Bush to walk on the bare tarmac.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, meanwhile, ended his term with a court victory allowing him to prevent his records from going public. On Monday, a federal judge ruled Cheney has the sole authority to decide which of his records, if any, are handed over to the National Archives. The group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington had sued Cheney to ensure his records became publicly released.
In one his first moves as President, Obama ordered a four-month suspension of all military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay. The request would stop cases against twenty-one prisoners. Guantanamo judges are expected to issue a ruling later today. Obama made closure of the Guantanamo prison a key promise in his campaign.
Obama has also ordered all federal agencies to suspend unfinished Bush administration federal regulations, pending review by the new White House. In its waning days, the Bush administration said it issued 100 new regulations since November.
The Israeli government says it’s withdrawn the last of its troops from the Gaza Strip. It’s widely speculated the move was timed to avoid the possibility of any criticism from President Obama after he took office. With a ceasefire in place, Gazans continue to sort through the rubble following the devastating Israeli attack. The twenty-two-day assault killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians and at least one-third children.
On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon toured the UN’s badly damaged headquarters in Gaza City. The compound was set aflame when Israel attacked it last week, burning hundreds of tons of desperately needed aid stored in warehouses. Ban Ki-moon said he was “appalled” at the destruction.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “Ladies and gentlemen, I have seen only a fraction of the damage. This is shocking and alarming. This is heartbreaking scenes which I have seen, and I am deeply grieved by what I have seen today. I’m just appalled. I’m not able to describe how I’m feeling, having seen this site of the bombing of the United Nations compound. Everyone is now smelling this burning still. It is still burning. This, an outrageous and totally unacceptable attack against the United Nations.”
The UN has called for the attack to be investigated as a war crime. Hamas, meanwhile, has begun to re-assert control over the Gaza Strip. On Tuesday, thousands of Palestinians marched through Gaza in a Hamas-led rally.
Meanwhile, grieving Palestinians continue to provide accounts of Israeli killings of innocent civilians. A Palestinian father told The Independent of London two of his daughters were shot dead and another critically wounded when Israeli troops opened fire. The father, Khaled Abed Rabbo, says his family was obeying an Israeli order to abandon their home, when a soldier fired from an Israeli tank. Two-year-old Amal and seven-year-old Suad were killed. The third daughter, four-year-old Samer, has been flown to a Belgian hospital with critical spinal wounds. Adeb Rabbo’s home was also nearly completely destroyed during Israel’s attack.
Israel also faces new allegations of war crimes with a report of another mass killing on the Gaza village of Khuza’a. According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, Israeli troops killed fourteen Palestinians in a day-long assault. Israeli forces reportedly shot Palestinians waving white flags and bulldozed others still in their homes. Witnesses also say Israeli forces opened fire on an ambulance trying to reach the victims and used white phosphorus during the attack.
Israeli officials are demanding nearly unfettered control over any reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. Israel continues to control all of Gaza’s crossings and can block aid or commercial delivery at will. Israel has reportedly told diplomats it wants “project by project” approval on any reconstruction effort. It also wants a full list of any goods intended for Gaza and pledges from the UN to monitor every dollar spent.
A top UN official is urging the US to prosecute former President Bush and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Manfred Nowak, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, told a German television network Bush and Cheney should be pursued for the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Nowak says prosecution is legally required, because the US has ratified the UN convention on torture. Last month, a bipartisan Senate report accused Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials of direct responsibility for abuse and torture at Guantanamo and other US prisons.
The US military says it’s been granted permission to move troop supplies for Afghanistan through Russia and Central Asia. Most NATO military shipments in Afghanistan go through neighboring Pakistan, but their convoys have come under increasing attack.
On Capitol Hill, several Obama cabinet picks were confirmed on inauguration day by unanimous consent: Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Veterans Affairs Director Gen. Eric Shinseki and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. A vote on Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton was delayed after objections from Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn. Clinton’s nomination will likely come up again today.
Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy was hospitalized after suffering a seizure. Kennedy collapsed while attending a congressional luncheon honoring Obama shortly after the inauguration. Kennedy was diagnosed with a brain tumor last year. He remained hospitalized overnight but says he is feeling well.
And the Native American activist Leonard Peltier has reportedly been severely beaten shortly after his transfer to a new prison. According to Peltier’s defense committee, Peltier was attacked by other prisoners after he was put into general population. Peltier’s sister, Betty Peltier-Solano, says she believes the attack could have been encouraged by prison officials seeking to discredit Peltier as he comes up for parole. Peltier suffers from diabetes. After the attack, he was put into solitary confinement. February 6 will mark thirty-three years since Peltier’s arrest. He was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. Peltier has long maintained his innocence and is widely considered a political prisoner in the United States. He is currently being held at the Canaan Federal Prison in Pennsylvania.