Sep 11, 2010

Obama and civil liberties

"If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties." --Barack Obama

September 11th seems like a good day to talk liberty. I occasionally have conversations about civil liberties with volunteers here. My view is that, while Obama has to his credit officially revoked torture, he is basically similar or worse than Bush on civil liberties. Not many care, or seem to me at least they'd rather not think about things. A few days back we got even more evidence on for that case:

In a 6-5 ruling issued this afternoon, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals handed the Obama administration a major victory in its efforts to shield Bush crimes from judicial review, when the court upheld the Obama DOJ's argument that Bush's rendition program, used to send victims to be tortured, are "state secrets" and its legality thus cannot be adjudicated by courts.

Basically, unless the Supreme Court reverses the decision, any lawsuit may be dismissed if the government claims state secrets are threatened. Sullivan has a great post laying it all out:

I tried valiantly not to believe this of Holder and Obama for months; I tried to see their legitimate concerns about exposing a war machine when it is still at war; I understand the need for some extraordinary renditions; and the necessity for executive power in emergencies to act swiftly, as the Founders intended. Yes war requires some secrecy. But Obama has gone much further than this now. The cloak of secrecy he is invoking is not protecting national security but protecting war crimes. And this is now inescapably his cloak. He is therefore a clear and knowing accessory to war crimes, and should at some point face prosecution as well, if the Geneva Conventions mean anything any more. This won't happen in my lifetime, barring a miracle. Because Obama was a test case. If an outsider like him, if a constitutional scholar like him, at a pivotal moment for accountability like the last two years, cannot hold American torturers to account, there is simply no accountability for American torture. When the CIA actually rehires as a contractor someone who held a power-drill against the skull of a prisoner, you know that change from within this system is impossible. The system is too powerful. It protects itself. It makes a mockery of the rule of law. It doesn't only allow torture; it rewards it.

The case yesterday is particularly egregious because it forbade a day in court for torture victims even if only non-classified evidence was used. Think of that for a minute. It shreds any argument that national security is in any way at stake here. It's definitionally not protection of any state secret if all that is relied upon is evidence that is not secret. And so this doctrine has been invoked by Obama not to protect national security but to protect war criminals from the law. There is no other possible interpretation.

It's worth noting that the very case that established the state secrets precedent, United States vs. Reynolds, was later revealed to be the most craven kind of ass-covering from the Air Force. I'm not sure why this sort of thing isn't provoking howling outrage at least from liberals. Tea party "conservatives" don't seem to mind—their definition of tyranny seems to be Obamacare. Greenwald has been saying this sort of thing for a long time:

What is most damaging about all of this is exactly what Goldsmith celebrated: that Obama's political skills, combined with his status as a Democrat, is strengthening Bush/Cheney terrorism policies and solidifying them further. For the last eight years, roughly half the country -- Republicans, Bush followers -- was trained to cheer for indefinite detention, presidential secrecy, military commissions, warrantless eavesdropping, denial of due process, a blind acceptance of any presidential assertion that these policies are necessary to Keep Us Safe, and the claim that only fringe Far Leftist Purists -- civil liberties extremists -- could possibly object to any of that.

Now, much of the other half of the country, the one that once opposed those policies -- Democrats, Obama supporters -- are now reciting the same lines, adopting the same mentality, because doing so is necessary to justify what Obama is doing. It's hard to dispute the Right's claim that Bush's Terrorism approach is being vindicated by Obama's embrace of its "essential elements." That's what Goldsmith means when he says that Obama is making these policies stronger and more palatable, and it's what media stars mean when they describe Bush/Cheney policies as Centrist: now that it's not just an unpopular Republican President but also a highly charismatic and popular Democratic President advocating and defending these core Bush/Cheney policies, they do become the political consensus of the United States.

I'll let Sullivan have the last word: "Have I been radicalized by this? You betcha. Because this is so plainly not a nation under the rule of law anymore. And there are very few political issues more important than that."

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