If any video can show the corruption of President Obama, it is this one. This has nothing to do with the message and the spirit of Obama’s campaign four years ago – which, in hindsight, was one of the most cynical and deceitful political operations in history.
Yes, I know Obama during a debate with McCain once said that he would deploy missiles in Pakistan, and that’s what he has done. But this video below doesn’t have anything to do with what was a central plank of the Obama ’08 campaign and his main argument against Bush: a restoration of civil liberties and respect for international law.
Instead, this is primitive, tribal boasting at its worst, ugly American kind. “Hey, look at me! I ordered a man sitting in a house to be pumped full with bullets, and his body dumped in the ocean! I’m president!” And then implying that Mitt Romney wouldn’t have the “courage” to do so. Well, good for you. I hope you’re very proud of your “achievement” – because killing an already desolate man in a bunker in a desert somewhere is really the only thing that you have accomplished in the past four years.
Seriously everything about this Obama video is disgusting. But yeah, let’s hear it for those liberals mesmerizing about how “cool” Obama is.
”I want to denounce in the strongest possible manner the entire process that led to the signature of this agreement: no inclusion of civil society organisations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, exclusion of the EU Parliament’s demands that were expressed on several occasions in our assembly.”
“As rapporteur of this text, I have faced never-before-seen manoeuvres from the right wing of this Parliament to impose a rushed calendar before public opinion could be alerted, thus depriving the Parliament of its right to expression and of the tools at its disposal to convey citizens’ legitimate demands.”
“Everyone knows the ACTA agreement is problematic, whether it is its impact on civil liberties, the way it makes Internet access providers liable, its consequences on generic drugs manufacturing, or how little protection it gives to our geographical indications.”
“This agreement might have major consequences on citizens’ lives, and still, everything is being done to prevent the European Parliament from having its say in this matter. That is why today, as I release this report for which I was in charge, I want to send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation. I will not take part in this masquerade.”
Unbeknownst to many people, Barack Obama’s ascendency to the presidency has, despite his 2008 campaign promises, done almost nothing to reverse one of the most heinous policies of the Bush-Cheney era: the practice of indefinitely detaining people whom the US state deems “enemy combatants”, or terrorism suspects. Without charges and without recourse to a judge. The mere charge of being a terror suspect can still lead to uncontrollable, unaccountable detention by the American government; this is viewed by both Bush-Cheney and Obama as an inherent, presidential prerogative. No one who is not out of his right mind would not view this as in straightforward contradiction to the rule of law.
But President Obama’s record has just gotten even worse. After months of threatening to veto a bill put forward by the partly Republican-controlled Congress allowing the U.S. military to indefinitely detain anyone, including American citizens, anywhere in the world, including in the U.S., without charges, he has now said that he will sign it into law.
Thereby Obama, the 2008 darling of liberals and progressives, has become the president who has made extrajudicial indefinite detention at the charge of being an “enemy combatant” official law and policy, rather than an exception. Obama is even worse than Bush-Cheney! This should be clear to anyone who is still an Obama fanboy.
When in the 1950s, the McCarthy era, Congress presented Harry Truman with a similar bill allowing the indefinite detention of Communists and other ‘subversive elements’ without charges, Truman vetoed it. But Obama is not such a person. The right not to be detained forever by the state without a fair trial is a fundamental human right, part of the Western juridical tradition, that has just been violated possibly forever by this president.
This becoming law will also mean two things. First, that the U.S. military can now be involved in domestic policing activities (!). Second, that the battleground of the so-called ‘War on Terror’ has now been extended to American soil too. Can you believe that?
At this point, I would officially hope that Obama gets defeated at the polls next year. If Ron Paul’s ideas on economic policy weren’t so nutty, I would support him – a Republican - if he was the nominee.
In one of the least surprising developments imaginable, President Obama – after spending months threatening to veto the Levin/McCain detention bill – yesterday announced that he would instead sign it into law (this is the same individual, of course, who unequivocally vowed when seeking the Democratic nomination to support a filibuster of “any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecom[s],” only to turn around – once he had the nomination secure — and not only vote against such a filibuster, but to vote in favor of the underlying bill itself, so this is perfectly consistent with his past conduct). As a result, the final version of the Levin/McCain bill will be enshrined as law this week as part of the the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). I wrote about the primary provisions and implications of this bill last week, and won’t repeat those points here.
The ACLU said last night that the bill contains “harmful provisions that some legislators have said could authorize the U.S. military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians, including American citizens, anywhere in the world” and added: “if President Obama signs this bill, it will damage his legacy.” Human Rights Watch said that Obama’s decision “does enormous damage to the rule of law both in the US and abroad” and that “President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law.”
Both groups pointed out that this is the first time indefinite detention has been enshrined in law since the McCarthy era of the 1950s, when — as the ACLU put it — “President Truman had the courage to veto” the Internal Security Act of 1950 on the ground that it “would make a mockery of our Bill of Rights” and then watched Congress override the veto. That Act authorized the imprisonment of Communists and other “subversives” without the necessity of full trials or due process (many of the most egregious provisions of that bill were repealed by the 1971 Non-Detention Act, and are now being rejuvenated by these War on Terror policies of indefinite detention). President Obama, needless to say, is not Harry Truman. He’s not even the Candidate Obama of 2008 who repeatedly insisted that due process and security were not mutually exclusive and who condemned indefinite detention as “black hole” injustice.
Barack Obama has abandoned a commitment to veto a new security law that allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terrorism suspects arrested on US soil who could then be shipped to Guantánamo Bay.
Human rights groups accused the president of deserting his principles and disregarding the long-established principle that the military is not used in domestic policing. The legislation has also been strongly criticised by libertarians on the right angered at the stripping of individual rights for the duration of “a war that appears to have no end”.
The law, contained in the defence authorisation bill that funds the US military, effectively extends the battlefield in the “war on terror” to the US and applies the established principle that combatants in any war are subject to military detention.
The legislation’s supporters in Congress say it simply codifies existing practice, such as the indefinite detention of alleged terrorists at Guantánamo Bay. But the law’s critics describe it as a draconian piece of legislation that extends the reach of detention without trial to include US citizens arrested in their own country.
Senator Lindsey Graham said the extraordinary measures were necessary because terrorism suspects were wholly different to regular criminals.
“We’re facing an enemy, not a common criminal organisation, who will do anything and everything possible to destroy our way of life,” he said. “When you join al-Qaida you haven’t joined the mafia, you haven’t joined a gang. You’ve joined people who are bent on our destruction and who are a military threat.”
Graham added that it was right that Americans should be subject to the detention law as well as foreigners. “It is not unfair to make an American citizen account for the fact that they decided to help Al Qaeda to kill us all and hold them as long as it takes to find intelligence about what may be coming next,” he said. “And when they say, ‘I want my lawyer,’ you tell them, ‘Shut up. You don’t get a lawyer.’”
Other senators supported the new powers on the grounds that al-Qaida was fighting a war inside the US and that its followers should be treated as combatants, not civilians with constitutional protections.
“We’re talking about American citizens who can be taken from the United States and sent to a camp at Guantánamo Bay and held indefinitely. It puts every single citizen American at risk,” he said. “Really, what security does this indefinite detention of Americans give us? The first and flawed premise, both here and in the badly named Patriot Act, is that our pre-9/11 police powers were insufficient to stop terrorism. This is simply not borne out by the facts.”
Paul was backed by Senator Dianne Feinstein.
“Congress is essentially authorising the indefinite imprisonment of American citizens, without charge,” she said. “We are not a nation that locks up its citizens without charge.”
So let it be noted that Obama here has followed the line of the most conservative Republicans.
Glenn Greenwald unearths some surprising – and encouraging – poll results. One central theme of the post-9/11 decade is, in my perception, the erosion in the Western world of individual rights and the idea of the rule of law vis-a-vis an ever more intrusive and particularistic State. This is often portrayed as a trade-off to get ”security” and reduce “risk”. Depressingly, reference is frequently made to a general public that is deemed either uninterested or happy to give up some liberties in exchange for protection against all the evils in the world.
Yet, this recent Pew poll shows that a majority of Americans nowadays doesn’t support this erosion of civil liberties in the name of, in this instance, combating terrorism. I’m sure it’s partly a matter of phrasing, but still it’s good news.
The other poll findings – such as that a plurality of Americans agree that the role of the US in the world may have had something to do with the 9/11 attacks – are interesting as well.
The most common claim to justify endless civil liberties erosions in the name of security — and to defend politicians who endorse those erosions — is that Americans don’t care about those rights and are happy to sacrifice them. The principal problem with this claim is that it is false (…).
It was only in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 that a majority of Americans was prepared to sacrifice civil liberties in the name of Terrorism. But this game-playing with public opinion — falsely claiming that the public is indifferent to civil liberties in order to justify assaults on them — is common. To this day, if you criticize President Obama for shielding Bush officials from investigations, you’ll be met with the claim that doing so was politically necessary, even though poll after poll found in the wake of Obama’s inauguration that large majorities wanted those inquiries.
The NYT reports that Bradley Manning (23) - the American soldier who originally passed the Iraq helicopter video, the Iraq and Afghan war logs and the US diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks – is being treated in an increasingly inhumane way in the cell in which he is locked up in Quantico, Virginia. He is now permanently stripped of this clothes during the night and the morning inspection, where he stands along the other detainees. This comes in addition to his 23-hour solitary confinement; his one hour of outside-cell time, during which he is shackled and must walk around all time; his deprivation of exercise; and the constant surveillance he is under. Bradley Manning, even though he is not suicidal and has acted like a model detainee (although he’s increasingly showing signs of psychological duress) has been forced to endure this treatment for the past ten months.
Let’s be clear about this: Bradley Manning’s treatment amounts to torture. Forced nudity is a breach of the standards of the Geneva Conventions, and prolonged solitary confinement is torture anyhow. And this is being done under one President Barack Obama. Manning is the person thanks to whom we know that American soldiers in Iraq shot innocent civilians from an Apache helicopter; thanks to whom we know how high the death toll of the Iraq War really was; and thanks to whom we know all those revelations from the WikiLeaks cables, that are still coming out. They even played a role in the Tunisian uprising, leading to the historic events of the past few weeks. In other words, this person is a hero if there ever was one. And yet, even though he has not been convicted of any crime, he is being handled in a manner reserved for the worst criminals in Supermax prisons (or terror suspects in Guantánamo Bay).
Here’s an excerpt from the chat logs between Adrian Lamo (the guy who turned him in) and Manning, revealing the latter’s motivations for revealing information being held secret to the public:
Manning: [B]ecause it’s public data. . . . it belongs in the public domain -information should be free – it belongs in the public domain – because another state would just take advantage of the information… try and get some edge – if its out in the open . . . it should be a public good.
Lamo: what’s your endgame plan, then?. . .
Manning: well, it was forwarded to [WikiLeaks] – and god knows what happens now – hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms – if not, than [sic] we’re doomed – as a species – i will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens – the reaction to the [Baghdad Apache attack] video gave me immense hope; CNN’s iReport was overwhelmed; Twitter exploded – people who saw, knew there was something wrong . . . Washington Post sat on the video… David Finkel acquired a copy while embedded out here. . . . – i want people to see the truth . . . regardless of who they are . . . because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.
So this is how the American government treats whistleblowers. And it is all happening under the watchful eye of President Obama, who as a candidate in 2007 said the following things:
They will be ready to show the world that we are not a country that ships prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far off countries. That we are not a country that runs prisons which lock people away without ever telling them why they are there or what they are charged with. That we are not a country which preaches compassion and justice to others while we allow bodies to float down the streets of a major American city.
That is not who we are.
Yes we can, President Obama. Change we can believe in.
This is how you respond to terror threats: not by succumbing to fear, and implementing ever more privacy-invading measures, and constructing an ubiquitous surveillance state, all for a false sense of security; but by staying adult, keeping rational, and accepting that, yes, someday, terrorism acts are going to happen.
Gefährlicher als es ein Terroranschlag für unseren Staat jemals sein könnte, sind überaktive Politiker. Sie wollen im Windschatten einer vermeintlichen oder realen Terrorbedrohung unsere Freiheitsrechte beschneiden, Überwachungsstrukturen schaffen und ganze Bevölkerungsgruppen unter Pauschalverdacht stellen. Geben wir der Angst nach, haben die Terroristen gesiegt. Das gönnen wir ihnen nicht! Daher rufen wir allen politischen Entscheidungsträgern zu: Wir haben keine Angst!
The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart spends 8 minutes to criticize the counterterrorism and civil liberties policies of Barack Obama. Watch it, and see the absolutely blatant discrepancy between Obama’s promises in this area when he was campaigning, and his conduct now. In all areas (restoring habeas corpus, stopping extraordinary renditions, closing Guantánamo Bay), Barack Obama has broken his promises, and continued the Bush-Cheney approach to the War on Terror.
What a grave disappointment this President has turned out to be.
Is it really possible that a government, against the trend in all Western societies, in particular Britain and the Netherlands, actually cuts back on the expansion of the surveillance state? Will CCTV be partially ended, biometric passports be scrapped, limits put on the extent to which government can spy on people digitally? Will civil liberties be safeguarded? Also, will electoral reform that will update the outdated British voting system really take place? I also have to say that I admire the rule of law, public-minded discourse in which in particular Nick Clegg casts these plans, as can be seen in the citations below.
It all sounds too good to be true (for a liberal in the European sense, which I guess I am) and I think one has to be really careful. I, for one, am not an expert on the details of the British surveillance state, and have no idea about the depth of these plans; moreover, I don’t know how accurate this NYT reporting is. But most importantly, if the evolution of the Obama administration teaches us anything, it is that particularly in the area of the expansion of state power vs. civil liberties, electoral promises are easily made while more easily violated. Obama, in this sense, has been a grave disappointment. I don’t know what the reasons for this are, but my guess is that once candidates take power, they find that the powers they wield are actually quite convenient. Maybe they feel that they might put them to “good use”. Either way, we’ll see in a year or so to which extent the Tory-LibDem government has actually kept their promises.
I hope they will. And concerning the Netherlands, I hope that a possible Purple government (consisting of liberals, Social Democrats and possibly Greens) might also make advances in these areas, after eight years of Christian Democrat/Social Democrat expansion of state power.
Defying those who said it might be paralyzed by internal divisions, Britain’s new coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats on Wednesday unveiled the most ambitious plan in decades for upending the highly centralized and often intrusive way the country is governed.
The plan, as laid out by the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, would roll back a proliferation of “nanny state” laws, non-elected administrative bodies and surveillance systems — many of them a product of Labour’s 13 years in power — that critics say have curbed individual freedoms and enlarged state powers to a degree unrivaled by most other democratic societies.
Vowing that the coalition would end “the culture of spying on its citizens,” Mr. Clegg said it would “tear through the statute book,” scrapping a nationwide system of identity cards on which the Labour government spent huge sums, and abandoning a new generation of “biometric” passports that would hold a vastly expanded archive of personal data. In addition, he said, there would be new restrictions on the government’s right to intercept and hold personal Internet and e-mail traffic and to store DNA data from people not convicted of any crime.
Mr. Clegg said the changes would also place new curbs on tens of thousands of closed-circuit television cameras in public places — a field in which, critics say, Britain is a world leader. Those critics, have complained that despite the cameras — which the police use to trace the movement of suspects and victims through shopping centers, city streets, hospitals, gas stations and other public places — there has been little impact on crime rates over the years.
The plan would also create a fully elected House of Lords, scrapping heredity and political favor as a passport to power, and commit to a referendum on changing the voting system for the House of Commons. Under the proposed “alternative vote” system, candidates would have to gain 50 percent or more of the vote in their constituencies to secure election, effectively shaking up the politics of “safe” parliamentary seats that has given many M.P.’s what amounts to lifetime employment.
Over all, Mr. Clegg billed the overhaul package as the “most significant program of empowerment by a British government” since the Great Reform Act of 1832, which extended the franchise beyond the landed classes. It was, he said, nothing less than “a power revolution,” and “a fundamental resettlement of the relationship between state and citizen that puts you in charge.”
Dahlia Lithwick of Slate asks, in relation to a recent Supreme Court decision giving the federal government the authority to indefinitely detain “sexually dangerous” persons after their sentence is served (something similar to the Dutch system of “tbs”, I assume), when we stopped worrying about the executive’s encroachment on citizens’ civil liberties:
Once, when it was fashionable to worry about Congress or the president asserting limitless authority to detain people, we would have been nervous about a Supreme Court decision expanding the authority to do so. But by now we have mainly slept our way though the Obama administration’s talkof indefinite detention for Guantanamo detainees, generalized wobbliness on civilian trials for terrorists, embrace of the state secrets doctrine, and recent discussions about “modernizing” the Miranda warning, as well as a host of other Bush-lite war-on-terror powers. Is it possible that most of us haven’t noticed that the Supreme Court has just handed Congress broad authority to detain people merely because they show signs of future dangerousness?
The answer is, of course, that liberal or progressive-minded people stopped worrying when Obama got elected.
So Obama has decided to nominate Sollicitor General Elena Kagan for Supreme Court Justice. We have blogged about the prospect of a Kagan nomination here and here.
In judging this nomination, it is important to remember who is being replaced. Justice John Paul Stevens, although nominated by President Ford, was a member of the “liberal wing” of the Supreme Court. That meant that in the years of the Bush administrations he did not support the relentless growth of executive power, and was a staunch supporter of civil liberties. On this he was a crucial vote, and if any new cases on these matters come up (and they will, in the coming years), Elena Kagan will be this crucial vote.
I always thought that Barack Obama was elected as a rejection of the Bush-Cheney approach to the “War” on Terror, America’s stance in the world, and the growth of a state in which the rule of law is subjected to the demands of executive power. By now it is clear that this is not what he is; rather, he’s a moderate-to-conservative president who is afraid to show leadership on crucial issues of rights and liberties, and is eager to appease the most radical conservative of Republicans in order to retain his “postpartisan” and “pragmatic” crafted image.
I’d say that the nomination of Kagan fits into this evolution of the Obama administration, although I’ve backtracked a little. Basically, she’s not as good as Diane Wood on the issue of executive power versus civil liberties, but she’s more of a blank slate. Nobody – Democrats nor Republicans – knows what her views on a host of matters are. So that’s worrisome in itself, and as Greenwald mentions, it shows the personality cult that among a lot of progressives and liberals still surrounds Barack Obama (we just have to trust that he’s right about this). Therefore we get NYT articles that say that he was not looking for a “liberal firebrand”, that he is taking “the middle of the road”, and so forth.
So, to compare what could have been with what we now get, see this comparative profile by Charlie Savage of Diane Wood and Elena Kagan:
Of the three, Judge Wood, of the appeals court in Chicago, has the clearest record in favor of protecting civil liberties and taking a skeptical stance toward executive power. In a 2003 essay, she spoke out against approaches to counterterrorism that she said posed “a significant threat to the continued observance ofthe rule oflaw” — like giving noncitizens fewer due process rights than citizens and sacrificing individual privacy to foster intelligence-gathering.
“In a democracy, those responsible for national security (principally, of course, the executive branch) must do more than say, ‘trust us, we know best’ when they are proposing significant intrusions on liberties protected by the Constitution,” Judge Wood wrote.
And in a 2008 essay, Judge Wood wrote that “the principle is well established that extraordinary tribunals, such as military commissions, are not authorized to operate if the normal courts are open for business.”
That stance could put Judge Wood at odds with the Obama administration, which is using military commissions instead of civilian trials for some terrorism suspects. However, her remark came in the context of prosecuting civilian citizens arrested on domestic soil after a natural disaster, and might not extend to noncitizens arrested abroad and accused of being enemy fighters.
Ms. Kagan (…) has a mixed record on executive powers, but one that suggests she might generally be more sympathetic toward the White House than Justice Stevens.
And that is based on a 2001 law review article of hers about centralized control over regulatory agencies, but really, we just don’t know.
And then, let’s hear it from civil liberties and human rights NGO’s (you know, those exclusively “liberal” and “progressive” causes):
Advocates for human rights and other liberal causes who are upset at the Obama administration for continuing Bush-era policies may take their frustration out on Kagan.
“From the perspective of those who have been advocating change from Bush policies, she has been a disappointment,” said Tina Foster of the International Justice Network, who argued against Kagan’s deputy Neal Katyal over detention policies in an appeal in January.
“She would spell very bad news” if she became a Supreme Court justice, said Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has long challenged Bush and now Obama detention policies. “We don’t see any basis to assume she does not embrace the Bush view of executive power.”
At the Electronic Frontier Foundation, senior staff attorney Kevin Bankston called the Obama administration’s stance on state secrets and national security wiretapping “a grave disappointment, particularly for those who took Obama’s promises seriously.” Bankston cautioned he is not certain how involved Kagan herself has been in the positions the department has taken on these issues.
And finally, check out this call to arms from blogger digby about the reluctance of contemporary Washington DC power brokers (including Obama) to nominate anyone important whom Republicans could view as too “liberal”, and the hypocrisy when it comes to applying the same standards the other way around:
So I’m told by various people that Kagan is the only confirmable possibility. I would love to know why that should be true. The Republicans have had little trouble since Bork confirming far right federalist society clones, whether they had a Democratic or Republican Senate. It doesn’t seem logical to me that there isn’t room for an unabashed liberal on the court with a 59 vote majority in the Senate.
Kagan is an unknown quantity, unlike Roberts and Alito who were clearly both conservative a highly political. Yet Bush managed to get them confirmed. I guess I just don’t understand the double standard when it comes to Democrats and I refuse to capitulate to the common wisdom that says no Democratic president can ever confirm a known liberal.
Moreover, I think Supreme Court confirmation battles are ideologically instructive for the nation and are one of the few times when it’s possible for people to speak at length about their philosophical worldview. Liberals have to stop running from this. Allowing the other side to define us is killing us.
The general election in the United Kingdom is by now almost bound to be one of the most historic in decades. The rise of the Liberal Democrats has made a coalition government all but likely, only the question remains who is going to govern with whom. Conventional wisdom has it that the LibDems are far to the left of the Conservatives (they’re even considered to be to the left of Labour), and that a Lib-Lab coalition is therefore the most likely.
Let’s go back, then, to the surreal thought of a deal between a minority Conservative government and the Lib Dems. Where to start? The most Eurosceptic of the main parties yoked together with the most Euro-enthusiastic? The great defenders of Trident in alliance with their opposites? Anti-immigration rhetoric striding arm in arm with pro-migrant policies? Cut-now, help-the-rich economics in alliance with Lib Dem redistributionists?
Its oddness is underlined by the fact that so many people who were once on the Labour left, and consider themselves socialists, or at any rate radicals, have been thinking of voting Lib Dem. On tax, Trident, Europe, immigration, human rights, Iraq and the environment they now see the Lib Dems as further to the left than Labour.
Yet, Nick Clegg of the LibDems is keeping his distance from Gordon Brown. And it’s true that an electoral defeat of Labour that thanks to the absurd British electoral system would still hand them the most seats, and with help of the LibDems who want to reform this system would deliver them the Prime Minister, would be pretty scandalous. Moreover, it’s easy fodder for the Conservatives, who could say ‘vote Clegg and you’ll get Brown’.