Obama: A disaster for civil liberties

Jonathan Turley writes:

With the 2012 presidential election before us, the country is again caught up in debating national security issues, our ongoing wars and the threat of terrorism. There is one related subject, however, that is rarely mentioned: civil liberties.

Protecting individual rights and liberties — apart from the right to be tax-free — seems barely relevant to candidates or voters. One man is primarily responsible for the disappearance of civil liberties from the national debate, and he is Barack Obama. While many are reluctant to admit it, Obama has proved a disaster not just for specific civil liberties but the civil liberties cause in the United States.

Civil libertarians have long had a dysfunctional relationship with the Democratic Party, which treats them as a captive voting bloc with nowhere else to turn in elections. Not even this history, however, prepared civil libertarians for Obama. After the George W. Bush years, they were ready to fight to regain ground lost after Sept. 11. Historically, this country has tended to correct periods of heightened police powers with a pendulum swing back toward greater individual rights. Many were questioning the extreme measures taken by the Bush administration, especially after the disclosure of abuses and illegalities. Candidate Obama capitalized on this swing and portrayed himself as the champion of civil liberties.

However, President Obama not only retained the controversial Bush policies, he expanded on them. The earliest, and most startling, move came quickly. Soon after his election, various military and political figures reported that Obama reportedly promised Bush officials in private that no one would be investigated or prosecuted for torture. In his first year, Obama made good on that promise, announcing that no CIA employee would be prosecuted for torture. Later, his administration refused to prosecute any of the Bush officials responsible for ordering or justifying the program and embraced the “just following orders” defense for other officials, the very defense rejected by the United States at the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Obama failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised. He continued warrantless surveillance and military tribunals that denied defendants basic rights. He asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens he views as terrorists. His administration has fought to block dozens of public-interest lawsuits challenging privacy violations and presidential abuses.

But perhaps the biggest blow to civil liberties is what he has done to the movement itself. It has quieted to a whisper, muted by the power of Obama’s personality and his symbolic importance as the first black president as well as the liberal who replaced Bush. Indeed, only a few days after he took office, the Nobel committee awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize without his having a single accomplishment to his credit beyond being elected. Many Democrats were, and remain, enraptured.

It’s almost a classic case of the Stockholm syndrome, in which a hostage bonds with his captor despite the obvious threat to his existence. Even though many Democrats admit in private that they are shocked by Obama’s position on civil liberties, they are incapable of opposing him. Some insist that they are simply motivated by realism: A Republican would be worse. However, realism alone cannot explain the utter absence of a push for an alternative Democratic candidate or organized opposition to Obama’s policies on civil liberties in Congress during his term. It looks more like a cult of personality. Obama’s policies have become secondary to his persona.

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  1. The lack of challenge to Obama’s civil liberties assaults may be a by-product of the shock doctrine which has been imposed on the American public. The nation is still reeling from the 911 attacks,there are still too many unanswered questions,people suspect that “something” is out of kilter but are not sure exactly what,and sadly,do not know who to ask.Plus, they’re really not sure they want to know.
    Meanwhile,in these times of confusion and uncertainty,we become easy prey for the wolves among us.
    There are however,some encouraging signs(i.e. #occupywallstreet protests) that the American people are not stupid. I truly believe that our nation/society will wake up and collectively call a halt to these abuses,but it ain’t gonna be pretty!

  2. not sure why my comment from 9/29 didn’t make it past the censors, but none the less i’ll just say i’m in agreement with j. turley

  3. Joseph Partida says

    …I intend to vote for Obama again, however I will not support him. I will do everything at my disposal to fight , protest, and demonstrate US policies and start looking around for new people that will stand up to aipac and other lobbies. “Eternal vigilance ” is required to truly “clean up the swamp” which is the US congress. The corporate states of america (formerly known as the United States) is spiraling toward fascism or maybe another civil war, or maybe both since one leads to another. Or maybe we will move to New Zealand before the whole shithouse goes up in flames. These are dark times and the whole planet is in transition, we can only hope that some good will come out of the madness.