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ACLU Chief 'Disgusted' with Obama

by Joshu Gerstein

WASHINGTON - The top official at the American Civil Liberties Union seems to be losing patience with President Barack Obama and his administration.

Speaking at a conference of liberal activists Wednesday morning, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero didn't mince his words about the administration's handling of civil liberties issues.

"I'm going to start provocatively ... I'm disgusted with this president," Romero told the America's Future Now breakout session, according to blogger Marcy Wheeler of Firedoglake.com.

In an interview with POLITICO, Romero confirmed the gist of the quote, though he emphasized it wasn't intended as an ad hominem attack.

"I'm not disgusted at President Obama personally. It's President Obama's policies on civil liberties and national security issues I'm disgusted by. It's not a personal attack," Romero said.

While liberals of various stripes have or had gripes with how Obama has conducted himself since taking office, civil libertarians may well be the most disillusioned at this point.

"There was a discussion this morning, and there has been generally in progressive circles, about expectations that have not been met. I made the point that expectations were high because the president set expectations very high," Romero said.

Asked why he's so animated now, Romero said: "It’s 18 months and, if not now, when? ... Guantanamo is still not closed. Military commissions are still a mess. The administration still uses state secrets to shield themselves from litigation. There's no prosecution for criminal acts of the Bush administration. Surveillance powers put in place under the Patriot Act have been renewed. If there has been change in the civil liberties context, I frankly don't see it."

Many analysts now regard it as unlikely that Guantanamo, which was supposed to close this past January under Obama's presidential order on the subject, will close this year. Romero agreed that if Sept. 11 trials proceed before military commissions at Guantanamo it's hard to see how the prison will close in the year or two after that.

"The unwillingness of the administration to stick by its guns and prosecute the Sept. 11 defendants in criminal court does not bode well for the broader civil liberties agenda," he said. "The fact they've not announced anything raises the specter of doubt that, in itself, is debilitating to the Justice Department and raises serious questions about the administration's commitment to the rule of law. Their silence speaks volumes."

A White House spokesman declined to comment on Romero's broadsides.

However, former White House counsel Greg Craig took aim at the ACLU earlier this year over a newspaper ad the group took out which showed Obama morphing into Bush. Speaking at Harvard in April, Craig called the ad very unfair and said it "shows a real lack of understanding about the profound differences between these two presidents," according to Matt Hutchins, a Harvard Law student who wrote about Craig's appearance for the Harvard Law Record.

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