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.
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
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.