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Establishment View of Obama's Civil Liberties Record

One of the most cherished weapons for dismissing political arguments without having to engage them is to claim they come from "the Far Left" or are confined to "liberal ideologues."  For years, that was what was said about withdrawing from Iraq even as majorities of Americans supported that position, and it is how the political and media establishment now demonize the call for investigations into Bush/Cheney crimes, despite large percentages and diverse ideological support for those views .  Exactly the same tactic is used to dismiss those who criticize Obama for adopting Bush policies in the areas of civil liberties and secrecy:  only people from the Far Left fringe or civil liberties extremists would equate Obama and Bush when it comes to such matters.

From today's Op-Ed page of The Washington Post -- the ultimate establishment organ -- one finds this observation about Obama's use of the state secrets privilege from a Post Editorial:

The second Bush administration took the state secrets doctrine to new heights by arguing that an entire case should be dismissed -- sometimes at its earliest stages -- if it could touch on any information that could conceivably have national security ramifications. The Justice Department under President George W. Bush used this approach to try to quash litigation involving, among other things, domestic surveillance and extraordinary rendition (the forced transfer of detainees to countries where they may be tortured).

President Obama has said that the state secrets doctrine should be reformed, and he has promised to be more measured. Yet when confronted with actual cases the Obama Justice Department has adopted the same legal arguments as the Bush administration.

From a Post Op-Ed today by two of the leading advocates of preventive detention -- former Bush DOJ official Jack Goldsmith and Benjamim Wittes of the right-wing Hoover Institute and neoconservative Brookings Institution -- there is this observation on Obama's possible use of an Executive Order to vest himself with preventive detention powers rather than having Congress do it for him:

Obama, to put it bluntly, seems poised for a nearly wholesale adoption of the Bush administration's unilateral approach to detention. The attraction is simple, seductive and familiar. The legal arguments for unilateralism are strong in theory; past presidents in shorter, traditional wars did not seek specific congressional input on detention. Securing such input for our current war, it turns out, is still hard. The unilateral approach, by contrast, lets the president define the rules in ways that are convenient for him and then dares the courts to say no.


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This seductive logic, however, failed disastrously for Bush -- and it will not serve Obama any better.

That Obama is replicating the Bush/Cheney approach in these areas isn't a by-product of some civil liberties extremist refusal to appreciate the joys of pragmatism or Leftist-purist dissatisfaction with all dogmatic imperfection.  That this observation is heard from The Washington Post Editorial Page (of all places), from right-wing advocates such as Wittes and Goldsmith, and from mainstream, liberal and pro-Obama outlets (TPM this weekend:  preventive detention approach is "the latest installment in the Obama administration's tendency to mimic the Bushies on war on terror tactics") demonstrates that rather conclusively.  Rather, it's just a blindlingly clear fact that any minimally honest person is compelled to acknowledge.  When one combines that with the fact that Bush's actions in the areas of civil liberties, Terrorism and secrecy were (at least ostensibly) central to the widespread anger about the Bush presidency, it's impossible to understand how anyone whose objections over the last eight years were sincere (as opposed to a handy weapon opportunistically used to politically weaken Bush) could be supporting what Obama, in these areas, is doing now.

* * * * *

One last related point:  Ever since Obama reversed himself on the question of whether to suppress the torture photos, I've been searching for an Obama supporter who (a) defends his decision to suppress those photos but also (b) criticized him when, two weeks earlier, he announced that he would release those photos.  I haven't found such a person yet, but I'm still looking. 

When Obama originally announced he would release the photos, he was attacked on seemingly every television news show by people like Lindsey Graham, Liz Cheney and Joe Lieberman for endangering the Troops, but I don't know of a single Democrats who joined in with those criticisms on the ground that the photos shouldn't be released.  But as soon as Obama changed his mind and embraced the Graham/Cheney/Lieberman position, up rose hordes of Obama supporters suddely insisting that those photos must be suppressed because to release them would be to endanger the Troops.  I'm still searching for any pro-photo-suppression Democrats who criticized Obama when he triggered controversy by orginally announcing he would release them.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, constitutional lawyer, commentator, author of three New York Times best-selling books on politics and law, and a staff writer and editor at First Look media. His fifth and latest book is, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. Prior to his collaboration with Pierre Omidyar, Glenn’s column was featured at Guardian US and Salon.  His previous books include: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the PowerfulGreat American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, a George Polk Award, and was on The Guardian team that won the Pulitzer Prize for public interest journalism in 2014.

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