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Erosion of Civil Liberties – Obama Outdoes Bush

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“By signing this defense spending bill, President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in U.S. law.”
– Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch

In a manner so typical of his presidency, Obama ushered in the new year by passing a bill that is in stark contrast to what Candidate Obama promised. Attached as a rider to a defense funding bill, called the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the new law gives the U.S. military vast authority for the indefinite detention of anyone it deems a terrorism suspect without charge or trial. This includes U.S. citizens on U.S. soil!

It declares the whole world as its battlefield and sets no time limit on its application. It appears to be a clear violation of the constitutional right of habeas corpus. However, most of the bill simply sanctions into law what the U.S. government under Bush and now Obama has been doing for years using highly questionable legal theory. The prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan or other sites have been held in that way.

At first Obama had threatened to veto the bill, given concerns about the indefinite detention rider. But unlike what commentators took for granted to be a concern for civil liberties, the administration’s main concern was that the language did not give sufficient power to the Executive Branch over who should enter indefinite military detention.

Salon.com blogger and Constitutional attorney, Glenn Greenwald goes to great lengths to conclusively prove that the only thing the administration cared about was that it be up to them – or a future administration – whether someone, U.S. citizen or not, should enter into indefinite detention. He writes: “The proof of that — the definitive, conclusive proof — is that Sen. Carl Levin has several times disclosed that it was the White House which demanded removal of a provision in his original draft that would have exempted U.S. citizens from military detention.”

The administration also vigorously opposed an amendment by California Senator Feinstein expressly protecting U.S. citizens from this predicament. It is notable that this bill has passed with decisive bipartisan support of some 16 Democrats, several of whom have ostensible progressive credentials (Salon.com, 12/15/11).

The language in the bill concerning U.S. citizens is vague enough to justify fears that it might be used against domestic dissidents who fall a shade beyond the realm of acceptability to corporate power. This is especially so given the nationally coordinated police repression against the Occupy movement.

Obama has also extended the Patriot Act without any changes until 2015 and has taken broad new authority to engage in warfare beyond Afghanistan. The most spurious of legal authority has been used to justify bombing campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. With the huge increase in the use of Drone strikes, military interventionism has continued to prosper.

Obama has also dramatically outdone Bush in expanded domestic spying provisions and has led one of the worst witch-hunts against whistleblowers in history. No wonder that former Bush Administration practices have seen little scrutiny by the Obama Justice Department.

This unacceptable attack on human rights and civil liberties cannot be justified under the guise of fighting terrorism. In fact, such policies are what breed terrorism. If the US government wanted to end the global reservoir of support or tolerance for terrorism, it would end the foreign policy practices that have inspired it, including propping up dictators that serve US interests, wars for oil as well as neoliberal trade policies that impoverish whole nations.

There needs to be mass opposition to these policies in the streets, workplaces, campuses and the elections. When Obama and the Democrats come looking for our votes in 2012, we need to tell them: “Hell No. I thought we rejected Bush’s imperial policies in 2008.” We need a candidate who will really fight corporate power and quit eroding our civil liberties in the pursuit of empire. We need an independent left-wing candidate who will represent the 99% not the 1%.

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