Friday, April 9, 2010

The Nation Editorial: The Surveillance Regime

I was happy to find an editorial by The Nation magazine today entitled "The Surveillance Regime" today. I say this not because its good news that Obama has been such a deep disappointment when it comes to issues related to privacy and civil liberties, but rather, because this fact has not received deserved attention, and condemnation, from the left.

The trend, on these issues, and others, paint a disturbing narrative, a narrative that points in one direction only: an increasingly intrusive surveillance state with an all powerful Executive Branch that is essentially above the law.

The editorial will lay out some of the specific ways in which the Obama Administration has, in some respects, doubled down on Bush Administration crimes and efforts to expand Executive power. First though, let me just explain why this is so important.

If we can all go back in time for a minute, and remember those dark days of the Bush Administration (i.e. all of them), we should also remember the consistent, vehement, and vocal opposition from the left of Bush assaults on privacy and the constitution, from eavesdropping, to indefinite detention, to state secrets, to the Patriot Act abuses, and so, and so forth.

This vehement opposition was of course warranted, and important. But now that Obama is President, and CONTINUING THESE POLICIES, the same outcry that once existed has become a whimper. No, I'm not talking about groups like the ACLU or EFF, but certainly Democrats in Congress, left wing talk radio, and even newspaper editorial boards.

And why is this silence so damaging? Because a so called "liberal" President, a constitutional scholar no less, has now codified what just a few years ago were rightly considered radical attacks on the Constitution and Rule of Law. Now those very same policies have not only been embraced by the new President, but has been accepted by the Democrats in Congress!! In other words, the ball has just moved WAY towards the neoconservative worldview, and their interpretation of an all powerful Executive Branch.

The idea that because Obama is more intelligent, measured, and schooled in constitutional law than Bush (all of which is true), that this somehow means we should entrust him with near unchecked powers, be it wiretapping, assassination of American citizens, or indefinite detention, is patently absurd. Even if it were true that he would use these powers wisely (which is impossible), what's to say the next President will too?

Glenn Greenwald articulated my point (one I've been making here for quite some time) perfectly in a post of his today, stating: Here again, we see one of the principal and longest-lasting effects of the Obama presidency: to put a pretty, eloquent, progressive face on what (until quite recently) was ostensibly considered by a large segment of the citizenry to be tyrannical right-wing extremism (e.g., indefinite detention, military commissions, "state secrets" used to block judicial review, an endless and always-expanding "War on Terror," immunity for war criminals, rampant corporatism -- and now unchecked presidential assassinations of American citizens), and thus to transform what were once bitter, partisan controversies into harmonious, bipartisan consensus...

With that, let's get to The Nation's editorial:

Ever since Barack Obama took office, accountability for rights violations during the "war on terror" has been thin. Victims of wrongful overseas detention, surveillance and torture have received no apology and no reparations. Despite an early commitment to close Guantánamo, 183 prisoners remain there. Indeed, Obama has released fewer detainees than Bush did during his last year in office. And despite an early promise to protect the First Amendment rights of Muslim charities, Obama has done nothing to change the onerous application of terrorism financing laws. Walker's decision is only the second to have ruled against the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program. All other challenges--including one against the odious 2008 FISA Amendments Act (FAA), which The Nation has joined as a plaintiff--ultimately got booted at the courthouse door.


Continuity, not change, has characterized the conduct of Eric Holder's Justice Department. Walker documents, in his opinion, the government's persistent "refusal to cooperate with the court's orders," its improper use of procedural delays and even point-blank refusals to produce information. Yes, this was business as usual during the Bush era. But Walker was talking about events on Obama's watch.

Nor is Walker's experience unusual. In lawsuits by survivors of the CIA's "black sites" and Guantánamo's interrogation rooms, the government either keeps insisting that "state secrets" require outright dismissal or has stuck to the canard that noncitizens forcibly brought into US custody overseas lack all constitutional rights. In Guantánamo litigation, habeas lawyers complain about obfuscation, secrecy and delay not dissimilar from what they faced in the Bush era.

Click here to read more.

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