The new boss turns out to be the same as the old boss…

28 07 2009

Only smarter.  To remind everyone that I’m still around and not actually dead, I thought I’d repost sections from an editorial available at wikileaks looking into the actions of Mr Obama since the beginning of his presidency.  Although it’s a little old, it does it’s bit to skewer the notion that any politician can be a heralded a messiah without consequences.  Obama may be doing some things ‘right’ the eyes of millions, but his behaviour regarding powers obtained under the Bush administration betrays a certain something about what else we can expect.

If the last eight years have taught anything, it is that no rational person would listen to or take seriously anything Dick Cheney and his Lowry-like followers have to say. That they’re motivated by everything other than the truth when criticizing Obama only bolsters that conclusion. But their ill motives and unbroken history of deceit doesn’t mean that they’re wrong in this case. And as much as one might prefer not to acknowledge it, it is becoming undeniably clear that — at least in the realm of civil liberties, executive power and core Constitutional rights — Lowry’s description of Obama’s “three-step maneuver” is basically accurate, and Cheney’s fear-mongering lament that Obama is undoing his Terrorism policies is basically false.

  • * * * *

Consider three key episodes from the last week just standing alone. On Friday, the Obama administration announced that it would no longer use the Bush-identified label “enemy combatants” as a ground for detaining Terrorist suspects, an announcement that generated headlines suggesting a significant change from the prior administration. But the following day, after reviewing the legal brief the administration filed (.pdf) setting forth its actual position regarding presidential powers of detention, here is how The New York Times’s William Glaberson accurately described what was really done:

The Obama administration said Friday that it would abandon the Bush administration’s term “enemy combatant” as it argues in court for the continued detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in a move that seemed intended to symbolically separate the new administration from Bush detention policies.
But in a much anticipated court filing, the Justice Department argued that the president has the authority to detain terrorism suspects there without criminal charges, much as the Bush administration had asserted. It provided a broad definition of those who can be held, which was not significantly different from the one used by the Bush administration.

Bush’s asserted power to detain as “enemy combatants” even those people who were detained outside of a traditional “battlefield” — rather than charge them with crimes — was one of the most controversial of the last eight years. Yet the Obama administration, when called upon to state their position, makes only the most cosmetic and inconsequential changes — designed to generate headlines misleadingly depicting a significant reversal (“Obama drops ‘enemy combatant’ label”) — while, in fact, retaining the crux of Bush’s extremist detention theory.

Or consider the new policies of transparency that Obama announced during his first week in office, ones that prompted lavish praise from most civil libertarians (including me). When it comes to a civil liberties restoration, few things are more important than drastically scaling back the Bush adminstration’s endless reliance on frivolous national-security-based “secrecy” claims as a weapon for hiding virtually everything the Government does. Excessive secrecy was the linchpin of most of the Bush abuses.

Last year, several privacy groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, became alarmed at what appeared to be an emerging, new Draconian international treaty governing intellectual property, the so-called Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. As Wired’s Dave Kravets reported, the treaty as negotiated by the Bush administration — government summaries of which were leaked to and posted on Wikileaks — “would criminalize peer-to-peer file sharing, subject iPods to border searches and allow internet service providers to monitor their customers’ communications.”

Despite the fact that drafts of the treaty have been leaked; that the terms have nothing to do with national security; and that the agreement was being circulated among 27 different nations, the Bush administration — typically enough — rejected FOIA requests for documents pertaining to the treaty (.pdf) last January on multiple grounds, including “national security.” Based on Obama’s new pledges of transparency and new FOIA policies, EFF and others re-submitted the FOIA request last month. But in a March 10 letter (.pdf), they received a virtually identical response, this time from Obama’s Chief FOIA Officer in the Office of the Trade Representative:


There may or may not be legitimate reasons under the law to withhold drafts of this IP treaty, but the Bush-mimicking claim that doing so is justified “in the interest of national security” is, as Kravets wrote, “stunning.” And it’s hard to imagine many things more patently inconsistent with the fanfare over expanded “transparency” during Obama’s first week.

Finally, consider Obama’s headline-generating announcement earlier this week that he would “limit” the use of presidential signing statements, one of Bush’s principal instruments for literally ignoring the law. That announcement generated much celebration among Obama supporters, such as this poetic pronouncement by a front-page writer at Daily Kos:

All hail the U.S. Constitution. It seems to be coming back to life through some vigorous resuscitation.

Yet two days later — literally — Obama signed a $410 billion spending bill and appended to it a signing statement claiming that he had the Constitutional authority to ignore several of its oversight provisions. There is a very strong argument to make, grounded in clear Supreme Court precedent, that some of those provisions are actually unconstitutional, which would make the use of signing statements for those provisions probably proper. But at least some of those provisions which Obama declared invalid are, at worst, of arguable validity and, more accurately, grounded in strong judicial precedent regarding Congressional power. The broad powers Obama asserted for himself in that signing statement are clearly at odds with the pretty-worded policy he issued days earlier whereby he “promised to take a modest approach when using the statements”; to use them only to challenge provisions he notified Congress in advance he believes are unconstitutional; and to issue them “based only on interpretations of the Constitution that are well-founded.”

Those are episodes just from the last week. It’s to say nothing of the series of events that preceded last week that shocked many Bush critics and outraged virtually all civil libertarians, including the Obama administration’s embrace of the most radical version of the “state secrets” privilege; the claim that detainees in Bagram and other dark American prisons around the world have no rights of any kind to challenge their detention; the pressure exerted on Britain to keep evidence of torture concealed; and the extraordinary efforts undertaken to block judicial rulings on whether the Bush administration broke the law in how it spied on Americans. It’s true that there have been some bright spots — the release of some of the long-concealed OLC memos; the order that the CIA no longer interrogate detainees outside of the scope of the Army Field Manual; the indictment of the last “enemy combatant” on American soil; the directive that Guantanamo be closed and that the International Red Cross be given access to all detainees — but many of those steps are preliminary and symbolic and have become quickly overshadowed by the far more substantial embraces of Bush’s executive power theories.


Read the rest here.




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