Glenn Greenwald on Obama’s Civil Liberties (compared to Bush era)

Rough notes:

  • Obama’s policies, especially regarding civil liberties and foreign policy, have been a wholescale extension, and often intensification, of Bush era policies.
  • Even the political right has lauded Obama for having such a “strong” foreign policy.
  • “For decades Republicans have gained…by accusing democrats of being weak on national security…Weak on national security…doesn’t mean that somebody shies away from strength and courage…What strength in national security means is a willingness to send other people’s children off to war to risk their lives to kill large numbers of civilians in foreign countries… Now it happens not to be true, Democrats [also] are very willing to do that…”
  • The state of civil liberties under the Obama administration is worse than it was under the Bush administration. These policies have today become bipartisan consensus. “President Obama has continued the heart and soul of George Bush and Dick Cheney’s terrorism and civil liberties policies.” Obama “has affirmatively embraced them as his own and in many cases extended them far beyond where George Bush and Dick Cheney ever dreamed of.”
  • Examples. Indefinite detention. That you can hold a person in a cage for years without so much as charging them with a crime or giving them any access to a court of law where they could have legal challenge of any kind to the charges put against them. In a cage for life without a shred of due process. Obama ran for president on a central promise to close Guantanamo, yet he hasn’t and has no plan to do so. But Obama never actually planned to close Guantanamo, but to relocate it to Illinois, and keep the indefinite detention as it had been. At least if by “Guantanamo” one understands the issue as indefinite detention wherever it occurs under US auspices.
  • Habeus corpus. Another policy Obama has continued. It’s not the right to have your day in court and have due process and be only convicted by a jury finding you guilty “beyond reasonable doubt.”  No, here we are talking about the far more minimal right that the state has to at least provide a minimal amount of evidence against you; it cannot just keep you locked up on hearsay without at least showing “some minimal evidence to justify the accusations.” That’s all, no jury no trial no due process, just physical presence and some evidence for the accusation. The Supreme Court in 2008 said to the Obama administration that Guantanamo prisoners at least have the single right to habeus corpus. Since this decision, 82 Guantanamo prisoners have gone to court over habeus rights, and 53 have won. This means, to win a habeus case, not that the court found the person innocent, but that there was simply not a shred of evidence upon which they could be tried. If the state cannot produce even a piece of evidence for accusing you, habeus corpus rights require the court to nullify the charges. So Obama had been insisting that “only the worst of the worst” were at Guantanamo. Yet it turns out that many are simply innocent of any charge, and were just rounded up for being in the wrong area. Imprisoning obviously innocent people without due process. Yet the Obama administration continues this policy, denying habeus corpus, to prisoners outside of Guantanamo, such as in Bagram or in Afghanistan. So thousands of prisoners are being detained by the US in these overseas prisoners, and are simply no longer taken to Guantanamo to avoid that basic right of habeus corpus.
  • State’s Secrets Privilege. Destroys the rule of law, literally. It used to be that in certain judicial cases, some documents may be so secretive, even though they are relevant, they are so sensitive they can be barred from being used in the case. But the Bush administration expanded this to be not certain documents, but certain topics. Thus it shielded itself completely from judicial review, simply unilaterally declaring that such and such is a state secret. Literally removing the president from the rule of law. Obama has continued and extended this policy.
  • The power to target American citizens for assassination. In Jan 2010 the Washington Post reports that there are at least 4 American citizens on the CIA assassination list. Instead of charging people with crimes, instead of arresting people and putting them under due process, they are simply targeting them for assassination.
  • The war on whistleblowers. If revealing information about the government has become a crime, then all true journalism is dead. Currently the administration seizes the laptops and thumbdrives of activists, without any judicial oversight at all, as a form of harrassment.
  • The unbelievably subservient establishment media. Begs for permission before even dreaming about saying anything criticizing the state or revealing new-found material.
  • An aggressive expansion of policies. They could not be more antithetical to the core principles of the US constitution.
  • The Fourth Amendment. And yet.
  • Fifth Amendment. And yet. (we are targeting americans for assassination)
  • Fourteenth Amendment. And yet. (obama is sheilding bush admin from prosecution)
  • If we don’t react to these, what would it take for the general public to actually react or object to something?
  • Continuous and bipartisan assault on civil liberties.
  • Violations of civil liberties are wrong unto themselves. It doesn’t matter what the implications are, what the benefits are or the harms are. Things that are inherently unjust and tyrannical.
  • If Republicans and Democrats agree on some thing, that means it doesn’t get debated in the media. Journalists only discuss things that matter to one party or the other. Once both sides stop disagreeing on something, there is little chance of it getting any national debate time in the public sphere.
  • A climate of fear in the country. Not just the outcome but the purpose. This climate of fear has become really visible to him. People told Greenwald when he wrote an article on Wikileaks and urged people to donate to the organization, large numbers of people told him they would like to donate but were afraid of ending up on some government list somewhere. This was very eye-opening to him. Wikileaks has never been accused, let alone convicted, of committing any crime. Huge numbers of American citizens are here petrified of exercizing their right to donate to an organization they support for fear of retribution by the government. And Wikileaks organization people themselves fear the most, and they say this aloud, that the United States government will get them extradited from their own country and put in Guantanamo. They have seen what happens to foreign nationals brought under the American justice system. This speaks volumes. And the point is that this is the purpose of these practices: more fear, means less people are going to be willing to participate in practices the American government does not condone. “The objective to all of this behavior is to send a message to anyone who would dare impede the will of the United States government…that there are no limits to what we can do to you and to what we will do to you if you try and impede us in any meaningful way. It’s a campaign of intimidation, of thuggish intimidation, and it has worked…Because when the population fears the government, fear grounded in the knowledge that this government can transgress any limites without consequence, it is no longer necessary to take away rights…because what this climate of fear does is it induces people to relinquish their rights on their own and they become afraid to exercise them. And rights that people are afraid to exercise are worthless. You can offer all the array of rights in the world, but if you create this climate of fear… it no longer makes a difference what rights you purport to offer.”
  • The national character becomes fundamentally transformed under a climate of fear. For example, see the reaction of the citizenry after the assassination of Osama bin Laden. Obama used this as an example of what “Americans can achieve when they put their minds to it.” That is, this assassination is now being put on par with accomplishments such as putting a man on the moon and eradicating diseases and enfranchising women and people of color. What we are now reduced to as a nation is that we can ferret somebody out and hunt them down and riddle them with bullets and dump their body in the ocean. This is the degradation we face today in a nation riddled with fear.
  • Empires cannot sustain themselves. History teaches us this. The United States is declining in strenght and influence. And the US thus clings, using military force, to retain what influence it can. Empires always cling in their last phases to military violence as their last attempt to control the state of things. Ironically, alQaeda had explicitly proclaimed this situation as its specific goal, to trigger an overresponse of the government that would ultimately and strategically weaken the position of the US. And ultimately this proves to be a good thing, since it will represent new openings for freedom from repression.
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2 Responses to Glenn Greenwald on Obama’s Civil Liberties (compared to Bush era)

  1. Andrea says:

    Interesting, and upsetting. I didn’t know a lot of the first points, information about concrete non-change. The last five points are blow-you-out-of-the-water important and well-articulated, especially that about fear. I think that ties into the first of the last five, that violations of civil liberties are always and simply wrong – fearful people allow a lot to slip by them.

    Also, the point that if Republicans and Democrats agree on something then no mainstream media presents alternatives or contests it – this resonates with our recent conversation about both Rs and Ds (professional ones) representing only the business class since politicians themselves come from wealthy classes and since businesses buy into political process. It follows then that the only discussions aired publicly are those of interest to the business class, and not, for example, how to shorten the working day or raise minimum wage or live without spending much money or feel like one really has a voice in who runs the country. Although something like “raising taxes” or ending social security (issues that do get discussed) would impact the non-business class as well, those issues are only a soiled fragment of issues that would REALLY be of interest to poor or middle-class people. Those issues are just so non-discussed and non-discussable that it’s hard to even think of what they would be.

    And really, the idea that both Rs and Ds represent the same spectrum of interests (perhaps different ends of that limited spectrum) sheds light on all the continuity between Obama and Bush. It is in the interest of the business class for the US to remain “imperialist” and of enormous global influence, in service of which the violations mentioned above occur (I’m sure I’m simplifying hugely, but I think this is the gist). It’s a myth, I think, that this global influence actually benefits the average American. We are not safer, since our aggression generates the hatred and animosity of those who would harm us, and we are not richer, since all wealth coming from global transactions goes to enrich the top percentage of Americans and widen the class gap. We get cheap stuff made in China to fill our Wal-Marts, which is hardly some kind of “improved consumer lifestyle made accessible to many” – rather, local businesses are put out of commission and people who once made things themselves can now only buy cheap imitations of them, and that barely since they are likely unemployed or earning around minimum wage.

  2. Pingback: Obama: The other Bush | Political Crumbs

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