Prominent among the many progressive attributes of Barack Obama that attracted leftists and so many others to his first run for president was his seemingly unshakable commitment to civil liberties.
You will recall that arguably the most high profile item on Obama’s agenda during his first presidential campaign was the promise to close Guantanemo Bay. This was a particularly sore point for the left throughout the administration of George W. Bush. They were furious, claiming that detainees at Gitmo were being deprived of their rights, whatever those are for alleged foreign terrorists, and tortured.
Also significant on the list of civil liberty concerns has been the federal government’s security state, their invasions of privacy and their war on drugs.
So, as he begins his fifth year in office, has this president lived up to his advance billing as a committed civil libertarian?
Among Obama’s first acts as president was the signing of an executive order closing Gitmo. But now, four years later, Gitmo remains open with over 150 detainees, and the office set up specifically to orchestrate the closing of Gitmo…has now itself been closed, signalling that the President has abandoned one of his loudest and proudest promises.
The nomination of John Brennan to be CIA Director brings this issue back into sharp focus. Brennan is a CIA veteran and carry-over from the Bush administration (during which he served as chief of staff to then-CIA Director George Tenet), and as Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor, is the mastermind of a drone assassination program that has been the foundation of Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy.
This has allowed Barack Obama to serve as judge, jury and executioner for thousands of people, including at least three American citizens.
These drone strikes have been decried by civil libertarians as far too frequent and indiscriminate, even abominable, and presided over by a prospective CIA Director who is identified with another reviled Bush-era practice, rendition, and apparently voiced no objection to the infamous waterboarding “enhanced interrogation” technique so vilified during the Bush years.
Whether you favor exporting terrorist suspects for punishment abroad or view waterboarding as torture or not – that issue will never be fully settled – the fact remains that a president who promised to end it and close the place where it took place selected as his chief counter-terrorism advisor, and now as CIA Director, a man who never seemed to have a problem with waterboarding, has never renounced rendition and and kept Gitmo open.
At the same time, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reports that under Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder, warrantless wiretapping and monitoring of Americans is “sharply on the rise.” The number of people whose telephones were the subject to the most aggressive surveillance technique more than tripled in the last four years.
It does not end there. Despite a 40 year war on drugs that has resulted in tens of thousand of deaths, the ruination of countless other lives, cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars and left us with more, cheaper, and stronger drugs than ever, Rolling Stone reports that the Obama administration has quietly unleashed a multiagency crackdown on medical marijuana that goes far beyond anything undertaken by George W. Bush.
The feds are busting growers who operate in full compliance with state laws, vowing to seize the property of anyone who does business with legal pot dispensaries, even threatening to imprison state employees responsible for regulating the industry. With more than 100 raids on such dispensaries during his first four years, Obama is now well on pace to exceed Bush’s record for medical-marijuana busts.
Given that the various individual rights and protections in question are specified in the constitution, the government’s attempts to dilute the constitution’s second amendment by outlawing more guns and increasing gun control initiatives are also matters of individual civil liberty.
Fact is, whether you are for or against muscular counter-terrorism, a heightened security state, an aggressive federal war on drugs or an expanded gun control regime, it is shocking but true that civil libertarians so supportive of candidate Obama in 2008 now believe the constitutionally guaranteed individual liberties of Americans have taken a beating over the last four years – and there are no signs that will change in the next four years.