The Obama Dilemma
On March 21, 2012, 3:46 PM by Adam Gallagher
However, the real cause for progressive concern and reticence in the 2012 election should be Obama’s record on civil liberties and the so-called “war on terror.” President Obama’s administration has maintained a marked continuity with the Bush/Cheney counter-terrorism detention policies and their penchant for wantonly violating civil liberties. While Obama campaigned on closing Guantanamo’s detention facilities and issued an executive order to do so immediately after his inauguration, the facility remains open. Moreover, in 2011, Obama issued another executive order that created “a formal system of indefinite detention for those held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.” In effect, Obama not only reneged on his campaign pledge to close informal detention facilities, he formalized their place as a component of the U.S. counter-terrorism policy and created a legal black hole where the U.S. can hold detainees without charge or trial. As part of the National Defense Authorization Act, President Obama codified indefinite detention as a part of U.S. law. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) notes, “The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield.” In an effort to assuage civil liberties defenders, Obama attached a signing statement to the bill noting that his administration had “serious reservations” with the provisions related to indefinite detention and would thus not utilize them. However, this does not prevent future administrations from employing indefinite detention, which this administration has copiously practiced anyway.
Perhaps what is most pernicious, if you are an American citizen, is Obama’s denial of the Fifth Amendment’s due process rights to American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, who was assassinated in a drone strike in September 2011. Awlaki, we are told, was an important member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and inspired the Fort Hood attack and the failed “underwear” bomber. Awlaki was born in the United States and retained American citizenship while living in Yemen. While his leadership status in AQAP has been questioned, there can be no doubt that he played some sort of role as a firebrand cleric and member of AQAP. This does not mean that President Obama has the right to revoke his Fifth Amendment rights and serve as judge, jury, and executioner. The Obama administration then proceeded to assassinate Awlaki’s 16 year old son and another 17 year old member of the Awlaki clan via drone strike. Obama’s justice department has averred that they could not release documents on Awlaki and the evidence they had compiled against him because they are “state secrets” and could damage national security. The ACLU is now suing the Obama administration over their policy of targeting American citizens for assassination without trial.
While the Awlaki assassination is one egregious and salient example, the Obama administration has ratcheted up drone strikes and increasingly relied on them in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Even if these attacks result in the killing of al-Qaeda leaders, there are always civilian deaths (collateral damage, in the official parlance) that render this policy profoundly unjustifiable. As Glenn Greenwald discusses, drone strikes have even targeted mourners and rescuers who attempt to provide succor to the victims of other drone strikes that occurred just moments earlier. Our Nobel Peace Prize winning President presides over a policy of indiscriminate murder of innocent civilians.
This discussion provides only a cursory overview of the troublesome policies of President Obama. In regards to immigration, President Obama has maintained a draconian effort to deport as many illegal immigrants as possible. Indeed, he is on pace to deport more people in his first term than President Bush did in both terms combined. In violation of the 1973 War Powers Act, President Obama engaged in war in Libya without Congressional authorization. His administration’s justification was that the NATO mission was not engaged in the type of hostilities stipulated under the War Powers Act; a dubious argument at best. As the four decades-long assault on worker’s rights continues, perhaps even accelerates, Obama has done little to protect them. The administration may have taken a public stance against anti-union bills in states like Wisconsin and Ohio. However, as part of the recent FAA Reauthorization Act the administration, Obama signed into law a bill that could serve as a precedent to make union organizing increasingly difficult. And Obama’s Race to the Top education policy rewards schools that reach certain thresholds with additional funding and in some cases pulls founding or shutters struggling schools. One must ask, is not the goal of education reform to improve the performance of failing schools? President Obama has also, despite some rhetorical platitudes, done little to reorient our massively unfair taxation system. He has continued the racist War on Drugs and the done nothing about the creeping expansion of the prison-industrial complex. I’m afraid the list of anti-progressive Obama initiatives could go on for days.
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