Obama’s First-Term Track Record on Civil Liberties
by John W. Whitehead
by John W. Whitehead: Looking
Beyond Election Day: The Issues That Threaten To Derail the Nation
after Barack Obama was elected on a platform of "change you
can believe in," he’s now promising America that the "best
is yet to come." However, on almost every front – fiscally,
militarily, politically, socially – the country is in a state of
however, is the state of our freedoms. Indeed, during Obama’s first
term, our civil liberties were utterly and completely disemboweled.
The great irony is that this happened with a self-proclaimed constitutional
law professor at the helm – a man who was supposed to understand
and respect the rule of law as laid out in the U.S. Constitution.
Not only did
Obama continue many of the most outrageous abuses of the George
W. Bush administration (which were bad enough), including indefinite
detention and warrantless surveillance of American citizens, but
he also succeeded in expanding the power of the "imperial president,"
including the ability to assassinate American citizens abroad and
unilaterally authorize drone strikes resulting in the deaths of
countless innocent civilians, including women and children.
some of the assaults on our freedoms that took place under Obama’s
watch, either as a result of his continuing Bush’s policies, enacting
his own misguided policies or simply because he did nothing to counter
In March 2009,
Obama defended Bush’s unconstitutional National Security Agency
spying program in court, insisting that actions authorized by the
President, including illegally spying on American citizens, should
be free from any judicial scrutiny whatsoever.
In April 2009,
the Department of Homeland Security called for surveillance of military
veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, characterizing them
as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they
may be "disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological
effects of war." Coupled with the DHS’ report on "Rightwing
Extremism," which broadly defines extremists as "mainly
antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or
local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely,"
these tactics bode ill for anyone seen as opposing the government.
In July 2009,
Obama threatened to veto an oversight bill that would have required
the president to inform lawmakers about covert CIA activities.
2009, Obama announced his intention to ramp up the military industrial
complex’s war in Afghanistan and subsequently followed through on
2010, the Department of Defense issued a U.S. Army field manual
detailing the prospective internment and resettlement of American
citizens in the event of another terrorist attack or natural disaster
on U.S. soil.
In March 2010,
the Department of Homeland Security began rolling out controversial
full-body scanners to American airports. A year later, an investigative
report by ProPublica/PBS NewsHour, revealed that six to 100
U.S. airline passengers each year could get cancer from the machines,
which were purchased with Obama’s stimulus funds.
In July 2010,
the Obama administration arrested and held Bradley Manning in maximum
solitary confinement on charges that he leaked classified military
and diplomatic documents to Wikileaks.
In May 2011,
Obama renewed three controversial provisions in the USA Patriot
Act that authorize the government to use aggressive surveillance
tactics – even against American citizens – in the so-called war
against terror. That same month, the U.S. Supreme Court, at the
urging of the Obama administration, effectively decimated the Fourth
Amendment by giving SWAT teams more leeway to break into homes or
apartments without a warrant when they suspect evidence might be
In June 2011,
the FBI granted its 14,000 agents expansive additional powers,
allowing them to investigate individuals using highly intrusive
monitoring techniques, including infiltrating suspect organizations
with confidential informants and photographing and tailing suspect
American citizens, without having any factual basis for suspecting
them of wrongdoing.
2011, two American citizens were killed during a drone attack in
Yemen as part of a government "kill list" operation in
which Obama personally directs who should be targeted for death
by military drones.
2011, Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012,
which mandates that anyone suspected of terrorism against the United
States be held in military custody indefinitely. This provision
extends to American citizens.
2012, Obama signed the FAA Reauthorization Act, which opens up American
skies for the domestic use of armed surveillance drones.
In March 2012,
Obama approved the "Trespass Bill," which makes it a federal
crime to protest or assemble in the vicinity of protected government
officials. That same month, Obama issued an executive order stating
that in the case of a war or national emergency, the federal government
has the authority to take over almost every aspect of American society.
In April 2012,
the U.S. Supreme Court – again at the urging of the Obama administration
– declared that any person who is arrested and processed at a jail
house, regardless of the severity of his or her offense (i.e., they
can be guilty of nothing more than a minor traffic offense), can
be subjected to a strip search by police or jail officials without
reasonable suspicion that the arrestee is carrying a weapon or contraband.
In July 2012,
the Obama administration began allowing the National Counterterrorism
Center (NCTC) to store and "critically assess" information
on innocent Americans for up to five years. Data recorded by the
NCTC includes "records from law enforcement investigations,
health information, employment history, travel and student records,"
among other things.
2012, in major cities across the country, the U.S. military carried
out training exercises involving Black Hawk helicopters and uniformed
soldiers. The exercises occurred in the middle of the night, with
the full cooperation of the local police forces and generally without
forewarning the public.
2012, it was revealed that the Obama administration has been "secretly
developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation
targeting list called the ‘disposition matrix.’" The matrix
goes beyond the president’s kill list to detail suspects beyond
the reach of American drones. This disposition matrix is also overseen
by the NCTC.
So what does
the future hold? Unless President Obama changes course – and drastically
so – freedom as we have known it will become extinct.
attorney and author John W. Whitehead [send
him mail] is founder and president of The
Rutherford Institute. He is the author of The
Change Manifesto (Sourcebooks).
© 2012 The Rutherford Institute
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