Obama’s Policy on Civil Liberties: Bush Lite?

February 21, 2009

Barack Obama entered the presidency as one of the most rhetorically pro-civil liberties politicians in recent memory. And shortly after taking office, he drew applause from friends of liberty for promulgating executive orders closing Guantánamo and CIA secret prisons, ending CIA torture, suspending kangaroo proceedings at military tribunals, and pledging more openness than the secretive Bush administration. Unfortunately, instead of prosecuting Bush administration officials, including George W. Bush, for violating criminal statutes against torture, illegal wiretapping of Americans, and other misdeeds – thus avoiding the bad precedent of giving a president a free pass on illegal acts – Obama appears ready to vindicate the prior administration's anti-terrorism program by adopting Bush Lite.

Warning signs that Obama was softer on civil liberties than advertised came even before taking office, when as a Senator, he voted for blatantly unconstitutional legislation that allowed federal snooping into some e-mail messages and phone calls without a warrant. The Constitution implies that all government searches and seizures of private property require a judicially-approved warrant based on probable cause that a crime has been committed – with no exceptions mentioned, including for national security.

Politicians love symbolic acts and Obama's rapid pledge to shutter the high profile prison at Guantánamo and secret CIA prisons was widely praised. But if civil liberties continue to be violated elsewhere, have we made much progress?

Obama's nominees have said the administration will continue the CIA's policy of "extraordinary rendition" of terrorism suspects – a euphemism for secret kidnapping without the legal nicety of extradition or any other procedural due process rights. Prior to the Bush administration, such government-sanctioned kidnapping was authorized only to return the suspects to their home countries. The Bush administration began using such renditions to abduct suspects and send them to third-party nations that practiced harsh torture – presumably to keep U.S. hands (relatively) clean. Leon Panetta, Obama's CIA director, has said that the new administration will continue the Bush administration's practice of rendition to third party countries and relying on those countries' suspect diplomatic promises not to torture....

CONTINUED at antiwar.com

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