The assassination of civil liberties

Obama’s continued use of Bush-era national security measures raises alarm.

by Jennifer Bissell

Believe it or not, Democratic President Barack Obama has done little to loosen the chokehold on our nationâÄôs civil liberties in the wake of Sept. 11. After the terrorist attack, the Bush administration embraced the unprecedented use of surveillance and detention, but Obama canâÄôt seem to let go of the powers, either. Whether itâÄôs spying on Americans, monitoring activists, extremists or suspected terrorists or keeping unwanted DNA databases, Obama has exhibited concerning disregard for privacy. National security, of course, is meant to protect the nation, but increasingly it has come at the cost of citizensâÄô rights, the preservation of which has classically been the first duty of the nation. The president has maintained a Bush-like disrespect for privacy and due process. In a report tracking ObamaâÄôs progress in fulfilling American Civil Liberties UnionâÄôs 142 âÄúActions for Restoring America,âÄù only one-third of the recommendations had been completed. His administration did well on issues such as open government, torture, civil rights and reproductive freedom, but he followed none of the recommendations regarding surveillance-orientated security including, most notably, warrantless wiretapping. There are countless obstructions to our personal liberties, and the erosion begins with the small things. Warrantless wiretapping is, judging by the level of national outcry, one of those small things. Wiretapping with a permit has been legal for years, but following the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush authorized the use of warrantless wiretaps. Now, any U.S. citizenâÄôs conversations over landlines, cell phones and e-mails are essentially government property. In one fell swoop, citizensâÄô First and Fourth Amendment rights have been quashed. Obama has continued this policy without much justification. The usefulness in monitoring potential threats should not be discredited, but it is unclear why the process of having a judge issue warrants, based on clear evidence, should be superseded. If there is no process to check government surveillance, we are at risk of producing a legal culture that openly mocks our democratic principles. Another issue of civil liberties that Obama has put on the back burner is Guantanamo Bay. Since 2002, âÄúenemy combatantsâÄù have been held without due process and subjected to harsh interrogation methods. Additionally, according to BushâÄôs former chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, many of the 800 detainees held have been innocent. Few have offered connections to al-Qaida, and most were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Interestingly, Wilkerson also contends that the Bush administration knew of this, but did nothing in order to avoid the black mark on their records. To right this wrong, Obama, just days after his inauguration, signed an executive order demanding the prison be closed after one year. Yet it remains open. Today there are nearly 200 detainees at the center, and many still have not been given proper counsel or trial, two basic civil rights. Sure, they arenâÄôt Americans, but it is a troublesome precedent for us to deny Constitutional due process to those we simply stick with the label âÄúterrorist.âÄù Obama has clearly stated his intentions of closing the prison, but he has maintained policies that put a dark shadow over the nation. There are nearly 50 detainees who have been labeled too difficult to prosecute, but too dangerous to release. Thus, after the prison closes, Obama has stated that these individuals will remain imprisoned without a fair trial. This brings us to the most egregious of the violated civil liberties today: the presidentâÄôs assassination program. Just a little over one year ago, renowned investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, in a lecture at the University of Minnesota, alluded to an ongoing covert military operation he labeled as an âÄúexecutive assassination ring.âÄù Hersh stated that during the Bush administration, highly specialized CIA forces reported directly to Vice President Dick Cheney with no congressional oversight. The agents crossed several borders, assassinated their victims, and did so all in secret. A CIA spokesman responded to HershâÄôs comments to say it was âÄúutter nonsense,âÄù but the remarks seem to have some validity, especially since the Obama administration spoke openly on their own assassination policies. According to a recent Washington Post article, the militaryâÄôs Joint Special Operations Command has a list of targeted individuals the government is prepared to kill. Shockingly the list includes several U.S. citizens. In the case of alleged terrorist Anwar al-Aulaqi, a U.S. citizen, the Obama administration has adamantly asserted the âÄúrightâÄù to kill. The cleric has not been formally charged with a crime. He has not been given a trial, counsel or any due process of law. For the fools quick to quip, âÄúThose who do nothing wrong have nothing to fear,âÄù think again. Apparently these days it doesnâÄôt matter if thereâÄôs evidence that you committed a crime or not. If the government deems you dangerous, youâÄôre in danger. The United States has rules, regulations and laws for a reason: to protect the rights of its citizens. This is not to say that Obama canâÄôt wiretap, have prisons or watch-lists. ItâÄôs about following the protocol to ensure justice. If the president or the U.S. Department of Justice continue to ignore whichever freedoms they may find inconvenient, America not only risks losing precious civil liberties, it risks losing the wider moral war against terror. Jennifer Bissell welcomes comments at [email protected].