Obama’s disdain for civil liberties

As readers of this blog know, after supporting Barack Obama against John McCain in the presidential election, I have been a harsh critic of his actions once in power. This should not come as a surprise as I said before the election that I would hold him to the same standards I applied to Bush-Cheney and that given the nature of US politics that he would be a loyal servant of the oligarchy that rules the US. But I have (I hope) been careful to distinguish between criticizing him for policies I disagree with and being much harsher with him for lying to us about his intentions.

As examples of policy differences, it should have been clear to any careful observer long before his election that Obama was very friendly with the big Wall Street financial interests and would eagerly do their bidding. (I wrote about this in February 2008.) If people had any doubts about this, his eagerness to support the bailouts of the big investment banks in the two months prior to his election should have settled them. Similarly, he clearly announced that he was going to expand the war in Afghanistan and he has done so. I think it is a terrible policy but he is simply doing what he said he would do.

Where I think Obama has been terrible is when it comes to civil liberties and the rule of law. After promising to restore the rule of law and due process, Obama has not only embraced the worst aspects of the Bush-Cheney encroachments but has expanded them even more, making the Obama administration one of the most lawless in recent history.

Starting with the government dragging its feet on the closure of Guantanamo and other black prisons and continuing the practices of torture, denial of habeas corpus and the right to lawyers, etc., it has steadily expanded its reach so that Obama now claims that he has the right to order the murder of anyone, anywhere, at any time. And what is incredible is that people are not outraged. Congressman Dennis Kucinich, to his credit, has actually introduced a bill to ban the extrajudicial killing of at least US citizens by the US government, undoubtedly to draw attention to the bizarre world that we now take as normal. Of course his party’s leadership will make sure that his legislation never sees the light of day. Party loyalty always trumps principle.

As one example of Obama’s disgraceful actions take the case of Hassan Odaini, who was picked up in Pakistan when he was 18 and has been detained for eight years even though the government knows he is innocent. As Glenn Greenwald says, “the Obama administration is knowingly imprisoning a completely innocent human being who has been kept in a cage in an island prison, thousands of miles from his home, for the last 8 years, since he’s 18 years old, despite having done absolutely nothing wrong.”

As Andy Worthington writes in Obama’s Moral Bankruptcy Regarding Torture:

As I explained in an article following the judge’s May 26 ruling, it had been publicly known since November 2007 that the government had conceded in June 2005 that Odaini, a student, had been seized by mistake after staying the night with friends in a university guest house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, on the night that the house was raided by Pakistani and U.S. operatives, and that he had been officially approved for release on June 26, 2006 (ironically, on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture).

Nevertheless, the Justice Department refused to abandon the case against him, and took its feeble allegations all the way to the District Court, where they were savagely dismissed by Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. When the judge’s unclassified opinion was subsequently released, an even grimmer truth emerged: that shortly after Odaini’s arrival at Guantánamo in June 2002, an interrogator recommended his repatriation (after he had been exploited for information about his fellow prisoners), and that, in April 2004, “an employee of the Criminal Investigative Task Force (‘CITF’) of the Department of Defense reviewed five interrogations of Odaini and wrote that ‘[t]here is no information that indicates [he] has clear ties to mid or high level Taliban or that he is a member of al-Qaeda.'”

Odaini was not subjected to specific torture techniques, but there are many people — myself included — who are happy to point out to the Obama administration that subjecting an innocent man to eight years of essentially arbitrary detention in an experimental prison camp devoted to the coercive interrogations of prisoners who were deliberately excluded from the protections of the Geneva Conventions is itself a form of torture, especially as, unlike the worst convicted criminals on the U.S. mainland, no Guantánamo prisoner has ever been allowed a family visit, and many have never even spoken to their families by phone.

Moreover, the fact that the administration proceeded with his habeas case, despite knowing that he was innocent, and then refused to release him as soon as the judge delivered his ruling, confirms that, when it comes to lawlessness and cruelty, the Obama administration is closer in spirit to the Bush administration than it cares to admit.

Judge Kennedy has also ordered the release of another Guantanamo prisoner held for nearly nine years because “the administration failed to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the Yemeni man was part of al-Qaida or an associated force.”

But there are even worse examples of Obama’s post-election disdain for civil liberties, as I will discuss tomorrow.

POST SCRIPT: Australian elections

A short debate on Australian TV between the Sex Party and the Family First party, two ‘minor’ parties competing in upcoming Australian elections. (Thanks to Pharyngula.) Just from the names I can tell which party I like because you just know that a party that calls itself the Family Party is going to consist of intolerant twits, and the debate reveals it.


  1. says

    The one thing that really stands out to me Obama was really under the radar with his relations with Wall Street and their financial interests. His actions opened the curtin showing everyone that he is on the side of the big wall street players.

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