Obama Has Authoritarian Powers Bush Could Only Dream Of

Thursday, April 26, 2012
Barack Obama campaigned in 2008 as a civil libertarian, a former professor of Constitutional Law who promised to close the military prison at Guantánamo, Cuba, undo the unconstitutional excesses of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” and stop the relentless accumulation of power in the presidency. Yet since taking power, Obama has undone little, and has in fact been amassing additional powers to himself and the presidency.
In what ways has President Obama increased his arsenal of powers? Let us list the ways:
• Obama has ordered the killing of U.S. citizens abroad whom he has deemed terrorists, without any opportunity to deny the accusation or present a defense.
• Despite promising to shut down the Bush system of trying terrorism detainees before military tribunals where their due process rights are severely limited, Obama instead signed the Military Commissions Act of 2009, essentially codifying the Bush policy.
• Obama has not only continued to use the Guantánamo prison, but also brought the underlying policy home by signing the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which allows the military to arrest and indefinitely detain anyone, including citizens, merely suspected of assisting terrorists. That codifies the Bush administration’s treatment of Jose Padilla, a citizen arrested in 2002 and transferred from civil to military custody. It also reverses the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act’s ban on the government using the military for domestic matters.
• Obama has refused to reveal how his Justice Department is interpreting the Patriot Act, despite requests from Democratic Senators and others.
• One of George W. Bush’s worst civil liberties violations, using the telecom system to spy on virtually all Americans starting in 2003 (which Obama has since defended in court) also has been expanded. The National Security Agency (NSA) is now building its largest data processing center ever, which will go beyond the public Internet by also snooping into password-protected networks. The NSA is also relying on private corporations to mine data as a way to avoid the Constitutional requirement of obtaining search warrants, as the Constitution limits only government searches and seizures. The federal government continues to require that computer makers and big Web sites provide access for domestic surveillance purposes.
• The Bush administration practice of secretly abducting people and sending them to countries that cooperate with the U.S. has been widely condemned, including by Obama, but that did not stop him from signing an Executive Order in 2009 allowing the CIA to continue carrying out so-called extraordinary renditions.
• Even on the issue of torture, where condemnation of U.S. policy was worldwide, Obama has not entirely broken with Bush policies, as the U.S. continues to maintain a formerly secret prison at the Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, where abusive interrogations continue.
Many years ago, Republican President Richard Nixon, a lifelong strident anti-communist, opened diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, a step that, if taken by a Democratic president, would have elicited howls from conservative Republicans of the era. We are now seeing a similar phenomenon with Obama, human rights and the expansion of presidential power. Obama has taken advantage of the reticence of Democratic politicians, many of whom vocally condemned similar policies when they were carried out by the Republican Bush administration, to criticize a fellow Democrat in the White House.
-Matt Bewig
To Learn More:
Double Standards in the War on Terror (by David Frakt, Jurist)
Shift on Executive Power Lets Obama Bypass Rivals (by Charlie Savage, New York Times)
Obama Fights to Retain Warrantless Wiretapping (by Matt Bewig and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Obama Signs into Law Indefinite Detention of Americans without Trial (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov) 


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