The Socialism Conference was held in Chicago, IL, over the weekend. On Saturday, July 3, Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald delivered a speech on civil liberties in the age of President Obama.
I attended the conference and recorded Greenwald’s speech. Part 1 of the speech has already been posted. Now, here’s Part 2.
Up front, Greenwald makes clear the critique of Obama should not be that he has been “slow to reverse” Bush policies. Rather, the critique should be that he ”has affirmatively embraced them as his own and in many cases extended far beyond where George Bush and Dick Cheney ever dreamed of taking them” (and, if you saw Part 1, you understand this is now bipartisan consensus in American politics).
Indefinite detention is the first area he outlines. He describes how ”the heart and soul of the controversy over Guantanamo, over Abu Ghraib, over the universal worldwide system of detention,” the notion of putting a person in cage for life without any shred of due process, has been maintained.
A key salient point:
…If you talk to Democratic partisans and apologists of the president, what they will say is that the reason that he hasn’t close Guantanamo is not his fault. The reason is that Congress passed a law or a series of laws impeding his doing so. And that’s not necessarily untrue. Congress did pass a series of laws barring the closing of Guantanamo, in effect. But, before that ever happened, the president’s plan for a “closing of Guantanamo” was not really to close Guantanamo at all. It was simply to move it a few thousand miles north to Illinois, where the aspects that made it so controversial—namely imprisoning people for life without due process—was going to be fully preserved and maintained.
Now, the controversy as I understood it during the Bush presidency about Guantanamo was not, “Isn’t it so outrageous that George Bush and Dick Cheney are imprisoning people without due process on an island in the Caribbean rather than doing it in Illinois?” …
Recently, in May, Rep. Howard McKeon (R-CA) introduced legislation to “embed in law the principle of indefinite detention without trial for suspected terrorists.” This was a part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which gave the president the authority to wage war anytime, anywhere and without congressional authorization (a power that Congress doesn’t need to grant the Executive Branch because it has already claimed the right to engage in worldwide war without the consent of the American people, effectively rendering Congress an administrative and mostly impotent body when it comes to checking the consolidation of power in the Executive Branch).
Greenwald also outlines how habeas corpus rights have been argued against by the Obama Administration:
…Despite the horrendous record of not just imprisoning people without due process but imprisoning obviously innocent people without due process, the Obama Administration took the position that this right the Supreme Court recognized applies only to people in Guantanamo but not anywhere else that the US imprisons people, such as at Bagram, Afghanistan or in places in Yemen or any other places where the US maintains prisons…
By winning this argument in the Supreme Court, President Obama can simply direct agencies and formulate policy that circumvents Guantanamo and instead just use prisons America has in other countries, for example, “black sites.” Or, the US can just use navy ships to indefinitely detain people (and maybe in some cases bring them to trial).
Finally, Greenwald illuminates how Obama has gone along with a Bush policy on state secrets that Bush significantly altered in such a way that his administration was able to guard against judicial review if they were suspected of breaking the law.
[The state secrets doctrine] said that, in certain cases involving national security and certain judicial cases, some documents may be so secretive that, even though they’re relevant to the litigation, even though they’re relevant to the case, even though in all other instances they would be allowed to be used, some documents are so sensitive and risk triggering the disclosure of important state secrets that they can’t be used in the case, even if they’re relevant. And what the Bush presidency did was it converted this doctrine from a document-specific privilege, that said certain documents couldn’t be used, and they developed a new theory that said certain topics are so secretive that they cannot be the subject of litigation, even when the president is accused of breaking the law. And that was basically the tool the Bush presidency used to shield itself from any judicial review for its actions, even the most illegal ones.
Obama has used the state secrets doctrine to guard against investigations into torture, rendition, warrantless wiretapping, etc.
As University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey R. Stone, someone who has spoken publicly about going after WikiLeaks under the Espionage Act, points out in and editorial published on June 26 titled, “Our Untransparent President“:
…The dawn of the Obama administration brought hope that Congress would enact the proposed State Secrets Protection Act of 2009, which would have limited the scope of the doctrine. Indeed, shortly after President Obama took office, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. suggested that the doctrine should be invoked “only when genuine and significant harm to national defense or foreign relations is at stake and only to the extent necessary to safeguard those interests.”
Since then, however, the Obama administration has aggressively asserted the privilege in litigation involving such issues as the C.I.A.’s use of extraordinary rendition and the National Security Agency’s practice of wiretapping American citizens…
*Check back soon for more video of Glenn Greenwald’s speech.