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Canada’s environmental activists seen as ‘threat to national security’ February 16, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Environment.
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Police and security agencies describe green groups’ protests and petitions as ‘forms of attack’, documents reveal

 

Roger’s note: Canada’s own J. Edgar Harper

Environmental activists opposed to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project protest

Canadian government agencies have been accused of conflating extremism with peaceful protests, such as the ongoing campaign against Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Monitoring of environmental activists in Canada by the country’s police and security agencies has become the “new normal”, according to a researcher who has analysed security documents released under freedom of information laws.

Security and police agencies have been increasingly conflating terrorism and extremism with peaceful citizens exercising their democratic rights to organise petitions, protest and question government policies, said Jeffrey Monaghan of the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

The RCMP, Canada’s national police force, and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) view activist activities such as blocking access to roads or buildings as “forms of attack” and depict those involved as national security threats, according to the documents.

Protests and opposition to Canada’s resource-based economy, especially oil and gas production, are now viewed as threats to national security, Monaghan said. In 2011 a Montreal, Quebec man who wrote letters opposing shale gas fracking was charged under Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act. Documents released in January show the RCMP has been monitoring Quebec residents who oppose fracking.

“Any Canadians going to protest the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington DC on Sunday had better take precautions,” Monaghan said.

In a Canadian Senate committee on national security and defence meeting Monday Feb 11 Richard Fadden, the director of CSIS said they are more worried about domestic terrorism, acknowledging that the vast majority of its spying is done within Canada. Fadden said they are “following a number of cases where we think people might be inclined to acts of terrorism”.

Canada is at very low risk from foreign terrorists but like the US it has built a large security apparatus following 9/11. The resources and costs are wildly out of proportion to the risk said Monaghan.

“It’s the new normal now for Canada’s security agencies to watch the activities of environmental organisations,” he said.

Surveillance and infiltration of environmental protest movement has been routine in the UK for some time. In 2011 a Guardian investigation revealed that a Met police officer had been living undercover for seven years infiltrating dozens of protest groups.

Canadian security forces seem to have a “fixation” with Greenpeace, continually describing them as “potentially violent” in threat assessment documents, said Monaghan.

“We’re aware of this” said Greenpeace Canada’s executive director Bruce Cox, who met the head of the RCMP last year. “We’re an outspoken voice for non-violenceand this was made clear to the RCMP,” Cox said.

He said there was real anger among Canadians about the degradation of the natural environment by oil, gas and other extractive industries and governments working for those industries and not in the public interest. Security forces should see Greenpeace as a “plus”, a non-violent outlet for this anger, he argued. “It is governments and fossil fuel industry who are the extremists, threatening the prosperity of future generations.”

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Writers Cited in Breivik Manifesto Have Spoken at US Military Colleges as Anti-Terrorism Experts July 31, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Racism, Religion, Right Wing, War on Terror.
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Sunday 31 July 2011
by: Chris Rodda, Truthout                 | Op-Ed

In February 2009, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) received some very good news. A woman named Brigitte Gabriel had been disinvited from speaking at the United States Air Force Academy, due to MRFF’s year-long battle to stop the US military from allowing Islamophobic fear-mongers to speak at our military’s colleges and service academies under the guise of anti-terrorism training.

Just about a year earlier, in February 2008, the Air Force Academy had invited a group called the “3 ex-Terrorists” to speak at its 50th Annual Academy Assembly on the topic “Dismantling Terrorism: Developing Actionable Solutions for Today’s Plague of Violence.” One member of this trio of self-proclaimed ex-terrorists turned evangelical Christians was Walid Shoebat.

After repeated demands for equal time to counter the anti-Muslim preaching of these so-called terrorism experts, the Air Force Academy eventually allowed MRFF founder and president, and Academy graduate, Mikey Weinstein, MRFF Advisory Board member and Islam scholar Reza Aslan, and MRFF Board member and former Ambassador Joe Wilson to speak to the cadets.

If the name Walid Shoebat sounds familiar, it’s because CNN just did an exposé on him a few weeks ago (article, video: part 1, part 2). As CNN reported, Shoebat is still being hired to speak to Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies, despite the fact that he has repeatedly been exposed as a fraud by both journalists and academics. Shoebat’s mission is clear — to spread a fear of Muslims and rail against all that liberal political correctness that’s causing so many Americans to treat Muslims just like everyone else.

The message of Brigitte Gabriel, founder of ACT! for America and author of Because They Hate is the same as Shoebat’s. In June 2007, Gabriel, who has also been brought in as a terrorism expert by several government agencies, delivered a lecture at the US military’s Joint Forces Staff College (JFSC) as part of the JFSC’s Islam elective for American military and national security personnel.

During the Q & A part of this lecture, a JFSC student asked Gabriel, “Should we resist Muslims who want to seek political office in this nation?” This was Gabriel’s answer:

“Absolutely. If a Muslim who has — who is — a practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day — this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.”

Gabriel then proceeded to give the following reason for a Muslim’s oath of office being meaningless:

“A Muslim is allowed to lie under any situation to make Islam, or for the benefit of Islam in the long run. A Muslim sworn to office can lay his hand on the Koran and say ‘I swear that I’m telling the truth and nothing but the truth,’ fully knowing that he is lying because the same Koran that he is swearing on justifies his lying in order to advance the cause of Islam. What is worrisome about that is when we are faced with war and a Muslim political official in office has to make a decision either in the interest of the United States, which is considered infidel according to the teachings of Islam, and our Constitution is uncompatible [sic] with Islam — not compatible — that Muslim in office will always have his loyalty to Islam.”

Gabriel also expressed her views on immigration:

“Those Al Qaeda members and Hezbollah members who are coming into the United States, they are immediately going from the Mexican border into the major cities where there is large Islamic concentration in the United States, such as ‘Dearbornistan’ Michigan…”

So, what does all this have to do with Norwegian Christian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik? Well, Walid Shoebat and Brigitte Gabriel are two of the anti-Muslim activists who show up in his manifesto. Shoebat is quoted about fifteen times throughout the manifesto, and a link to a 45-minute Brigitte Gabriel video is provided for further information on one of the sections.

But the most frequently cited author in the manifesto is Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam. Spencer is quoted by Breivik over three dozen times, in several places at great length, and Breivik wrote, “About Islam I recommend essentially everything written by Robert Spencer.” Breivik even used a take-off on Spencer’s book title for a section of his manifesto, which he titled “A politically incorrect guide to the lynching of multiculturalist traitors.”

MRFF is quite familiar with Robert Spencer’s book, having received numerous complaints over the past few years from service members who want it removed from the military’s PXs and BXs, where it is usually displayed right next to the military Bibles.

Three other authors quoted or recommended by Breivik — Serge Trifkovic, Bat Ye’or, and Abdullah Al Araby — all appeared in the same Islamophbic pseudo-documentary with Shoebat and Spencer, “Islam: What the West Needs to Know.”

In 2008, when the politically useful anti-Muslim film Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the Westwas being distributed by the millions in swing states via DVDs inserted in major newspapers, MRFF discovered that this same film, which featured both Shoebat and Gabriel, was being used by the US military. MRFF was able to stop some of the screenings of this film, but many others did take place. The packaging of the “campaign” version even carried the endorsement of a professor from the Naval War College, lending the credibility of the US military to this piece of Islamophobic propaganda.

In short, all of the popular anti-Muslim writers and speakers cited in Breivik’s manifesto have essentially the same message — Muslims are taking over the “Christian” world and must be stopped. And these same writers and speakers all have multiple connections to each other. They appear in the same films, link to each other’s websites, promote each other’s books and videos, are listed by the same speakers bureaus, serve in various capacities in each other’s organizations, etc.

Because I work for MRFF, my focus needs to be on stopping the tide of Islamophobia within the military, but, after reading Breivik’s manifesto, it would be impossible for me not to be thinking about the other dangers posed by these Islamophobic fear-mongers, who are feeding countless Americans — some of whom might be unstable enough to carry out a “mission” like that of Breivik — a steady diet of justification for their twisted religious or political ideologies.

While it is clear from Breivik’s manifesto that he began to formulate his ideas several years before the post 9-11 “popularization” of Islamophobia, I think it’s completely legitimate to ask the question: Just how much did the constant validation of these ideas by the likes of Gabriel, Shoebat, and Spencer play a role in Breivik’s ultimate decision to actually carry out his terrorist attacks?

Editor’s Note: MRFF President Mikey Weinstein is a member of Truthout’s board of advisers.

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Chris RoddaChris Rodda is the senior research director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and the author of “Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History.”

Sullivan’s defense of presidential assassinations October 3, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11, Africa, Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Human Rights, Kenya, War on Terror.
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Saturday, Oct 2, 2010 09:03 ET

By Glenn Greenwald

 

(updated below)

During the Bush-era torture debates, I was never able to get past my initial incredulity that we were even having a “debate” over whether the President has the authority to torture peopleAndrew Sullivan has responded to some of the questions I posed about his defense of Obama’s assassination program, and I realize now that throughout this whole assassination debate, specific legal and factual issues aside, my overarching reaction is quite similar:  I actually can’t believe that there is even a “debate” over whether an American President — without a shred of due process or oversight — has the power to compile hit lists of American citizens whom he orders the CIA to kill far away from any battlefield.  The notion that the President has such an unconstrained, unchecked power is such a blatant distortion of everything our political system is supposed to be — such a pure embodiment of the very definition of tyrannical power — that, no matter how many times I see it, it’s still hard for me to believe there are people willing to expressly defend it.

Moreover, it’s almost impossible to ignore how similar are the rhetoric and rationale between (a) Bush supporters who justified presidential torture and (b) Obama supporters who now justify presidential due-process-free assassinations.  Please read Daniel Larison’s argument about that, responding to Sullivan’s post.  He’s exactly right. 

The central rhetorical premise of Bush defenders was that if they just scream “Terrorist!!’ and “we’re at war!!!!” enough times, and loudly enough, then it would make basic precepts of due process, Constitutional safeguards and the rule of law disappear.  If they demonized their targets enough (this is a really bad Terrorist who wants to kill Americans, with nukes if he can!!) — or manipulatively invoked 9/11 enough times (note Andrew’s prominent display of a smoldering WTC photo strategically placed at the top of his argument) — then it would mean that anything goes, that no compliance with law is or should be required to do anything to them (a claim that always led to the unanswerable question:  if it’s really so obvious that this is a really bad Terrorist, then why not prove it in court?). 

And if you just toss enough insult-strawmen at those who insist upon basic rights even when “we’re at war!!,” then you can marginalize them to the point of invisibility (I wasn’t around in 2003 and thus never got to be accused by Andrew of being a Far-Leftist-pacifist-unwilling-to-fight-the-menace-of-Islamic-Evil, so I guess it’s nice that I’m making up for that now.  I always thought a “pacifist” was one who opposes the use of force under all circumstances, even self-defense [a view to which I do not subscribe]; I never knew that one becomes a “pacifist” by believing that the President lacks the power to order his own citizens assassinated far from any battlefield without due process).  Just read Andrew’s post to see how reliant he is on these same tactics to justify Obama’s program:  quite ironic, given how often he has had these same tactics used against him during his steadfast, eloquent opposition to torture.

In any event, I was going to address a few of Andrew’s specific claims, because some of them are factually inaccurate (I don’t believe that’s intentional, but merely the by-product of the fact that Andrew doesn’t write about the legal issues raised here very often).  And I still will do that below, but before I do:  as I was writing this, I received an email from a Kenyan lawyer, David Majanja, that so perfectly illustrates how far America has fallen on these issues of basic liberty as compared to much of the rest of the world, and what authoritarian extremists many Americans have become on these questions, that I want to feature it first. 

As Majanja noted in his email to me, Kenya faces a massive threat from terrorism.  Radicals bombed the U.S. embassy in Nairobi in 1998 and attacked an Israeli-owned tourist resort and Israeli airliner in Mombasa in 2002, and that country has repeatedly been under Terrorist threats for the last decade.  Nonetheless, consider this court decision that was just issued in Nairobi on Thursday.  A Kenyan Muslim, Mohamed Sulemein, was detained in August — without any charges or due process — by Kenyan anti-terrorism agents (the ATPU), accused of having participated in the horrific June World Cup bombings in Kampala, Uganda, which killed 74 innocent people.  He had his passport seized and was told he would be sent to Uganda without any opportunity to contest the accusations against him.  His wife filed a habeas corpus petition in a Kenyan court, demanding that “he be treated in accordance with the laws and Constitution of Kenya,” which, among other things, guarantees the right to be charged with a crime within 24 hours of arrest and not to be shipped outside the country without a hearing. 

The Kenyan Court agreed, and ruled that the due-process-free extradition of this accused Terrorist to Uganda was illegal and unconstitutional.  Just read what the court said to see what’s so profoundly absent from American political thought; this, to me, is the crux of all of these debates, including the one over presidential assassinations:

The person whose rights were denied there is accused of Terrorist acts every bit as reprehensible and dangerous as the accusations aimed at Anwar Awlaki.  His rights were denied to a far less extreme degree than what is being done to Awlaki (rendition to Uganda for trial v. being targeted for due-process-free assassination).  Kenya faces a Terrorism threat at least equal to what the U.S. faces, and several times has suffered atrocious attacks on its soil.  But they are nonetheless able to recognize that citizens “are not exempted from the ordinary protections of law” by virtue of being a Terrorism suspect, and that “the preservation of liberties [even for Terrorist suspects] is the only way to reinforce this country’s commitment to the rule of law and human rights.”  If only that recognition were equally widespread in the U.S., which still holds itself out as “the leader of the free world.”

* * * * *

As for Andrew’s specific claims:  I realize that it’s not possible for him to address every point I made and that he made a good faith effort to answer the questions I asked, but I was still disappointed to see him ignore these questions, because these are the same ones I could never get Bush supporters to answer either:  (1) would you also be comfortable with having a GOP President — such as Sarah Palin — vested with the unchecked power to order American citizens killed far from any battlefield, with no due process and no obligation to prove the accusations?; (2) Andrew says that the President does not have the right to kill American citizens on U.S. soil, but what rationale can justify that limitation once you endorse the view that the President can order citizens killed anywhere they are found via the mere accusation of Terrorism?; (3) shouldn’t the long and disturbing record of serious error and/or abuse on the part of both the Bush and Obama administrations — whereby numerous individuals, a majority, have been falsely accused of Terrorism — lead a rational person to refuse to vest faith in the President’s ability to decide who is a Terrorist without due process or oversight?; and (4) how could Bush’s oversight-free detention or eavesdropping of citizens be so dangerous, whereas Obama’s oversight-free killing of them isn’t?

Then there are several factually inaccurate assertions.  Andrew claims that Obama has “expanded judicial review of this kind of military action,” which is the only reason Awlaki’s case is in court.  The claim that these assertions of power are being reviewed by courts due to Obama’s beneficence is absolutely false; they’re in court because Obama — like Bush — has been sued for acting illegally and unconstitutionally, and Obama — like Bush — has asserted that no courts can review his conduct due to secrecy and standing (see this article from the Obama-friendly TPM site — headlined:  “Expert consensus:  Obama mimics Bush on state secrets” — to see how identical the conduct is).  Obama’s argument is the exact opposite of what Andrew claims:  it’s that courts have no right and no power to review his decisions about which citizens are assassinated. 

Then Andrew cites Ex parte Quirin [1942]  to claim that “it is utterly uncontroversial that the military can kill a US citizen abroad if he is waging a treasonous war against the United States,” but even that case — long considered quite radical and a favorite of the Yoo/Addington camp — came only after the defendants were charged in a military commission of being saboteurs, and the Supreme Court merely held that military commissions constitute sufficient due process for the offenses with which they were charged.  Here’s what the Court actually said (emphasis added):

The President, as President and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, by Order of July 2, 1942, appointed a Military Commission and directed it to try petitioners for offenses against the law of war and the Articles of War . . . On July 3, 1942, the Judge Advocate General’s Department of the Army prepared and lodged with the Commission the following charges against petitioners, supported by specifications: . . . The Commission met on July 8, 1942, and proceeded with the trial, which continued in progress while the causes were pending in this Court . . .As announced in our per curiam opinion we have resolved those questions by our conclusion that the Commission has jurisdiction to try the charge preferred against petitioners. . . .

We are concerned only with the question whether it is within the constitutional power of the national government to place petitioners upon trial before a military commission for the offenses with which they are charged. . . . Lawful combatants are subject to capture and detention as prisoners of war by opposing military forces. Unlawful combatants are likewise subject to capture and detention, but in addition they are subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals for acts which render their belligerency unlawful. . . . We hold only that those particular acts constitute an offense against the law of war which the Constitution authorizes to be tried by military commission. 

 

Aside from the fact that these defendants were caught in the act of engaging in hostilities — not sleeping or driving in a car with their parents, as Awlaki might be doing when he’s killed — this case doesn’t remotely justify assassinating citizens without any due process, and I really hope Andrew would retract the suggestion that it does.  The whole point of Ex parte Quirin — as anyone can see — is that these defendants were given due process:  a military tribunal which the court found constitutionally adequate under the circumstances.  That’s the opposite of Obama’s due-process-free assassinations.

Then Andrew says this:

I agree that the Obama administration’s decision to shut down inspection of the evidence behind the decision to regard Awlaki as someone waging an active war against the US under “state secrets” is a step way too far. I think the president has a duty to explain in court why he believes this person must be treated as an active enemy at war with the US, and therefore treated as all such enemies in wartime as someone to be killed.

 

But this is the crux of the whole dispute.  Once one concedes this, what disagreement is left with critics of Obama’s conduct?  What Andrew says Obama has a “duty” to do — “explain in court why he believes this person must be treated as an active enemy at war with the US” — is precisely that which Obama is steadfastly refusing to do.  Rather than indict or charge Awlaki, or even respond to his lawsuit with evidence of his guilt, he’s simply asserting the right to kill him without any oversight.  Indeed, before Awlaki’s father filed suit, that’s exactly what Obama has been trying to do:  kill this American citizen without any due process whatsoever (along those lines, Andrew’s announcement that he’s “sick of the left treating Obama as if he has done nothing to change the dictatorial, illegal and indecent policies of his predecessor” is very odd, given that Andrew himself — in a post from several weeks ago which he entitled “The Untamed Prince” — called for the prosecution of Barack Obama as a war criminal, and wrote:  “Obama as executive quickly co-opted the kind of blanket secrecy and protection of the national security apparatus from the rule of law that plagued us in the Bush-Cheney administration“; those are Andrew’s words, not the words of “the left”).

But the most telling part of his response is where Andrew replies to my question about how he knows that Awlaki is actually an “Al Qaeda Terrorist” who deserves to die:

There is much public information about Awlaki, and I urge readers to go to Wiki and examine the public record and sources in detail to make their own minds up. . . . But seriously, is Glenn honestly saying that a man who has committed treason, has had multiple direct contacts with al Qaeda, including the 9/11 mass-murderers, has been directly connected with inciting American citizens to kill others in terror attacks is not, self-evidently, an al Qaeda terrorist who poses a direct and imminent threat to innocent human beings, motivated by a poisonous religious ideology that was responsible for the murder of 3,000 people on 9/11?

 

This is what we’re reduced to in America:  trial by Wikipedia.  Apparently, as long as there are enough links on your Wikipedia page to other accused Terrorists, then the President can wave his imperial wand and impose the death penalty on you.  Aside from the fact that most of what is on “Wiki” comes from unproven government accusations, and aside from the fact that it’s almost all rank guilt by association (Andrew:  “Witnesses report he was a spiritual adviser to and met with two 9/11 mass-murderers, Nawaf Al-Hazmi and Khalid Almihdhar“), this claim raises the painfully obvious question:  if the evidence is so clear and overwhelming that Awlaki is a Terrorist who deserves the death penalty, then why are Obama — and his supporters — so afraid to indict him and prove these claims in court?  That was always the quandary posed by Bush’s assertion that he could eavesdrop or detain with no judicial oversight, but was doing so only on obvious Terrorists:  if it’s so clear that they’re Terrorists, why won’t you go to court and convince a court that they’re Terrorists?

As for Andrew’s claim that Awlaki “has committed treason,” I’ll say this:  he may or may not have.  But we have this document called “the Constitution,” and it makes as clear as can be that no President has the power to simply decree that someone is guilty of that crime.  Right in Article III, Section 3, it explicitly makes clear what must be done if one is to be punished as a traitor:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

 

What possible justification exists for ignoring that Constitutional provision?  Even if we are at war, there is, manifestly, no “war exception” to the Constitution.  “War” is not, and never has been, a cognizable excuse for disregarding Constitutional guarantees — at least not in a republic that still adheres to the rule of law.

In general, the U.S. Constitution prohibits the deprivation of “life or liberty . . . without due process of law.”  But because of how serious a crime Treason is, the Constitution imposes heightened requirements on proving it in court.  It’s not something that is presidentially declared by anonymous press leaks or reading a Wikipedia page.  If the rule of law means anything, it’s that explicit Constitutional protections like this one don’t get to be swatted away by yelling “War!!!” or “Terrorist!” or by putting emotionally powerful pictures of 9/11 on your blog.  As the Kenyan judge put it: “the preservation of liberties [even for Terrorist suspects] is the only way to reinforce this country’s commitment to the rule of law.”  If you’re willing to vest the President with the power to order your fellow citizens murdered as a Traitor without a shred of due process, then, by definition, you simply do not believe in these core principles.

UPDATE:  In response to numerous reader emails, Andrew posts a couple more brief thoughts on all of this here.

Also worth reading on this:  (1) Harper‘s Scott Horton, who says he originally thought the objections of civil libertarians in the Awlaki case were overblown, but has now concluded — in light of the Obama DOJ’s brief — that the Obama program is the embodiment of “tyranny”:  “When the executive claims the power to take the life of a citizen without recourse to law and legal process, and seeks to sustain that under vague claims of commander-in-chief authority, that claim is in its essence tyrannical”; and (2) former CIA officer and current novelist Barry Eisler, who examines other dubious claims made by Sullivan in defense of Obama’s program.

 

The NYT Sums up Obama’s Civil Liberties Record in One Paragraph May 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties.
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Among progressives, Democrats, liberals, Obama supporters and the like, there seems to be some debate about the extent to which Obama deserves criticisms for what he has done thus far in the realm of civil liberties, restoration of Constitutional principles, and reversing the severe imbalance between “security” and liberties — major planks of his two-year-long campaign and among the most frequent weapons used to criticize the Bush presidency.  On that topic, here is the first paragraph of this New York Times article this morning by David Sanger, summing everything up:

President Obama’s decisions this week to retain important elements of the Bush-era system for trying terrorism suspects and to block the release of pictures showing abuse of American-held prisoners abroad are the most graphic examples yet of how he has backtracked, in substantial if often nuanced ways, from the approach to national security that he preached as a candidate, and even from his first days in the Oval Office.

Here’s how the NYT describes the article on its front page:

The opening paragraph of this Washington Post article today says much the same thing: 

As a candidate for president, Barack Obama offered himself as a clear alternative to Bush-era anti-terrorism policies. Governing has proven muddier.

Both articles quote the hardest-core Bush supporters as heaping praise on Obama for what he has done in the area of “national security,” terrorism and civil liberties (“Pete Wehner, a member of Karl Rove’s staff in the Bush White House [and a current National Review writer] applauded several of Mr. Obama’s decisions this week”).  Indeed, all week long, and even before that, the greatest enthusiasm for Obama’s decisions on so-called “terrorism policies” and civil liberties (with some important exceptions) has been found in the pages of The Weekly Standard and National Review.

Can anyone deny what the NYT and Post are pointing out today?  This is what happened this week alone in the realm of Obama’s approach to “national security” and civil liberties:

Monday – Obama administration’s letter to Britian threatening to cut off intelligence-sharing if British courts reveal the details of how we tortured British resident Binyam Mohamed;

Tuesday – Promoted to military commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChyrstal, who was deeply involved in some of the worst abuses of the Bush era;

Wednesday – Announced he was reversing himself and would try to conceal photographic evidence showing widespread detainee abuse — despite the rulings from two separate courts (four federal judges unanimously) that the law compels their disclosure;

Friday –  Unveiled his plan to preserve a modified system of military commissions for trying Guantanamo detainees, rather than using our extant-judicial processes for doing so.

It’s not the fault of civil libertarians that Obama did all of those things, just in this week alone.  These are the very policies — along with things like the claimed power to abduct and imprison people indefinitely with no charges of any kind and the use of the “state secrets privilege” to deny torture and spying victims a day in court — that caused such extreme anger and criticisms toward the Bush presidency.

What would it say about a person who spent the last seven years vehemently criticizing those policies to suddenly decide that the same policies were perfectly fine or not particularly bothersome when Obama adopts them?  How could that be justified?  What should one say about a person who vehemently objected to X when Bush did it, but then suddenly found ways to defend or mitigate X when Obama does it?  Just re-read that first paragraph from the NYT article today. What should a rational person say in response to what it describes?

It is absolutely true that there have been some important steps Obama has taken in the right direction that George Bush and John McCain would never have entertained, including banning interrogation techniques outside of the Army Field Manual, barring CIA secret prisons, guaranteeing International Red Cross access to all detainees, and releasing numerous Bush era OLC memos.  He deserves praise for those decisions and has received it here.   But other than the OLC memos, those steps all came in the very first week of his presidency in largely symbolic form.  At the time, in the first week, I wrote that Obama’s first-week executive orders “meet or actually exceed even the most optimistic expectations of civil libertarians for what he could or would do quickly,” but:

This is why the understandable enthusiasm (which I definitely share) over Obama’s pleasantly unexpected commitment in the first few hours of his presidency to take politically difficult steps in the civil liberties and accountability realms should be tempered somewhat.  There is going to be very concerted pressure exerted on him by establishment guardians such as Hiatt (and the Brookings Institution, Jack Goldsmith and friends), to say nothing of hard-line factions within the intelligence community and its various allies, for Obama to take subsequent steps that would eviscerate much of this progress, that render these initial rollbacks largely empty, symbolic gestures. Whether these steps, impressive as they are, will be symbolic measures designed to placate certain factions, or whether they represent a genuine commitment on Obama’s part, remains to be seen. Much of it will depend on how much political pressure is exerted and from what sides.

Obama deserves real praise for devoting the first few days of his presidency to these vital steps — and doing so without there being much of a political benefit and with some real political risk.  That’s genuinely encouraging. But ongoing vigilance is necessary, to counter-balance the Fred Hiatts, Brookings Institutions and other national security state fanatics, to ensure that these initial steps aren’t undermined.

Since that first week, Obama has engaged in one action after the next to preserve many of the key prongs, and the essential architecture, of the Bush/Cheney abuses of executive power and civil liberties.  That’s just factually true.  What’s the point of closing Guantanamo if we’re going to continue to keep people indefinitely in cages with no trial in Bagram, or if we simply transport a modified version of Guantanamo justice to the U.S.?  How can a President who repeatedly promised vast transparency embrace the most extremist Bush/Cheney secrecy powers?   How can a person who campaigned on the vow to end “Scooter Libby justice” and restore the rule of law take one extreme step after the next to shield from judicial scrutiny some of the most serious, brutal and highest-level crimes of the last eight years?

It’s certainly true that there are other issues besides civil liberties and national security policies that are important.  The fact that he’s been horrible in these areas doesn’t mean he hasn’t been good in others.  One can argue, if one likes, that these civil liberties issues don’t really matter (a representative of Center for American Progress joined with two conservatives to claim exactly that yesterday on CNN), or one can argue that all that matters is that we fix the banking crisis and implement a new health care policy.  But I never heard any Bush critics — not one — say anything like that when these issues were front and center in the case against the Bush presidency.

Nobody who spent the last many years devoting themselves to opposing Bush/Cheney abuses of executive power and civil liberties wanted to have to do the same in an Obama presidency.  If you doubt that, just look at how intense was the celebratory praise directed at Obama from those factions in the first week.  But unless the opposition of the last eight years was really just a cynical means for opportunistically weakening and demonizing Republican opponents rather than opposing policies that one genuinely found dangerous and wrong, then the actions of Obama are leaving no other choice but to object and object strenuously.  As the first paragraph of today’s NYT article put it, this week alone provided “the most graphic examples yet of how [Obama] has backtracked, in substantial if often nuanced ways, from the approach to national security that he preached as a candidate, and even from his first days in the Oval Office.”  If nothing else, refraining from objecting will ensure that this continues further and further.

* * * * *

Yesterday morning, I was on WNYC’s The Takeway discussing (briefly) the issue of Obama’s military commissions and, more extensively, drug policy and decriminalization in Portugal.  That can be heard here.

UPDATE:  The Wall St. Journal Editorial Page today:

President Obama’s endorsements of Bush-Cheney antiterror policies are by now routine . . . . Mr. Obama deserves credit for accepting that the civilian courts are largely unsuited for the realities of the war on terror. He has now decided to preserve a tribunal process that will be identical in every material way to the one favored by Dick Cheney . . . Meanwhile, friends should keep certain newspaper editors away from sharp objects. Their champion has repudiated them once again.

Meanwhile, Law Professor Julian Ku notes that Obama Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal spent years arguing that military commissions generally (not merely Bush’s specific version) were oppressive and un-American (h/t).  But now, thanks to Obama’s embrace of them, Katyal is going to have to defend Obama’s military commissions in court from challenge by the ACLU and other groups.  At least Katyal has the excuse that defending exactly that which he spent years excoriating is his job.  Obama supporters who are doing the same don’t have that excuse.

UPDATE II:  Illustrating the irrationality that is used, Obama defenders are making the following two arguments to justify what he did on military commissions:

(1) Obama had no choice because he can’t obtain convictions of accused terrorists in civilian courts because so much of the evidence was obtained by Bush’s torture and thus can’t be used;

(2) Obama’s military commissions are better than Bush’s because Obama’s commissions won’t allow evidence obtained by torture.

Aren’t those two propositions completely contradictory?  If Obama’s military commissions (like civilian courts and courts-martial) won’t allow evidence obtained via torture, then why can’t he use our normal court system to try accused terrorists?

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.

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