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Obama Charged with ‘Imperial Hubris’ Unmatched Even by Bush September 13, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Constitution, George W. Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Roger’s note: Obama’s latest act of warmongering tells us at least two things.  One is that the positions on issues taken by a candidate are a completely unreliable indicator of what said candidate might do once elected.  Secondly, the fact that Obama’s decision to declare war unilaterally against Isis/Isil, without either congressional or international authority, has gained widespread bipartisan approval (which is rare these days) shows us how the military industrial complex are the de facto rulers of the allegedly democratic nation.


Published on
by Jon Queally

Following his announcement to bomb Syria without congressional approval, president slammed for total disregard for constitutional safeguards regarding war-making

President Obama told the American public on Wednesday night that he will order significantly expanded military operations against the Islamic State in the Middle East, including more U.S. troops to Iraq and a bombing campaign in Syria. Anti-war voices and progressive critics were thoroughly unimpressed with the announced strategy as they issued warnings of the disaster to come. 

A day after President Obama told the American public he was preparing to bomb targets inside the sovereign state of Syria and that he did not need congressional approval to do so, critics are lashing out against what Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale University, described as “imperial hubris” on Friday.

In his scathing op-ed in the New York Times, Ackerman writes:

President Obama’s declaration of war against the terrorist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria marks a decisive break in the American constitutional tradition. Nothing attempted by his predecessor, George W. Bush, remotely compares in imperial hubris.

Mr. Bush gained explicit congressional consent for his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In contrast, the Obama administration has not even published a legal opinion attempting to justify the president’s assertion of unilateral war-making authority. This is because no serious opinion can be written.

This became clear when White House officials briefed reporters before Mr. Obama’s speech to the nation on Wednesday evening. They said a war against ISIS was justified by Congress’s authorization of force against Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and that no new approval was needed.

But the 2001 authorization for the use of military force does not apply here. That resolution — scaled back from what Mr. Bush initially wanted — extended only to nations and organizations that “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks.

And Ackerman’s not alone.

Robert Chesney, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, told theDaily Beast this week that Obama’s claim of authority to bomb ISIS targets in Syria was “on its face” an “implausible argument.”

“The 2001 AUMF requires a nexus to al Qaeda or associated forces of al Qaeda fighting the United States,” explained Chesney, but “since ISIS broke up with al Qaeda it’s hard to make” the case that authority granted by the AUMF  still applies.

And as The Nation magazine’s Zoë Carpenter reports:

The White House’s dismissal of the need for congressional approval is also in conflict with positions Obama himself expressed as a presidential candidate. “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” Obama declared to The Boston Globe in 2008.

The situation in Iraq and Syria does not appear to meet that standard. Obama acknowledged on Wednesday that “[w]e have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland.” Meanwhile, intelligence sources say that the threat from ISIS has been grossly exaggerated. “It’s hard to imagine a better indication of the ability of elected officials and TV talking heads to spin the public into a panic, with claims that the nation is honeycombed with sleeper cells, that operatives are streaming across the border into Texas or that the group will soon be spraying Ebola virus on mass transit systems—all on the basis of no corroborated information,” former State Department counterterrorism adviser Daniel Benjamin told The New York Times.

According to Ackerman, the president has put himself in a perilous position.

“The president seems grimly determined to practice what Mr. Bush’s lawyers only preached,” the Yale professor concludes in his op-ed. “He is acting on the proposition that the president, in his capacity as commander in chief, has unilateral authority to declare war. In taking this step, Mr. Obama is not only betraying the electoral majorities who twice voted him into office on his promise to end Bush-era abuses of executive authority. He is also betraying the Constitution he swore to uphold.”

And Carpenter says that in addition to defying Congress and his constitutional obligations, Obama should also be worried about the implications for his new strategy under international law. She writes:

It’s worth noting that the legality of an extended cross-border campaign isn’t only a question of the separation of powers. As Eli Lakenoted at The Daily Beast, the White House has not explained the basis for the strikes under international law.

While the administration’s current attempt to circumnavigate Congress is hypocritical as well as potentially illegal, it’s also consistent with the way Obama has exercised US military power before. As Spencer Ackerman notes, he’s extended drone strikes across the Middle East and North Africa; initiated a seven-month air campaign in Libya without congressional approval; prolonged the war in Afghanistan; and, in recent months, ordered more than 1,000 troops back into Iraq. Promises of no boots on the ground notwithstanding, Obama’s war footprint is large, and expanding.

US Forced to Release Memo on Extrajudicial Drone Killing of US Citizen June 23, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: As I have noted more than once on this Blog, the major crimes in history, including the death of Socrates, Jesus, and the Holocaust, were carried out and justified by the existing “legal’ system, that is under the color of law.   Again, history repeats itself, and David Barron of the OLC joins the disgraced criminal ranks of John Yoo, Bruce Bybee and the other torture memo conspirators.

No More ‘Enemy Combatants’ — But Is Obama Merely Rebranding Bush’s ‘War on Terror’? March 17, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, War.
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By Liliana Segura, AlterNet. Posted March 17, 2009.

Words matter, as Obama said on the campaign trail. But when it comes to his detention and counterterrorism policies, his actions are speaking louder.

The most pervasive early criticism of Barack Obama, aside from his inexperience, was that he was all rhetoric, no substance, an allegation he eloquently dismissed.

“Don’t tell me words don’t matter,” Obama declared on the campaign trail last February. ” ‘I have a dream.’ Just words? ‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.’ Just words?” (That particular turn of phrase led to cries of plagiarism, but that’s another story.)

Arriving in the Oval Office, Obama immediately announced a number of executive orders whose language carried enormous promise. He pledged to close Guantanamo. He suspended the military commissions process. He reiterated that the United States does not torture.

At the same time, he moved away from the discredited terminology of the Bush administration. In January, the Associated Press reported that, with a sole exception, Obama had not uttered the term “war on terror” since assuming the presidency. “Obama has made it clear in his first days in office that he is … making what is at least a symbolic shift away from the previous administration’s often more combative tone,” it reported.

Then, last week, the Obama administration announced that it was getting rid of the label Bush used to brand terrorism suspects — good news, it would seem, if it weren’t for the context: “The Obama administration said Friday that it would abandon the Bush administration’s term ‘enemy combatant’ as it argues in court for the continued detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in a move that seemed intended to symbolically separate the new administration from Bush detention policies,” reported William Glaberson of the New York Times.

But in a much anticipated court filing, the Justice Department argued that the president has the authority to detain terrorism suspects there without criminal charges, much as the Bush administration had asserted. It provided a broad definition of those who can be held, which was not significantly different from the one used by the Bush administration.

According to the court filing, which was filed in a Washington federal court, “the United States bases its detention authority as to such persons on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force,” which grants the president “authority to detain persons who he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, and persons who harbored those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. The president also has the authority under the AUMF to detain in this armed conflict  those persons whose relationship to al-Qaida or the Taliban would, in appropriately analogous circumstances in a traditional international armed conflict, render them detainable.”

The AUMF, of course, is the measure passed almost unanimously by Congress one week after 9/11, which granted broad executive powers to the president. The court filing lifts the exact language from the AUMF, which declared that the president “is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks … or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.” 

Applied to Guantanamo, the language is seemingly at odds with Obama’s promise to close the prison camp — not to mention the Supreme Court’s landmark decision granting its prisoners habeas corpus rights. But it is not at odds with Obama’s official policy on prisoners at Afghanistan’s Bagram air base, who, according to his administration, have no right to challenge their detention because, unlike Cuba, Bagram is in an active theater of war (although many of the prisoners held there were captured elsewhere).

So, aside from discarding the term “enemy combatant,” what is the real difference between the Obama administration’s policy on indefinite detention and Bush’s?

Not much.

“This seems fundamentally consistent with the positions of the prior administration,” Steven A. Engel, a lawyer in Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel told the Times.

“Mr. Engel added that the term ‘enemy combatant’ was not the issue. ‘The important point is that they recognize that we can detain members of the enemy’ during a war, he said.”

This position has been articulated by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who nonetheless issued a statement on Friday saying: “As we work toward developing a new policy to govern detainees, it is essential that we operate in a manner that strengthens our national security, is consistent with our values and is governed by law.”

But, especially as it remains unclear what, exactly, is “new” in its detention policies, it is long past the point where Americans should take the words of the Obama administration at face value. This may be a challenge in a time when people still camp out to hear Obama speak and marvel that their president has a basic command of the English language. But, as with the announcement that Guantanamo will close (but the U.S. still has the right to keep prisoners there), that the Iraq war will end (except for tens of thousands of “residual forces”), that torture will not occur on his watch (but renditions will continue), as a news headline, the retirement of the phrase “enemy combatant” conceals the most crucial part of the story.

Glenn Greenwald reminded readers on Sunday: “Bush’s asserted power to detain as ‘enemy combatants’ even those people who were detained outside of a traditional ‘battlefield’ — rather than charge them with crimes — was one of the most controversial of the last eight years. Yet the Obama administration, when called upon to state their position, makes only the most cosmetic and inconsequential changes — designed to generate headlines misleadingly depicting a significant reversal (“Obama drops ‘enemy combatant’ label”) — while, in fact, retaining the crux of Bush’s extremist detention theory.”

So is this “a case of old wine in new bottles,” as the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement released Friday?

For those who spent the Bush years raising hell over the razing of civil liberties, such a declaration is so depressing as to be intolerable. As Greenwald wrote, “the last thing most people want to do is conclude that the Obama administration is continuing the core of that extremism.”

“That was why the flurry of executive orders in the first week produced such praise: those who are devoted to civil liberties were, from the start, eager to believe that things would be different, and most want to do everything but conclude that the only improvements that will be made by Obama will be cosmetic ones.

“But it’s becoming increasingly difficult for honest commentators to do anything else but conclude that.”