Obama’s Illegal Assaults – How once-controversial ‘war on terror’ tactics became the new normal

What now gives Americans nationalistic purpose is our ability to hunt someone down and riddle their skull with bullets and dump their corpse into the ocean.

Dees Illustration

Glenn Greenwald
In These Times

Barack Obama has continued virtually all of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney’s once-controversial terrorism and civil liberties policies, a fact now recognized across the political spectrum. Even the right wing acknowledges these policies have continued under the Obama presidency, which is interesting, because for decades Republicans have made political hay by accusing Democrats of being weak on national security (or “soft on terrorism” in this age of terror).

For example, Jack Goldsmith, a right-wing ideologue and a high-ranking Justice Department official in George W. Bush’s first term—when “enhanced interrogation techniques” (what the civilized world calls “torture”) were frequently employed—has criticized Dick Cheney’s daughter and Irving Crystal’s son for claiming that Obama has abandoned these policies. In a 2009 article for The New Republic, he writes:

This premise that the Obama administration has reversed the terror policies is wrong. The new administration has copied most of the Bush program, has expanded some of it and has narrowed only a bit. All of the Obama changes have been at the level of packaging, argumentation, symbol and rhetoric.

The first area where we see this is true is in indefinite detention—the idea that human beings can be caged for years without an opportunity to defend themselves or contest the validity of the charges against them (if they are lucky enough even to be charged). The president’s plan for “closing” Guantanamo was not really to close Guantanamo at all. It was simply to move it 2,000 miles north to Illinois, where the controversial aspects of it—namely, imprisoning people for life without due process—were going to be fully preserved and retained.



Another policy that Obama has continued, and actually worsened, is the idea that habeas corpus, the most minimal right a prisoner can have, isn’t guaranteed under the constitution. In 2008, the Supreme Court actually ruled in Boumediene v. Bush that prisoners at Guantanamo do have the right to habeas corpus. But—despite the horrendous record of imprisoning people without due process, including the obviously innocent—the Obama administration took the position that habeas corpus applies only to prisoners in Guantanamo, not anywhere else that the United States imprisons people, such as at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. The administration has thus far won in court with this argument, meaning that it has won the right to circumvent the Supreme Court decision by simply not bringing prisoners to Guantanamo. Instead, it simply imprisons them in Afghanistan or Iraq.

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