If one were looking for a way to demonstrate how faithfully the Obama administration had carried on the legacy of the Bush administration, this past week takes the cake, and no, I’m not talking about making Bush tax cuts on the middle class permanent.
In a matter of four days, President Obama ushered in three landmark decisions that further institutionalized the Bush administration’s penchant for abridging civil liberties in the name of national security, all the while making us less safe.
1. Warrantless wiretapping of American citizens: On Sunday, Obama signed into law a renewal of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which authorizes broad, warrantless surveillance of Americans’ international communications, checked only by a secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that doesn’t make it’s activities and procedures available to the public.
Obama voted for the FISA Amendments Act as a senator, but with expressed reservations about “President Bush’s abuse of executive power,” and the constitutional protections that the warrantless surveillance program offended. As President, though, Obama has turned into a staunch supporter of these legally questionable abuses of executive power.
Justice Department documents released in September in litigation brought by the ACLU showed “that federal law enforcement agencies are increasingly monitoring Americans’ electronic communications, and doing so without warrants, sufficient oversight, or meaningful accountability.”
“Part of the problem is much of this is being done in secret and there’s very little oversight or accountability,” NSA whistleblower Nick Drake told Al Jazeera recently. “It was just stunning when I found out that the White House had entered into a secret agreement with the National Security Agency to completely bypass the FISA, and by bypassing it they turned the USA into the equivalent of a foreign nation for the purposes of dragnet, blanket electronic surveillance…in secret.”
Even though the government has acknowledged that the secretive program has exceeded its legal limits, violating Americans’ Fourth Amendment constitutional rights, the Obama administration has aggressively refused to allow any checks and balances on the program, even refusing congressional requests to disclose how many Americans have been spied on.
2. Indefinite detention without charge or trial: On Wednesday, Obama signed the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act into law. The 680-page omnibus bill contains more military and national security provisions than any one person can account for, but it notably renews the prohibition against transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the US for any purpose, a measure which again prevents Obama from fulfilling his pledge to close the black hole detention center.
Obama initially threatened a veto of the bill due to this provision, but the threat proved a false one. In a signing statement, Obama said he disagreed with the provision, despite his signing it into law.
But it’s difficult to take his stated reservations seriously. Back in 2010, the President signed an executive order that “establishe[d] indefinite detention as a long-term Obama administration policy and [made] clear that the White House alone will manage a review process for those it chooses to hold without charge or trial,” reported ProPublica at the time.
And in last year’s NDAA, there were even more controversial provisions suggesting American citizens, detained on US soil, can be locked up without charge or trial as enemy combatants. The constitutionality of those provisions, which advocates say are acceptable under the 2001 AUMF, is still being fought out in the US court of appeals.
In Afghanistan, too, the Obama era has meant mere suspects can be locked away without charge or trial in abusive detention camps, mostly in secret. The US military’s increased use of night raids led to a huge surge in detainees, very few of whom have had any evidence placed against them. The Obama administration has had them sent to Bagram to be held for indefinite detention without charge or trial, which Daphne Eviatar, an attorney for Human Rights First, has described as “worse than Guantanamo, because there are fewer rights.”
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the practice of extraordinary rendition, wherein suspects are captured and transferred to another country to be held without charge or trial, is “taking on renewed significance” under Obama.