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5 Ways America Is Betraying Its Best Values in Conflicts With Rest of the World

In 2012 it looks like we can expect the Obama administration to continue to barrel down the path that has already taken us far from the country we used to be.

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A similar, if less lethal, desire for punishment lies behind the Obama administration’s determination to aggressively pursue and crack down on leaks to the media from inside the government, even when they don’t involve the actual theft of government documents.  Obama, of course, entered the Oval Office proclaiming a  “sunshine” policy when it  came to the workings of the government, only to move beyond George W. Bush in attempts to clamp down on whistleblowers.

The pending trials of two former CIA officers exemplify this pattern. Jeffrey Sterling is charged with leaking classified documents to the  New York Times’James Risen about plans to release flawed information to Iran in a potentiallycounterproductive  effort to subvert its nuclear program; John Kiriakou  just plednot guilty to releasing information to the media about Bush-era torture policies. All told, the administration has  gone after six suspected leakers -- more than all previous administrations combined -- using the draconian Espionage Act.

In the matter of leakers, the message couldn’t be clearer or more vengeful. The government’s position has been this: expose us and we will turn on you with a fury you can’t imagine.  As terrorists have been warned that new laws and legal systems can be built to deal with them, those accused of leaks to the press are being told that even the full extent of the law may not be the limit when it comes to punishment.

Witness the  treatment of Bradley Manning in his first year of punitive captivity before he was charged with any crime: he was kept in a Marine brig in total isolation and forced to sleep naked.  Or consider the attempt not just to prosecute but to destroy the life of former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake.  He was  accused of leaking classified information on what he considered to be a wildly wasteful NSA program. In the end, though charged under the Espionage Act, he pled guilty to the misdemeanor of essentially borrowing a government computer -- but not before his life had been turned upside down and his job lost.

2. Ever More Legal Limbo (Ever Less Confidence in the Constitution)   

By now, it’s old hat to acknowledge that the indefinite detention of those once deemed “enemy combatants,” now termed “unprivileged enemy belligerents,” has become as American as apple pie.  Like the Bush administration before it, the Obama administration insists on its commitment to holding nearly 50 Guantanamo detainees in indefinite detention without charge or trial.

In May 2009, in a  speech at the National Archives, the president couldn’t have been clearer: indefinite detention, he stated, would remain an option in the national security toolbox under his administration.  In this way, he guaranteed that an American version of offshore (in)justice and the  essential character of Guantanamo, which he once claimed he would shut down, would continue intact.

In 2012, however, there is a worrisome new indefinite detainee category to worry about: U.S. citizens. Previously, Americans were exempt from incarceration at Guantanamo and so from its policy of detention without trial. In 2002, Yaser Hamdi, a Saudi-American citizen, when discovered at Guantanamo Bay, was hurried to a plane in the wee hours of the morning and whisked away, a sign of the rights still accorded American citizens. Similarly, the “American Taliban,” John Walker Lindh, apprehended on the Afghanistan battlefield, was brought into the federal court system.

Lately, however, Congress has shown less respect for the distinction between rights accorded to citizens and non-citizens. Last month, Congress passed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The debates over its passage reflected a concerted effort to make American citizens as well as foreigners subject to indefinite military detention.

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