How Obama Became a Civil Libertarian's Nightmare
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“During the Bush administration, we developed the rule of ‘we can kill you, but you can’t kill us,’” Frakt wrote. “Now, under the Obama administration, we have added a corollary… namely, ‘you can’t kill us, only we can kill us,’” referring to killing U.S. citizens abroad where “capture is not feasible.” The Stand Your Ground laws “are the logical domestic criminal counterpart to our nation’s aggressive pre-emptive self defense doctrine, under which we have gone to war on the same flimsy suspicions that George Zimmerman acted upon.”
The problem—as seen with more than 600 innocent people taken to Guantanamo—is that the White House can make mistakes. Cheney famously called them “the worst of the worst,” but by 2009 only one in seven were seen as being enemy combatants. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, responding to Holder’s talk, said that, “Based on what I’ve heard so far, I can’t tell whether or not the Justice Department’s legal arguments would allow the president to order intelligence agents to kill an American inside the United States.”
Domestic civil liberties are fragile. They are not the same as a World War II battlefield where a grunt shoots first and asks questions later. Civil liberties take years to create and accrue, whereas a domestic terrorist attack can occur in a flash and then unwind those protections quickly and for many years. What started under Bush and has continued under Obama are battlefield values that have been conflated with domestic policing.
Just as Stand Your Ground laws turn every American going about their lives into a threat that needs to be measured, so too does a growing surveillance state encroach on privacy and specific constitutional rights, such as freedom from warrantless searches, judicial review and other constitutional checks and balances.
The question, as Balkan noted at the start of the Obama presidency, is not whether we will have a growing surveillance and police state, but what that state will be like. Obama has begun to wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he hasn’t begun to roll back the most extreme civil liberties abuses tied to the earliest phases of that war. Liberals expected otherwise from a former constitutional law professor and candidate who campaigned against the excesses of the Bush administration.
Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).