What the hell, Obama?

If you’ve read here over the last year, you’ll know that I’ve pretty much lost all hope that Obama is going to fix things–I’m willing to live with “won’t make it worse”, and clearly he was a better choice than the alternative, but I am labouring under no illusion now that he’s going to actually undo all the evils of the previous administration.

But it still kind of breaks my heart when he not just fails to fix a problem, but actually goes out and does wrong.

Let me quote:

At this point, I didn’t believe it was possible, but the Obama administration has just reached an all-new low in its abysmal civil liberties record.  In response to the lawsuit filed by Anwar Awlaki’s father asking a court to enjoin the President from assassinating his son, a U.S. citizen, without any due process, the administration late last night, according to The Washington Post, filed a brief asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit without hearing the merits of the claims.  That’s not surprising:  both the Bush and Obama administrations have repeatedly insisted that their secret conduct is legal but nonetheless urge courts not to even rule on its legality.  But what’s most notable here is that one of the arguments the Obama DOJ raises to demand dismissal of this lawsuit is “state secrets”:  in other words, not only does the President have the right to sentence Americans to death with no due process or charges of any kind, but his decisions as to who will be killed and why he wants them dead are “state secrets,” and thus no court may adjudicate their legality.

This is particularly egregious because Obama is a smart guy, so he doesn’t get the Bush-pass of “he doesn’t understand the ramifications”–hell, dude was a professor of constitutional law: he SHOULD KNOW BETTER. If anyone should understand “checks and balances” and the limits of government power… (Not to mention the specific constitutional issues around the requirement for treason to be proven via due process, and that nobody gets killed without it–see Greenwald’s article.)

I also find this argument especially bitterly ironic in light of Obama’s stated position on transparency.

Let me quote Glen again:

If the President has the power to order American citizens killed with no due process, and to do so in such complete secrecy that no courts can even review his decisions, then what doesn’t he have the power to do?

I’m just disgusted. With Obama. With the advisors who are telling him this is the right way to go. With the people who support it. With anyone who doesn’t understand just what allowing this means about a society.

  4 comments for “What the hell, Obama?

  1. October 7, 2010 at 12:12 am

    You may’ve noticed me quoting this, but it can’t be repeated often enough, imho. Adolph Reed got Obama right in 1996: “In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices: one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program—the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics here, as in Haiti and wherever the International Monetary Fund has sway.”

  2. Lachlan O'Dea
    October 7, 2010 at 2:00 am

    I don’t think the process in this case is quite so arbitrary as has been portrayed here. Congress authorised the use of military force against al-Qaeda. The National Security Council signed off on targeting Al-Awlaki specifically. Does his U.S. citizenship override his status as an enemy combatant? Of course, that status has not been proven in a court of law, but unfortunately we can’t conduct trials to work out who we can legitimately shoot at. I would hope and expect that if Al-Awlaki agreed to turn himself in to U.S. authorities, the kill order would be rescinded and he’d be tried on charges of terrorism and treason. If he doesn’t like living under a death sentence, and is innocent as he claims, why doesn’t he offer to turn himself in?

    But in general, there is huge potential for abuse here. I’m very glad Al-Awlaki’s targeting was made public knowledge, as that itself is a major check on the use of powers like this. But as far as I know, the Administration could have kept it secret, which is a big concern for me. Some explicit and binding checks and balances on an executive wanting to exercise powers like this are very warranted, I think.

    • October 7, 2010 at 8:49 am

      In re: the “turn himself in” question, let me quote some more of Greenwald, which addresses just that:

      The same Post article quotes a DOJ spokesman as saying that Awlaki “should surrender to American authorities and return to the United States, where he will be held accountable for his actions.” But he’s not been charged with any crimes, let alone indicted for any. The President has been trying to kill him for the entire year without any of that due process. And now the President refuses even to account to an American court for those efforts to kill this American citizen on the ground that the President’s unilateral imposition of the death penalty is a “state secret.” And, indeed, American courts — at Obama’s urging — have been upholding that sort of a “state secrecy” claim even when it comes to war crimes such as torture and rendition. Does that sound like a political system to which any sane, rational person would “surrender”?

  3. Lachlan O'Dea
    October 7, 2010 at 2:11 am

    Oh, I probably should also say that I agree that the “state secrets” defence is, indeed, bullshit. It always has been bullshit, always will be bullshit. This case has that (surprisingly common) extra bit of bullshit of the alleged secret already being public knowledge.

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This work by Chris McLaren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada.