“Indefinite Detention” – Obama Continuing Bush Policies

So, on Friday the Washington Post and and ProPublica reported that President Obama is considering “an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely,” furthering his slide into continuing the worst of the Bush administration policies in the so-called “war on terror.”

A month ago, on May 21, President Obama proposed what the New York Times described as “a new legal system in which terrorism suspects could be held in “prolonged detention” inside the United States without trial.”

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow rightly took the President to task on this, and his hypocrisy for proposing it in the same speech where Obama repudiated the abuses of the Constitution by President Bush’s administration, in front of the Constitution at the National Archives, no less.

Now, this would be just as bad as far as the constitutionality of what we’d be doing if the President got together with congress as he previously suggested, to imprison people indefinitely, without charge, because we think they may be dangerous.  Something we Americans grew up to believe could not happen in this country. 

Adding to the disturbing continuation of the Bush era policies though, is President Obama’s grab for executive privilege.  Like Bush, he’s going to decide who is or isn’t a threat to the United States of America.  Even more disturbingly, in the Washington Post article, his spokesperson claimed this is what civil liberties groups asked for!

White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said that there is no executive order and that the administration has not decided whether to issue one. But one administration official suggested that the White House is already trying to build support for an order.

“Civil liberties groups have encouraged the administration, that if a prolonged detention system were to be sought, to do it through executive order,” the official said. Such an order could be rescinded and would not block later efforts to write legislation, but civil liberties groups generally oppose long-term detention, arguing that detainees should be prosecuted or released.


Thankfully Glen Greenwald’s excellent latest article in Salon on the subject challenges that statement:

Those journalistic practices produce egregious sentences like this:  “‘Civil liberties groups have encouraged the administration, that if a prolonged detention system were to be sought, to do it through executive order’, the official said.”  I’d love to know which so-called “civil liberties groups” are pushing the White House for an Executive Order establishing the power of indefinite detention.  It’s certainly not the ACLU or Center for Constitutional Rights, both of which issued statements vehemently condemning the proposal (ACLU’s Anthony Romero:  “If President Obama issues an executive order authorizing indefinite detention, he’ll be repeating the same mistakes of George Bush”). 

What makes this ironically more difficult, is that it’s harder to get people to pay attention and stand up to continuing these policies under the Obama administration.  My experience with the issue tabling for Amnesty International is that many think Guantanamo and the War on Terror are ancient history. If it’s not all over now, it’s going to end. Maybe, too, after years of fighting Bush, everyone wants a break and to get back to the rest of their life.  But this is our Constitution, and our lives.

As Greenwald notes:

Absent serious public opposition (and one recent poll shows overwhelming opposition), it seems highly likely that Barack Obama will wield the power to imprison people indefinitely without charges of any kind.

Then there’s the Presidential power grab, which certainly I never thought Obama would be party to.  Greenwald again (and the highlighting is from the original):

There has now emerged a very clear — and very disturbing — pattern whereby Obama is willing to use legal mechanisms and recognize the authority of other branches only if he’s assured that he’ll get the outcome he wants.

That bad?  Consider what’s already happened.

That, for instance, is the precise pattern that’s driving his suppression of torture photos.  Two federal courts ordered the President to release the photos under the 40-year-old Freedom of Information Act.  Not wanting to abide by that decision, the White House (using Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman) tried to pressure Congress to enact new legislation vesting the administration with the power to override FOIA.  When House progressives blocked that bill, the White House assured Lieberman and Graham that Obama would simply use an Executive Order to decree the photos “classified” (when they are plainly nothing of the sort) and thus block their release anyway. 

The Freedom of Information Act does not apply to this President.  I didn’t think I’d be writing these words again so soon after we innaugerated the good guy in January. So do we challenge it?  Where is everyone?

What ultimately matters here is that we not lose sight of the critical point:  no matter the form it takes, and no matter which route is used to implement it (act of Congress or executive order), indefinite detention without charges is a repugnant and tyrannical power.  Democrats and progressives had no trouble understanding that fact during the last eight years, so they should have no trouble understanding it now.

One of the most disturbing things about all this to me is that one of Obama’s strongest points to me as a candidate was that he was a constitutional professor.  I attended an Obama Salon a year ago highlighting that fact.

ObamaSalons: Restoring the Constitution (Community Service)
Please join us for Restoring the Constitution, the first installment of ObamaSalons. Christian Halliburton, a professor of constitutional law in the Seattle University School of Law, will offer his perspective on the role of the U.S. Constitution, the importance of habeas corpus and the ongoing legal issues surrounding detentions at Guantanamo Bay. Professor Halliburton will talk about Obama’s background as a constitutional law professor and lead a discussion about what having a constitutional expert in the White House could mean for restoring America’s legal foundation.
Don’t get me wrong.  I know Obama was the best we could do this time around (and all his Democratic opponents who were likely challengers are in fact in his administration, raising no protests I’ve heard of).  Kucininch or the Greens or Nader couldn’t have made it.  I knew we’d have to fight him to be stronger on some issues.  Still. . .  I didn’t expect us to be fighting on indefinite detentions and Presidential power grabs.  Accountability, yeah, I figured as a Democrat he’d wimp out on holding those in the Bush administration accountable for torture (while Republican’s try to throw people out of office for affairs, only to amusingly get caught themselves).
We can’t keep going down this path and thinking it’s okay because President Obama is in charge and he’s a good guy.  Our Constitution was created for a reason and without it, none of us are safe.  Sure, it may be easy for people to ignore us rounding up people in other countries, many of them turned in by their neighbors or strangers for huge rewards and no real evidence of threat to the US; but who’s to say it won’t happen here – to you or me.  Once the power is there, somewhere down the road we’re in danger of it being further misused.
Ironically, one of the songs I remember playing at the Obama rally I made it to early on in the campaign here, at the Qwest Field events center, was the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”  I was still, rightly, a skeptic at the time (even though I already thought he was the best electable choice).
Amazing how timely that tune still stays.  Here’s The Who at Live 8 in 2006:
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Guess I should have been paying more attention to that song.

And I get on my knees and pray. . .