Terrorism and Civil Liberties: Two Views on Obama, Neither of Them Comforting (Though For Different Reasons)


Beltway pundit and habitual pants-wetter Richard Cohen of the Wash Post writes:

There is almost nothing the Obama administration does regarding terrorism that makes me feel safer. Whether it is guaranteeing captured terrorists that they will not be waterboarded, reciting terrorists their rights, or the legally meandering and confusing rule that some terrorists will be tried in military tribunals and some in civilian courts, what is missing is a firm recognition that what comes first is not the message sent to America's critics but the message sent to Americans themselves. When, oh when, will this administration wake up?…

KSM, Abdulmutallab and other accused terrorists should be tried. But these two are not Americans, and they are accused of terrorism, tantamount to an act of war—a virtual Pearl Harbor, in KSM's case. A military tribunal would fit them fine. If it is good enough for your average GI accused of murder or some such thing, it ought to be good enough for a foreign national with mass murder on his mind.

No doubt George Bush soiled America's image abroad with what looked liked vigilante justice and Dick Cheney's hearty endorsement of ugly interrogation measures. But more is at stake here than America's image abroad—namely the security and peace of mind of Americans in America. Bush stands condemned by the facts for Sept. 11—his watch, his responsibility—and in all likelihood he bent over backward to ensure that nothing like those attacks would happen again.

More here (hat tip: Glenn Greenwald on Twitter).

Since the important thing for Cohen is apparently not what actually happens but "the message sent to Americans themselves," I await his call for longer airport wait lines and other aspects of security theater that may or may not enhance safety but will make us all feel more secure. To use the underwear bomber as an example: Giving a demonstrably incompetent government more power and less oversight doesn't seem like a great fix to anything.

Here's The Wash Times's Eli Lake talking up Obama's slowness on filling out the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), which was created in 2004 to make sure the government wasn't illegally spying on citizens (which it has a nasty habit of doing). He talks to a couple of real commie-symps in the piece, the heads of the 9/11 commission that recommended the panel, former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) and former Gov. Tom Kean (R-N.J.):

"You need somebody out here in the government that is checking everything that is done with regard to security, and asking themselves, can it be done better with a little more respect for privacy and civil liberties?" said former Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, a Democrat who was chairman of the House International Relations Committee.

Mr. Hamilton said that "if you have an argument today in the [intelligence] bureaucracy between the security people and the civil liberties people, I'll tell you who's going to win the argument. It'll be the security people every time."

Former Gov. Thomas H. Kean, New Jersey Republican, said the civil liberties board "had disappeared."

He added, "We have now a massive capacity in this country to develop data on individuals, and the board should be the champion of seeing that collection capabilities do not intrude into privacy and civil liberties."

The Obama administration's inaction contradicts the White Houses public message of being a champion for civil liberties.

Lake's story here.

So is Obama a namby-pamby on security, as Cohen fears? Or is he actually following up on Bush's basic policies, which are probably not all that comforting from either a security POV or a civil liberties one? Reason's Michael Moynihan talked with Lake about this last March: