Drones

Obama Debates the War on Terror With Himself

The president criticizes his own abuses of executive power.

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Last week a guy named Barack Obama gave a speech in which he expressed appropriate concern about the abuse of government power in the name of fighting terrorism. Too bad he's not in a position to do anything about it.

Obama, who used to teach constitutional law at the University of Chicago, quoted James Madison's warning that "no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare." Yet by declaring war against Al Qaeda and its shifting and proliferating allies and offshoots—groups that will not disappear or surrender anytime in the foreseeable future—he has reinforced the rationale for a never-ending military struggle that sacrifices civil liberties on the altar of national security.

Regarding one especially controversial aspect of that struggle, the used of unmanned aircraft to execute people the president identifies as terrorists, Obama incoherently argues that such assassinations are legitimate acts of war and that they are governed by due process (at least when the targets are U.S. citizens). To make matters even more confusing, he says the requirements of due process can be met through secret deliberations within the executive branch.

Obama nevertheless raised the possibility of establishing "a special court to evaluate and authorize lethal action," which he said "has the benefit of bringing a third branch of government into the process but raises serious constitutional issues about presidential and judicial authority." In other words, the advantage of consulting a court is that it would subject Obama's death warrants to independent review; the disadvantage is that it would subject Obama's death warrants to independent review.

News outlets such as NBC, Time, and The New York Times reported that Obama had announced stricter criteria for targeted killings. But his assurance that "we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people" was consistent with the secret Justice Department white paper that NBC published last February, which defines "imminent threat" so loosely that it loses all force as an independent requirement for adding someone to the president's kill list.

In addition to worrying about his assassination program, which he said could "lead a president and his team to view drone strikes as a cure-all for terrorism" and "end up shielding our government from the public scrutiny that a troop deployment invites," Obama worried about his practice of indefinitely detaining people without charge. He called the military prison at Guantanamo Bay "a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law."

While it's true that Republican legislators have interfered with Obama's attempt to close Guantanamo, he has considerable leeway to reduce the prison's population without congressional approval, as he demonstrated by lifting a self-imposed moratorium on freeing Yemenis, who account for two-thirds of the 86 low-level detainees cleared for release. And even without Republican obstruction, Obama plans to keep some Guantanamo detainees in the legal limbo he decries as an affront to the rule of law—just at a different location.

Similarly, the same president who has used the "state secrets" doctrine to block lawsuits by victims of torture and targets of warrantless surveillance called for "careful constraints on the tools the government uses to protect sensitive information, such as the state secrets doctrine." Obama doubled down on the hypocrisy by condemning torture and calling for "privacy protections" (even while advocating an expansion of the government's snooping abilities).

What else about Obama's national security policies bothers Obama? "I'm troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable," he said, presumably referring to the FBI's use of administrative subpoenas to demand two months of Associated Press telephone records after the organization published a story about a foiled terrorist attack. Maybe he also had in mind the Justice Department's consideration of criminal charges against journalists who obtain classified information.

In short, Obama raised many valid points about executive power run amuck. If only he had the president's ear.

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  3. Obama, who used to teach constitutional law at the University of Chicago…

    The University of Chicago wishes people would stop pointing this out.

    1. “I preach, but I don’t practice. That’s for you chumps.”

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    2. “I was a constitutional law professor, which means unlike the current president I actually respect the Constitution.”

      Heh.

      Fist, what you make of this?

      http://www.factcheck.org/2008/…..professor/

  4. why does anyone even listen to this fool? I mean it’s the same ol’ speech over and over… just change the nouns.

    1. why does anyone even listen to this fool?

      That’s racist! Unless you were suggesting that Sullum is the fool.

  5. The con law “professor” thing gets thrown around a lot as evidence that Obama is somehow a really smart guy. I think it’s the opposite, my con law professors in law school were pretty much useless. I’m sure my experience isn’t unique in this area.

    1. Well, it’s not like it gets used all that much anymore.

      1. What? That old musty thing? Progress, man! Keep moving forward, comrade.

        1. Have you seen how long that thing is?

      2. The constitution? That things, like, a hundred years old or something… written by slave owning dead white men… not relevant to the modern world… /derp

        1. and the guys who wrote it talked like fags

          1. …and wore funny shoes and ate flummery.

    2. con law

      That’s a good way of describing his area of expertise. “Con law”. That’s exactly the sort of law he practices.

  6. This Obama guy is seriously worried about all of this power getting into the wrong hands. Right now, they are safely in the right hands. What would happen if the power got into the hands of say, a Republican? That is what he and his obsequious toadies are saying. And they are perfectly clear about that.

  7. Obama Debates the War on Terror With Himself

    So much easier than having to debate another human being whose position he might not wish to consider.

    1. “So much easier than having to debate another human being whose position he might not wish to consider.”

      I dunno. Obozo pretty much beats the crap out of himself in some arguments:

      1. Here we go:
        “Obama incoherently argues that such assassinations are legitimate acts of war and that they are governed by due process (at least when the targets are U.S. citizens). To make matters even more confusing, he says the requirements of due process can be met through secret deliberations within the executive branch.”
        One of the Obozos is pretty bloody after that exchange.

  8. “I’m troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable,” he said

    “If only I could find a way to make this a *certainty*.”

    Continuing to study Obamaese ….

  9. I like the cut of this Obama fellas jib. We ought to run him for President or something.

    What? Really. Oh.

    The excuses for Guantanamo drive me nuts. First, it’s not like he’s even tried to close it. Even if there was some serious obstruction (and considering his control of congress early on, this seems a bit much)he, as President, could still make sure the conditions there were far more humane and in keeping with fair treatment of prisoners.

    I’ve can’t think of another President who, after seven years, refused to take responsibility for their own policies. After being in office more than half a decade, putting everything on Bush seems more than slightly ridiculous.

    1. putting everything on Bush seems more than slightly ridiculous.

      Particularly since he insists on putting putting everything on Bush on Bush.

      1. He set himself up perfectly for when things don’t pan out. In the end he’ll just say, “look, we tried. But Bush’s policies simply fucked things up too much. GOP obstructionism didn’t help. Thank you. Good night. I love you!”

        /one clap in audience.

    2. Even if there was some serious obstruction (and considering his control of congress early on, this seems a bit much)

      IIRC most of the “obstructionism” was coming from his own side. He was going to try and transfer the prisoners to supermax prisons that were located in blue districts, such as one in IL, and the congressmen whose districts the prisons were in balked at the idea. Go figure.

      1. But transferring them to Supermax prisons wouldn’t be any better, if your concern is the indefinite detention and harsh treatment. Supermax is worse treatment and less humane than Gitmo. That’s why, e.g., Feingold objected to the plan even though they weren’t going to be transferred to his state.

        Transferring them to Supermax prisons was a total sideshow, unless people (including possibly the President) are dumb enough to believe that the problem is Gitmo itself instead of the detention and conditions.

  10. “Obama, who used to teach constitutional law at the University of Chicago, quoted James Madison’s …”

    Very amumsing.

    James Madison said quite a few things that you will never catch Obama quoting.

    Such as “charity is no part of the legislative duty of government”.

    Or this:

    “With respect to the words general welfare, I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators” – James Madison.

    1. “With respect to the words general welfare, I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators” – James Madison.

      Any cite on where that came from?

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