8 Ways Obama Is As Bad — Or Worse — Than Bush On Civil Liberties

Despite a rare court victory on Friday, Obama’s legacy is dismal.

Photo Credit: WhiteHouse.gov

March 18, 2013  |  

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Civil libertarians won a rare court victory against the Obama Administration’s ‘War on Terror’ on Friday when a U.S. District Court blocked the FBI from ordering telecom companies to turn over their customer’s data, such as e-mails and other records, and blocked FBI gag orders on this domestic spying program.

“In today’s ruling, the court held that the gag order provisions of the statute violate the First Amendment and that the review procedures violate separation of powers,” Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyers, who brought the suit, said. “Because those provisions were not separable from the rest of the statute, the court declared the entire statute unconstitutional.”

This is the second time in recent months that civil libertarians have won a court victory over the Obama administration, although it is all but certain that it will appeal and seek to suspend the ruling. Last fall, a federal court suspended a section of a major defense bill that gave the government permission to arrest people who were suspected of speaking with alleged terrorists, which included several journalists who sued. However, another federal court reinstated that provision pending appeal.

“What is appears to illustrate is there are probably duel U.S. Pakistani nationals or maybe U.S. Afghan nationals who are being detained in military facilities and denied due process,” said Chris Hedges, an ex-foreign correspondent who sued.

What these developments underscore is that the Obama Administration barely differs from the George W. Bush Administration when it comes to the ‘War on Terrorism.’ While the Obama Administration has not continued specific tactics used by his predecessor, such as CIA black sites and specific torture techniques known as “enhanced interrogation,” it has gone further than Bush in other areas, such as with targeted assassinations using drones, and expanding the domestic national security state.

“There are the two War on Terror presidents,” wrote Glenn Greenwald recently. “ George Bush seized on the 9/11 attack to usher in radical new surveillance and detention powers in the PATRIOT ACT, spied for years on the communications of US citizens without the warrants required by law, and claimed the power to indefinitely imprison even US citizens without charges in military brigs.

“His successor, Barack Obama, went further by claiming the power not merely to detain citizens without judicial review but to assassinate them (about which the New York Times said: ‘It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing’). He has waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, dusting off [Woodrew] Wilson’s Espionage Act of 1917 to prosecute more then double the number of whistleblowers than all prior presidents combined. And he has draped his actions with at least as much secrecy, if not more so, than any president in US history.”

Let’s go through these and other areas that, as the National Journal said, should result in an “F” for Obama when historians assess his civil liberties record.

This February, BillMoyers.com published a list of eight contrasting the Obama and Bush Administrations on civil liberties. On six of the eight areas, Obama expanded or codified his predecessor’s policies:

1. Patriot Act is renewed on May 27, 2011: “Obama signs a renewal of several of the Patriot Act’s most controversial segments, including the use of ‘ roving wiretaps,’ the government’s expanded access to business records, and the ‘lone wolf’ provision, which allows surveillance of individuals not affiliated with any known terrorist organization. 

2. Wiretaps and Data Collections: “On December 30, 2012, Obama signs a five-year extension of the FISA Amendments Act. Provisions for more oversight and public disclosure failed to pass Congress.” (This is the law that the Electronic Frontier Foundation challenged and won a U.S. District Court injunction against last week. The administration has 90 days to appeal.)