This has been a uniquely bad week for civil libertarians. The Obama Administration appears to be rushing to dispel any notions that Obama will fight for civil liberties or war crimes investigations. After Eric Holder allegedly assured a senator that there would be no war crimes investigation and seemed to defend Bush policies, Harvard Law Dean Elena Kagan, Obama’s Solicitor General nominee, reportedly told a Republican senator that the Administration agreed with Bush that we are “at war” and therefore can hold enemy combatants indefinitely. In the meantime, Obama himself seemed to tie himself in knots when asked about investigating war crimes and leading democrats are again pushing for a symbolic “truth commission.” I discussed these issues in this segment of Countdown this week.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) both raised the issue with Kagan. Both supported Bush’s policies. Graham asked Kagan: “Do you believe we are at war?”
“I do, Senator,” Kagan replied.
One would have hoped that a solicitor general nominee would ask if he meant a constitutional war or a policy war. We have declared wars on everything from illiteracy to inflation. However, the framers treated war as a more serious matter that required a declaration (though Congress has effectively gutted that requirement through the use of resolutions). If we are at war, when does it end? Terrorism will continue for centuries. Will we remain at war with war time powers being exercised? Since the Solicitor General is required to apply the law with precision, Kagan’s reply is extremely alarming.
Graham then asked “If our intelligence agencies should capture someone in the Philippines that is suspected of financing Al Qaeda worldwide, would you consider that person part of the battlefield?” “Do you agree with that?”
Kagan replied, “I do” and the marriage with the Bush policies was complete. So much for change. Both Holder and Kagan have now taken such a vow with Senators in order to secure their confirmations. The message appears to be a uniquely English approach to government. We will continue policies and laws that can do great harm to civil liberties, but we will use them in a beneficent way. Your “change” is not that we will get rid of the policies. Your change is that you get us. This “trust us we’re the government” approach to civil liberties was precisely what Madison and other framers rejected. To have a well-respected academic voice such views is a terrible disappointment for civil libertarians, who are being offered a meaningful commission as a type of air kiss toward war crimes.
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