Obama and Civil Liberties: Talk of the Nation

Today, I will appearing on the National Public Radio (NPR) program, Talk of the Nation to discussing my column in the Los Angeles Times on Barack Obama’s disastrous impact on civil liberties in the United States. The piece has generated some interesting discussion on the LA Times blog as well as other blogs. Despite my disagreement with some of the commenters, any discussion of civil liberties is welcomed in this political atmosphere. Ironically, the day of the column (which specifically discussed the President’s assertion of his right to kill citizens he considers terrorists), President Obama ordered the killing of U.S. cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi and reportedly a second U.S. born cleric. [Update: Here is the TOTN interview].

On another note, I was asked by the editors to clarify the difference between civil liberties and civil rights. Here is the posting:

In Thursday’s Op-Ed pages, Jonathan Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University, wrote that President Obama may prove the most disastrous president in our history in terms of civil liberties. (Ironically, his article ran the same day Obama ordered the killing of Anwar Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to Al Qaeda, thus further proving Turley’s point.) While the response on our discussion board overwhelmingly agreed with Turley’s Op-Ed, there were a few readers who didn’t understand the difference between civil liberties and civil rights. See below for Turley’s reply.

–Alexandra Le Tellier

My column was on civil liberties, which are those basic rights and freedoms guaranteed under our Bill of Rights and the Constitution. While they do not change in the sense that they are fundamental rights, they have been “recognized” in a belated or evolving fashion by the courts. Civil liberties include those core rights we associate with freedom, such as free speech, privacy, due process. Civil rights generally refer to laws that protect us from unequal treatment or harassment based on such characteristics as race, gender, age, disability, religion/belief, sexual orientation and nationality.

Notably, Obama has been criticized on both fronts. While he recently moved against “don’t ask, don’t tell,” his administration has been in court making the same arguments as the George W. Bush administration in denying that discrimination based on sexual orientation should be treated the same as discrimination based on race, religion or gender. He remains undecided on same-sex marriage. These are viewed as civil rights matters.

The subject of my column is properly called civil liberties. At issue, for example, is the right of the president to unilaterally declare that citizens should be killed on sight because his administration deems them part of a terrorist organization.

I hope that helps a little.

–Jonathan Turley

78 thoughts on “Obama and Civil Liberties: Talk of the Nation”

  1. “For those people looking for an alternative to Obama, someone who is strong on civil liberties then go to http://www.GaryJohnson2012.com and do some research.”

    I read your link until I read “privatized half the prisons.” Prisons should be run by state employees. Prisoners transferred to private prisons change from prisoner to slave.

  2. For those people looking for an alternative to Obama, someone who is strong on civil liberties then go to http://www.GaryJohnson2012.com and do some research. There are at least two candidates in the GOP race that would be better than Obama on civil liberties: Johnson, Paul, and maybe Huntsman. Paul is just too old, but when the issue of torture was asked in the first debate Johnson and Paul were the only ones who said no to torture.

    Johnson on al-Awlaki:

    ” At the same time we cannot allow the War on Terror to diminish our steadfast adherence to the notion of due process for American citizens. The protections under the Constitution for those accused of crimes do not just apply to people we like — they apply to everyone, including a terrorist like al-Awlaki. It is a question of due process for American citizens.”…

    “If we allow our fervor to eliminate terrorist threats to cause us to cut corners with the Constitution and the fundamental rights of American citizens, whether it be invasions of privacy or the killing of someone born on U.S. soil, I could argue that the terrorists will have ultimately won.”


  3. There is a new piece which ran in OpEdNews, FireDogLake and HPUB (Huffington Post Union of Bloggers) on this same topic titled : Free Speech and Civil Rights in the PR Age of Obama. It is written by Jeanine Molloff, a Huffpo blogger. It covers the Awlaki murder and the arrest of Jubair Ahmad for the crime of speech.

  4. Jill, the reason you can’t understand other views about this may be that you start with at best highly controversial, unsubstantiated premises that you don’t question the way you’d apparently like others, like Obama supporters, to question their beliefs.

    Almost everything you say about Obama is false or unsubstantiated opinion, but to take just one example to illustrate, you start your list with “He broke our law by refusing to prosecute people who committed torture and war crimes.”

    Unless you have in mind some as yet unpublished examples, this is just false, but that doesn’t stop it from being taken as an article of faith on the far Left, who have absolute certainty that everyone from President Bush to Rumsfeld to Yoo to . . . [insert midlevel authorities] . . . to the lowest CIA operative who conducted waterboarding is clearly guilty and should be prosecuted. People know this without a trial where the facts and a defense could be presented, and usually without knowing the applicable law very well, without having read the relevant documents, such as the Margolis letter explaining why no sanctions would be recommended against Yoo, and so on. That’s a faith-based approach to the issue.

    US law regarding torture essentially requires that there be proof of bad faith to get a conviction, that those charged knew they were breaking the law or had plenty of reason to know it. There’s simply no good evidence to show that in the cases of those who created the “enhanced interrogation” guidelines and applied them. Therefore the most likely outcome of prosecutions would be acquittals.

    Is that what you want, for those who abused detainees with techniques that most regard as torture to be found innocent, setting an affirmative precedent for future abuses?

    Prosecutors have some latitude in deciding what to prosecute, based on factors including how strong the evidence is. In general it’s an abuse of power to bring prosecutions where there’s no likelihood of conviction; in this case it would unavoidably be a huge political circus likely to actually set back the cause of human rights with undesirable precedents.

    The root problem here lies in the law as written, which needs to be more precise. That’s where progressives should be focussing their efforts, but apparently the desire for retribution is stronger than the desire to accomplish something practical.

    Some people have a tendency to see things in simple, clean black and white, a kind of of fundamentalism. That has its uses, I suppose. But if you (or others here) have that tendency, it will keep you from understanding Obama and his policies, and the complex, messy facts that underlie them.

  5. S.M.

    I certainly appreciate that it would take time to answer this question and this not being a good day to do so. So if you could, if you decide to advocate for Obama before the election approaches next year, if you would help me understand that advocacy, I would be very grateful to you for that explanation. Thanks!

  6. The reason I will not answer you is as follows:

    I really don’t have a legitimate answer for you that you would not laugh me out of the room.

    1. Do people really read what you people write? First of all, I tried to find a train of thought, and couldn’t do it. And you should blog on Huffington Post. Maybe you’ll get a badge.

  7. Jill, I have a lot of work to do today and don’t have the time to answer all of your questions. I think we should wait until the election approaches next year and assess the possibilities. There is a debate tonight on Bloomberg news. It is supposed to focus exclusively on economic issues.

  8. S.M.,

    This is a sincere question. I am not trying to attack you. It is a problem that I don’t understand. You write: “Jill, I really don’t think there is much of a cult of personality any more. We are just trying to avoid total tea party republican dominance.”

    Please help me understand why you believe supporting Obama will avoid the abuses of tea party Republican dominance. Here’s why I ask. The following is a short list of things Obama has done. He broke our law by refusing to prosecute people who committed torture and war crimes. Further, many of these same war and financial criminals were appointed to key positions within the Obama administration. Just as you point out there is something at least fishy about Erin formerly working for GS, most of Obama’s top advisers worked for GS and were implicated in the 08 economic crash. People who committed torture were appointed to key positions within the military.

    Illegal surveillance of the population has increased under Obama.

    The wars have continued with a troop increase in Afghanistan and a completely illegal invasion of Libya. The use of drones has increased by an order of magnitude under Obama since Bush with the resulting death of nearly 2000 civilians; men, women and children. The US uses cluster bombs. The US is in 6 hot wars. The US greenlighted the massacre of protesters in Bahrain, afterwords selling that govt. some of our most sophisticated weapons. Obama is building another huge prison in Afghanistan which will be off limits to any law, US or Afghan. Obama conducts extra judicial renditions to nation’s besides us who torture. Obama has declared his right to kill any American citizen he deems a threat on his say so.

    Obama’s Federal Reserve has been secretly doling out trillions of dollars to his donors, money we as taxpayers are on the hook for. Obama is refusing to prosecute or stop the illegalities in the banking industry which are still occurring (see the blog nakedcapitialism for a very good list of those illegalities). The banks have devised even more sophisticated gambling instruments which most non-govt. sponsored economists point out will crash the economy again, only much worse even than in 08.

    Obama supports public money for religious institutions to run schools and some other formerly public programs. Obama cut off the ability for the highest risk, most impoverished women in our nation from purchasing abortion coverage. He took single payer off the table from the beginning.

    While spending 30 million every hour for his wars, he supports the reduction of social security and medicare/medicaid. He has consistently supported oil and gas drilling/fracking and cut funds to alternative energy companies.

    So many questions arise in my mind. First, if Obama is doing all this and more while still needing votes from loyal supporters, what will he do when he no longer needs your vote? Why do you trust someone who did all these things not to institute more of the very worst policies one can imagine.

    Further, how is supporting a person who does all this going to prevent Tea Party abuses? It seems to me that it would guarantee them. Should someone from the Tea Party get elected every single power claimed by Obama passes to that person. Wouldn’t it make more sense to withdraw support, consent to any president who has claimed all these illegal powers so that any succeeding president will know they may not claim these powers to break our law? Wouldn’t a firm, no to Obama send a message to the elites who run all the major party candidates that we the people will not tolerate such illegalities and cruelties in our political class?

    I’m laying this out the best I can and I hope you can help me understand your thinking on the matter. I would appreciate your response and I give my word in no way will I attack what you say. I may have further questions but I will ask them in a respectful and kind manner.

  9. Elaine,

    Thanks for your update since the other day. I had just started looking into him after your post stating that you would consider voting for him.

    I completely agree with your statement: “in this country, it’s the wealthiest citizens who have become the “important” people to most politicians and many members of the media.” The one thing that has a chance of moving around the stranglehold of the ruling elite over every aspect of our lives is an informed, energized, ethically consistent population. OWS is correct, we are the 99% What we lack in connections to the elites we make up for in numbers.

    I did find some parts of Moore’s film, “Capitalism a love story” quite interesting. Citigroup had written an analysis calling the US a Plutonomy. The authors pointed out that the concentration of wealth was only likely to continue. One thing that might stop this concentration from continuing was people being without jobs, getting fed up, then using their numbers to unite together to fight back. I believe this is why we see a great deal of police state violence directed at OWS. Even in my town, there was surveillance and what looked like sharp shooters on tall buildings surrounding our protest. The elites are afraid. I don’t underestimate their power but we should not underestimate our own.

  10. That maybe true…But all’s you have to do is look in the mirror…I think misandry fits well…

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