Obama and The Leap Of Faith

PresObamaAfter the Inauguration, I shared my thoughts on President Barack Obama’s address. I liked the speech but, as with many civil libertarians, I do not share the faith in his commitment to principle — at least not the principles behind civil liberties. Below is today’s print column that touches on some of the same themes with a few additional observations.


The theme of President Obama’s second inauguration speech was promoted as “Faith in America’s Future.” Indeed, speaking to a smaller crowd with polls showing his popularity at a low of 49 percent, Obama was clearly speaking to the faithful – a core who continued to rally around this iconic figure. For others, the theme seemed often seemed more “Hope Over Experience.”

Though the president spoke eloquently of fulfilling Martin Luther King’s dream, his first term was most notable for fulfilling Richard Nixon’s dream of an “Imperial Presidency.” From kill lists to warrantless surveillance to drone attacks to secret evidence, Obama eviscerated values that once defined liberals. Then, by sheer power of personality, he made them love him for it.
Notably, the inauguration speech spoke of civil rights rather than civil liberties. The references to gay rights were unprecedented and commendable. However, it also reflected the difference between equality and liberty in Obama’s vision.
Civil libertarians have long complained that Obama has lowered the baseline of rights for all citizens with eroding privacy protections, unilateral presidential powers and limits on due process. We can all be treated equally and have few rights. Equal denial of rights is nothing to celebrate.

While heralding America’s triumph over the “tyranny of a king,” Obama has acquired near authoritarian powers in some areas. Early in his first term, the president shocked many by going to the CIA and publicly assuring CIA officials that they would not be prosecuted for torture — despite Obama’s recognition that waterboarding used by the Bush administration is indeed torture.
Ultimately, Obama has not only embraced the controversial Bush policies on surveillance, secrecy and presidential powers, he has also expanded those policies. Most notorious was his assertion of the power to kill any U.S. citizen considered a threat to the nation’s security.

His administration also has moved to squelch lawsuits designed to protect citizens from warrantless surveillance and investigations. The White House has adopted the rejected Nuremberg defense of “just following orders” in blocking charges against government officials responsible for torture and other abuses. Further, the administration has embraced the military tribunal system and the use of secret evidence in prosecuting certain defendants.

Even on the very values of equality embraced in the speech, Obama was offering hope over experience. Politics rather than principle have long guided this president.

Obama’s passion for gay rights was notably missing in his first term. During much of the past four years, the Obama administration fought against gay rights in a variety of cases in federal court, from challenges to “don’t ask, don’t tell” to the Defense of Marriage Act.

Even today, after switching legal positions on issues like DOMA in court, Obama has been unwilling to support the claim that sexual orientation should be given the same constitutional protection as race or even gender. It was Vice President Biden who forced Obama to publicly embrace same-sex marriage toward the end of his first term — public statements that Obama admitted angered him.

Though some insist that the president was merely exercising political realism in avoiding such divisive issues before re-election, it meant that he repeatedly chose politics over civil rights in his first term. The test of principle is to support equality even when it is not to your advantage.

Obama’s repeated insistence that “we must act” may foreshadow even more unilateral action in the future. The president has already proclaimed in the immigration area that he will not enforce certain laws. He has asserted the right to unilaterally define what constitutes a congressional “recess” to allow him to appoint high officials without Senate confirmation. He has claimed the right to attack other nations with drones based solely on his view of national interest.

To put it simply, Obama is the president Nixon longed to be. It will take more than a lip-synched Beyoncé performance to quiet these concerns. What was once a system of checks and balances has been replaced by a leap of faith that these powers will be used by Obama and his successors wisely.

It is faith in Obama, not our future, that has lulled too many into silence in the face of an Imperial President.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s board of contributors.

January 23, 2013

109 thoughts on “Obama and The Leap Of Faith”

  1. More About Intelligence Agencies (CIA/DNI) Spying

    January 18, 2013


    “Central Intelligence Agency. Because of the excessive secrecy surrounding CIA operations, little is known about its domestic activities. In its 1947 charter, the CIA was prohibited from spying against Americans, in part because President Truman was afraid that the agency would engage in political abuse. But the law didn’t stop the CIA from spying on Americans. During the 1960s, in clear violation of its statutory mission to co-ordinate foreign intelligence operations only, the CIA ventured into the domestic spying business through “Operation Chaos,” in which it spied on as many as 7,000 Americans involved in the peace movement.

    Unfortunately, the exposure of intelligence failings before the 9/11 attacks caused policy makers to promote “information sharing” among intelligence and law enforcement agencies as a cure-all, creating the likelihood that the CIA would increasingly operate domestically. Today we know that the CIA is a participant in FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which engage in both foreign and domestic terrorism investigations. And the USA Patriot Act eased restrictions on the sharing of information the FBI collects in grand jury investigations and law enforcement wiretaps with the CIA. An ACLU lawsuit revealed that the CIA has also used National Security Letters to demand Americans’ personal financial records without prior court approval. The CIA has acknowledged using National Security Letters “on a limited basis” to obtain financial information from U.S. companies. The history of the CIA’s abuse of power and the continuing lack of public accountability over CIA operations make such revelations concerning to civil liberties advocates. The CIA’s involvement in the NYPD intelligence activities targeting innocent Muslim communities in the Northeast reveal the CIA is once again treating Americans as suspected enemies.

    Director of National Intelligence. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), a new agency created in 2004 and tasked with coordinating, tasking and overseeing intelligence operations across the Intelligence Community, now has broad access to information collected domestically by the FBI and DHS. And the DNI’s Information Sharing Environment (ISE) has become a platform for what may become the largest domestic intelligence collection ever developed: the “suspicious activity reporting” (SAR) program. SAR leverages collection efforts by federal agencies like the FBI and DHS, the U.S. military, and state and local law enforcement. The SAR program is expanding to encourage the public to report the suspicious activities of their neighbors, reminiscent of the TIPS program promoted by former Attorney General John Ashcroft but blocked by Congress in 2002.

    National Counterterrorism Center. The National Counterterrorism Center is yet another component of the DNI that increasingly engages in collecting intelligence. Under its original guidelines, written in 2008, the NCTC was barred from collecting information about ordinary Americans unless the person was a terror suspect or part of an actual investigation. When the NCTC gobbled up huge data sets it had to search for and identify any innocent US person information inadvertently collected, and discard it within 180 days. This crucial check meant that NCTC was dissuaded from collecting large databases filled with information on innocent Americans, because the data had to then be carefully screened. But in 2012, the Obama administration amended the NCTC guidelines to eliminate this check, allowing NCTC to collect and “continually assess” information on innocent Americans for up to five years.

    Once information is acquired, the new guidelines authorize broad new search powers. As long NCTC says its search is aimed at identifying terrorism information, it may conduct queries that involve non-terrorism data points and pattern-based searches and analysis (data mining), a technique which has been thoroughly discredited as a useful tool for identifying terrorists. As far back as 2008, the National Academy of Sciences found that data mining for terrorism was scientifically “not feasible” as a methodology, and likely to have significant negative impacts on privacy and civil liberties. The guidelines allow the NCTC to broadly share this “non-terrorism” information on US persons with “a federal, state, local, tribal, or foreign or international entity, or to an individual or entity not part of a government” – literally anyone, even for non-terrorism related purposes. The ACLU has filed Freedom of Information Act requests to get further information about this broad new authority the NCTC claims.”

  2. Frequently told lies (FTLs)

    by Glenn Greenwald


    Anyone who develops any sort of platform in US political debates becomes a target of hostility and attack. That’s just the nature of politics everywhere. Those attacks often are advanced with falsehoods, fabrications and lies about the person. In general, the point of these falsehoods is to attack and discredit the messenger in lieu of engaging the substance of the critiques.

    There are a series of common lies frequently told about me which I’m addressing here. During the Bush years, when I was criticizing George Bush and the GOP in my daily writing and books, there was a set of lies about me personally that came from the hardest-core Bush followers that I finally addressed. The new set comes largely from the hardest-core Obama followers.

    The following lies are addressed here:

    1. I work/worked for the Cato Institute
    2. I’m a right-wing libertarian
    3. I supported the Iraq War and/or George Bush
    4. I moved to Brazil to protest US laws on gay marriage
    5. Because I live in Brazil, I have no “skin in the game” for US politics
    6. I was sanctioned or otherwise punished for ethical violations in my law practice


  3. Hey Rafflaw, I know all my relatives in Ressurection Cemetary in Chicago voted for obama and all the wino’s on 12th street did as well. Now add all those illegals the dems allowed to vote and those extra ballots they handed out to college kids in Florida.

  4. http://www.economist.com/mediadirectory/peter-collins

    PBC News & Comment: Alarming New Case of Torture and Rendition

    by Peter B. Collins on January 25, 2013

    British man reports torture in Djibouti, CIA interrogation, followed by rendition to US on unreported terrorism charge, jailed in NYC…..As reported by London’s Daily Mail on January 19, 23-year-old Mahdi Hashi is being held in New York, facing terrorism charges. He was reported missing last summer while traveling in Somalia, and reports he was held in Djibouti where he was tortured, and interrogated by CIA agents who coerced him into signing a confession.

    The Daily Mail’s First Exclusive Interview With Mahdi Hashi in The New York Jail: The Torture in Djibouti Ordeal In the Hands of CIA (with British Government ”Acquiescence”)


  5. Washington Journal for Monday, January 28


    Jonathan Turley, George Washington University Law School Law Professor

    Topic: Guest will discuss his views on President Obama’s use of executive power, arguing that the President’s unilateral actions have shown a pattern that undermines the constitutional system of checks and balances. Instances include privacy protections and surveillance; due process; the use of drones; government secrecy; assurances to CIA officials that they would not be prosecuted for torture; recess appointments, among others.

  6. For those who may not remember:

    Monday, Jun 7, 1999 12:00 PM EDT

    The real Henry Hyde scandal

    A new book lays out his role in a failed S&L, and it wasn’t just a youthful indiscretion.

    By David Moberg


    “All this might have crippled another politician, but Hyde has so far managed to hold the press at bay with a smile and the appearance of thoughtfulness, and his ideological opponents have failed to seriously confront him over the years. The result, as Bernstein and Kean argue, has been not only hypocrisy, but a persistent abuse of power that has led to the loss of lives and freedoms both at home and abroad. That’s more serious than a youthful indiscretion, but sadly, it won’t get the same attention.”


    Savings and Loan scandal

    In 1981, after leaving the House Banking Committee, Hyde went on the board of directors of Clyde Federal Savings and Loan, whose chairman was one of Hyde’s political contributors. According to Salon.com, from 1982 until he left the board in 1984, Hyde used his position on the board of directors to promote the savings and loan’s investment in risky financial options. In 1990, the federal government put Clyde in receivership, and paid $67 million to cover insured deposits. In 1993, the Resolution Trust Corporation sued Hyde and other directors for $17.2 million. Four years later, before pretrial investigation and depositions, the government settled with the defendants for $850,000 and made an arrangement exempting Hyde from paying anything. According to Salon.com, Hyde was the only member of the congress sued for “gross negligence” in an S&L failure.[4]

  7. rafflaw 1, January 25, 2013 at 11:49 am

    The savings and loan association crisis in the 80′s had it share of sacred cows. Cong. Henry Hyde was spared even though he was alleged to have been knee deep in the scandal as a board member of a local S&L.


    Regarding the “sacred cows” of the S&L crisis :

    Some will inevitably “get a pass”, of course, but better that there is some measure of “justice”, than none at all.

  8. CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou given more than two years in prison

    Judge says former intelligence officer who exposed aspects of use of torture should have been jailed for longer


    And, yet, those who tortured are “free.”


    From the “contrarian”, Glenn Greenwald:

    The crime of not “Looking Backward”

    A new article casts serious doubt on the Government’s claim that three Guantanamo detainees committed suicide

    By Glenn Greenwald



    Every Obama-justifying excuse for Looking Forward, Not Backwards has been exposed as a sham (recall, for instance, the claim that we couldn’t prosecute Bush war crimes because it would ruin bipartisanship and Republicans wouldn’t support health care reform). But even if those excuses had been factually accurate, it wouldn’t have mattered. There are no legitimate excuses for averting one’s eyes from crimes of this magnitude and permitting them to go unexamined and unpunished. The real reason why “Looking Forward, Not Backwards” is so attractive to our political and media elites is precisely because they don’t want to face what they enabled and supported. They want to continue to believe that it just involved the quick and necessary waterboarding of three detainees and a few slaps to a handful of the Worst of the Worst. Only a refusal to “Look Backwards” will enable the lies they have been telling (to the world and to themselves) to be sustained. But as Horton’s story illustrates, there are real victims and genuine American criminals — many of them — and anyone who wants to keep that concealed and protected is, by definition, complicit in those crimes, not only the ones that were committed in the past, but similar ones that almost certainly, as a result of Not Looking Backwards, will be committed in the future.

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