It is no secret that civil liberties in America have been in a downward slide for a decade, but that just turned into a free fall. Glenn Greenwald, perhaps the best civil liberties blogger on the planet, today reports that the Obama White House has authorized the CIA to kill a US citizen no matter where he is and without any kind of due process. Greenwald writes:
No due process is accorded. No charges or trials are necessary. No evidence is offered, nor any opportunity for him [Anwar al-Awlaki] to deny these accusations (which he has done vehemently through his family). None of that.
Instead, in Barack Obama's America, the way guilt is determined for American citizens -- and a death penalty imposed -- is that the President, like the King he thinks he is, secretly decrees someone's guilt as a Terrorist. He then dispatches his aides to run to America's newspapers -- cowardly hiding behind the shield of anonymity which they're granted -- to proclaim that the Guilty One shall be killed on sight because the Leader has decreed him to be a Terrorist. It is simply asserted that Awlaki has converted from a cleric who expresses anti-American views and advocates attacks on American military targets (advocacy which happens to be Constitutionally protected) to Actual Terrorist "involved in plots." These newspapers [the New York Times and Washington Post] then print this Executive Verdict with no questioning, no opposition, no investigation, no refutation as to its truth. And the punishment is thus decreed: this American citizen will now be murdered by the CIA because Barack Obama has ordered that it be done. What kind of person could possibly justify this or think that this is a legitimate government power?
What kind of person? President Obama and his staff, apparently. Obama's short tenure in office has thus far been an unmitigated disaster for civil liberties. His administration has issued signing statements indicating his disregard for recently passed legislation; withholds Freedom of Information Act requests more often that Bush's administration; renewed the Patriot Act; invoked the state secrets privilege to keep information about extraordinary rendition from public view; asserted "enemy combatant" status is not necessary to indefinitely detain someone; refused to release additional photos of prisoner abuse; invented a brand new "sovereign immunity" claim to suppress information in court; reserved the right of "presidential post-acquittal detention power" -- that is, detaining someone after he has been exonerated; and lastly, refused to investigate the torture program or NSA surveillance program. Keep in mind that this is only a partial list.
In my farewell article "Goodbye, from a less free America" for the Georgetown Independent, I concluded :
In its misguided effort to "win the war on terror," the government has paradoxically resorted to enacting policies that terrorize its own citizens. Now we, the citizens of America, are the ones who live in fear. If these are the policies that an administration hastily jumped to following the first major terrorist attack on American soil, one wonders what policies will be enacted after the next one. Will the administrations following today's learn from its mistakes, or will they tighten their grip on the American populace, rendering the freedoms of today a distant memory?
There is an air of helplessness in this passage, sensing the fate of the American citizenry to be at the capricious whims of future government bureaucrats. However, I wrote this before I learned of the power of collective action. Real, positive change never comes from the top down, it always comes from the bottom up. The populace has changed terrible policies many times before through organization and dedication and there is no reason to think that future struggles will be any different. But when the president is considering arbitrarily killing Americans, opposition to these decrees becomes less of an option and more of a necessity. After all, it's always darkest just before it goes pitch black.
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