During the honeymoon period following President Obama’s 1st successful bid for The White House, there was a great deal of talk about the former Senator from Illinois surrounding himself with a “Team of Rivals” as Abraham Lincoln did when he came into office. In these salad days of hope and change, it didn’t seem extraordinary to envision President Obama as being a uniting force in Washington whose cabinet would be hailed as a paragon of bipartisan cooperation. To his credit, President Obama did appoint a few Republicans & conservatives to positions within his administration, but it would be inappropriate to compare the variety of opinion in his cabinet with that of Lincoln’s. The President’s most prominent Republican appointee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, had been given the office two years earlier by President George W. Bush and promptly validated his appointment by overseeing the successful Iraq troop surge in 2006. It would have been unusual for Obama to replace Gates immediately given the level of US military involvement in the Middle East and the relative success Gates had experienced in his short time as Secretary of Defense. In 2011, Obama replaced Gates with former CIA Director & Democrat Leon Panetta, leaving Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood as the sole Republican in his cabinet.
While President Obama may have failed in his attempt to emulate the breadth and depth of opinion in our 16th President’s cabinet, he has succeeded in following in some of the Illinois Rail Splitter’s less laudable footsteps. When Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in 1861, our nation was embarking upon the bloodiest struggle in its history. With Virginia solidly in the hands of the Confederacy and the border state of Maryland beset by riots and threats of secession, President Lincoln thought it necessary to suspend habeas corpus based on his belief that the situation represented a case of rebellion or invasion of public safety outlined by the Constitution as permitting such an action. During the summer of 1861, Lincoln addressed Congress’s concerns about his use of Executive Power by asking them, “are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?” Granted, the right to release from unjust imprisonment is a pretty important one, but Lincoln’s decision was suited to the gravity of the situation in which he found himself. While I may not agree with his decision to curtail the rights of his citizens, there is at least a sound Constitutional basis for it in that about half of his nation had taken arms in rebellion against the US government.
The right of habeas corpus in America had remained largely unmolested since Lincoln’s intervention—with only a few brief suspensions during World War II and in response to unruly Klansmen during Reconstruction—until the September 11th attacks occurred and a Pandora’s box of civil liberties violations were unleashed. The Bush Administration’s original line of attack in the aftermath of 9/11 was to suspend the rights of all foreign non-citizens suspected of engaging in terrorist activity by treating them as you would enemy combatants in a traditional war. After all, if there was a legitimate War on Al-Qaeda and—by extension—Terrorism, then it would surely follow that suspected terrorists captured abroad should be subject to the same rights and regulations bestowed on formal enemy combatants by the Geneva Convention. However, as it was interpreted by the Bush Administration, any captured members of Al-Qaeda or the Taliban were not traditional Prisoners of War, but actually “unlawful combatants” who were not subject to the same rights as formal POWs and thus subject to indefinite detention without charges being filed against them. This interpretation of international law led to the creation of the detention center in Guantanamo Bay and what has been over a decade of government sanctioned human rights abuses committed in the name of the “war on terror”.
The day after he was sworn into office in January of 2009, President Obama issued an executive order stating that all of the residents of Guantanamo Bay had the constitutional privilege of habeas corpus and pledging to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo within a year of the order’s publication. As you may well be aware, the facilities at Guantanamo have yet to be shuttered and our government’s infringement on our civil liberties has actually gotten worse over President Obama’s 1st term in office, not better. For two years running, President Obama has signed into law National Defense Authorization Acts containing amendments that not only maintain the status quo in Gitmo, but also permit the indefinite detention of US citizens suspected of terrorism. As it stands right now, the US military is free to arrest and detain anyone that they deem a serious threat to national security. They can do this without leveling any charges against the incarcerated individual and without even the promise of them having their day in court. Thus, with one signature, President Obama has rendered about a third of our Bill of Rights irrelevant.
For the President’s suspension of habeas corpus to be constitutionally valid, then it must be proven that Al-Qaeda and various anti-American terrorist groups present causes for rebellion and invasion of the American public’s safety. And, since there is clearly no Sharia revolution going on in America outside of Michelle Bachmann’s twisted brain-space, the predominant reason for suspending habeas corpus would have to be public safety. That’s all well and good except for the fact that there hasn’t been a successful attack on US soil by a terrorist organization recognized by the US government since September 11th, 2001. Since then there have been more than 250 Americans killed in mass shootings and countless thousands more who have lost their lives to gun violence in this country, but none of that warrants suspension of the right to avoid unjust imprisonment. Congress and our President have butchered the Constitution in the name of a “war on terror” that has seen no Americans killed within our borders for over a decade.
The dirty little irony of Barack Obama’s presidency is that the man could honestly give two shits about civil liberties. You would think that our nation’s first African American president would give a little more credence to civil rights and freedoms, but he might actually like restricting the damn things more than his squinty-eyed predecessor. As President, Barack Obama has single-handedly elevated the drone strike to an art form, bombing the ever-loving hell out of thousands of Arabs and Pakistanis via remote control and carrying around a personal Kill List like he was in a Tarentino movie. I mean, what can be a bigger violation of civil liberties than illegally bombing someone in a country you’re not allowed to fight in because your intelligence tells you he’s a bad man? Can you imagine if you woke up in the middle of the night to find that your across-the-street neighbor had been vaporized because some Russian with a remote control plane had been told by his superiors that he was a terrorist? You can’t call for a mistrial when a bomb just ripped the defendant’s head from his body.
Barack Obama is not a liberal. He is a Clintonian New Democrat who cares about human rights issues when it’s convenient and ignores them when it’s not. Take the issue of same sex marriage. Even though he was on the record as supporting the institution while he was a state senator, it took the man nearly 4 years to openly endorse gay & lesbian marriage and that only happened after his aides assured him that it would be a politically prudent move. Don’t fool yourself. If Barack Obama thought that he could have won re-election by straddling the fence on gay marriage and tacitly endorsing the Defense of Marriage Act, then he would have had little compunction about doing so. Likewise, President Obama will cave every single time on issues concerning indefinite detention and suspension of civil liberties unless he is forced to acknowledge that his support of those issues will come back to haunt him over the next 4 years. It is especially telling that, even though the campaign is over and the pandering for votes has ended, President Obama still authorized a $633 billion defense bill that endorsed indefinite detention and the obstruction of civil liberties. The simple truth of the matter is that this former Nobel Peace Prize winner is a hawk who doesn’t care about protecting our civil rights so long as, in his eyes, the ends justify the means. If we don’t force him to care, then he never will.