A majority of voters believe President Obama has been no better than his immediate predecessor, President George W. Bush, when it comes to balancing national security with the protection of civil liberties, according to a new poll for The Hill.
Thirty-seven percent of voters argue that Obama has been worse than Bush while 15 percent say he has been “about the same.”
The results cannot be fully explained as party line responses. More than one in five self-identified Democrats, 21 percent, assert that the Obama administration has not improved upon Bush’s record. So do 23 percent of liberals.
The results are especially striking given the liberal hopes that attended Obama’s election, the opprobrium he heaped upon Bush’s national security policies during the 2008 campaign and his early promise to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
The cases cited by the white paper provide no precedent for the idea that due process could be satisfied by some secret, internal process within the executive branch — not that any such process is even mentioned. The reason they don’t is obvious: There is no such precedent. Never, to my knowledge, in the history of due process jurisprudence, has a court said that a neutral decision maker wasn’t necessary. And as Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote in language cited in the Mathews case, “the essence of due process is the requirement that a person in jeopardy of serious loss [be given] notice of the case against him and opportunity to meet it.”…
The Obama administration’s apparent belief that due process can be satisfied in secret inside the executive branch is arguably a greater departure from precedent. It is a travesty of the very notion of due process. And to borrow a phrase from Justice Robert Jackson, it will now lie about like a loaded weapon ready for the hand of any administration that needs it.
The white paper should have said that due process doesn’t apply on the battlefield. By instead making due process into a rubber stamp, the administration is ignoring precedent and subverting the idea of the rule of law. When is some law worse than none? When that law is so watered down that it loses the meaning it has had for 800 years.
The specifics of the drone program have been carefully shielded at every turn. In January a federal judge ruled against The New York Times in its effort to compel the Justice Department to disclose the memo that provided the legal justification for the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a United States citizen who died in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011, without any due process of law. (The death of an American at the other end of a drone seemed to prompt a new level of interest and scrutiny by the news media.)
Even though the judge, Colleen McMahon, ruled in the government’s favor, she did not sound very happy about it.
“I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret,” she wrote, adding, “The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me.”
The confluence of these debates suggests the ways Mr. Obama is willing to emulate Mr. Bush and the ways he is not. In effect, Mr. Obama relies on his predecessor’s aggressive approach in one area to avoid Mr. Bush’s even more aggressive approach in others. By emphasizing drone strikes, Mr. Obama need not bother with the tricky issues of detention and interrogation because terrorists tracked down on his watch are generally incinerated from the sky, not captured and questioned. By dispensing with concerns about due process, he avoids a more traditional war that he fears could lead to American boots on the ground…
“That memo coming out, I think, was a wake-up call,” said Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union. “These last few days, it was like being back in the Bush days.”
“It’s causing a lot of cognitive dissonance for a lot of people,” he added. “It’s not the President Obama they thought they knew.”…
“We trust the president,” former Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan said on Current TV. “And if this was Bush, I think that we would all be more up in arms because we wouldn’t trust that he would strike in a very targeted way and try to minimize damage rather than contain collateral damage.”
“I support President Obama’s drone attacks. And I admit that I’m a hypocrite. If a republican administration were executing these practices, I’d probably join the chorus to condemn them as unconstitutional, authoritarian or worse. But I trust this president’s judgment that the drones are a legitimate way to take out terrorists who would–if they could–kill thousands of Americans. He’s making a trade-off, knowing that a successful massive terrorist attack against us would result in far greater damage to our democratic institutions.”
I think this is probably the most honest defense of the program you’ll hear from liberals. They trust President Obama to wield broad, lethal executive authority with care and prudence. And besides: it’s war, would you rather, I am often asked by supporters of the kill list, that we have boots on the ground, big expensive, destructive deadly disastrous land invasions of countries like the Iraq war? Isn’t the move from wars like Iraq to “surgical strikes” in Yemen precisely the kind of change we were promised?
This narrow choice between big violence and smaller violence shows, I think, just how fully we have all implicitly adopted the conceptual framework of the War on Terror, how much George W. Bush’s advisers continue to set the terms of our thinking years after they’d been dispatched from office.
Progressive willingness to acquiesce to or even outright support Obama’s radical policies – in the name of partisan loyalty – is precisely what ensures the continuation of those policies. Obama gets away with all of this because so many progressives venerate leader loyalty and partisan gain above all else.
What’s most remarkable about this willingness to endorse extremist policies because you “trust” the current leader exercising them is how painfully illogical it is, and how violently contrary it is to everything Americans are taught from childhood about their country. It should not be difficult to comprehend that there is no such thing as vesting a Democratic President with Power X but not vesting a GOP President with the same power. To endorse a power in the hands of a leader you like is, necessarily, to endorse the power in the hands of a leader you dislike…
This is not just basic American political history. It’s basic human nature. And the greater the power is – and there is no greater power than targeting citizens for execution – the more urgent those principles are. Watching progressive media figures outright admit that trust in Barack Obama as Leader guides their unprincipled political arguments is only slightly more jarring than watching them embrace that mentality while pretending they’re not. Whatever else is true, watching the political movement that spent years marching behind the banner of “due process” and “restraints on presidential power” and “our Constitutional values” now explicitly defend the most radical policy yet justified by the “war on terror” – all because it’s their leader doing it – is as nauseating as it is dangerous.
Click the image to watch.