Alex Massie

Obama’s Hit Squad: Above and Beyond the Law

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I think it's reasonable to say that those Americans who hoped for some improvement - even if only of the marginal variety - from Barack Obama on the civil liberties front have often been pretty disappointed. But because American conservatives - at least those conservatives gathered in the Republican party - have no interest in these quaint notions either it's not something that's become a dominant theme of his presidency.

And, as Mike Crowley says, it's probable that the President calculates that the upside from pleasing the people who care about these things isn't worth the trouble if, god forbid, something happens and he can be portrayed as "soft" on terrorism (watch for David Cameron to slip away from campaign rhetoric here too).

Nevertheless there are limits. So even if you're one of those who find Glenn Greenwald an acquired taste best enjoyed in moderation, acknowledge that he's quite right here:

I didn't believe it was possible, but the Obama administration has just reached an all-new low in its abysmal civil liberties record.  In response to the lawsuit filed by Anwar Awlaki's father asking a court to enjoin the President from assassinating his son, a U.S. citizen, without any due process, the administration late last night, according to The Washington Post, filed a brief asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit without hearing the merits of the claims.  That's not surprising:  both the Bush and Obama administrations have repeatedly insisted that their secret conduct is legal but nonetheless urge courts not to even rule on its legality.  But what's most notable here is that one of the arguments the Obama DOJ raises to demand dismissal of this lawsuit is "state secrets":  in other words, not only does the President have the right to sentence Americans to death with no due process or charges of any kind, but his decisions as to who will be killed and why he wants them dead are "state secrets," and thus no court may adjudicate their legality.

 If the President has the power to order American citizens killed with no due process, and to do so in such complete secrecy that no courts can even review his decisions, then what doesn't he have the power to do? 

The Justice Department says Awlaki can simply return to the United States to answer for his actions. If, that is, "he wants access to our legal system." Which is certainly one way of putting matters, not least since Awlaki  - who, I repeat, appears an unpleasant piece of work - has not actually been charged with anything. He may well be guilty but that's a different matter entirely.

It's true that many more people would be jumping up and down if this sort of thing were happening under President George W Bush. Indeed, you can make an argument that Obama's actions are worse than Bush's since a) he wasn't charged with cobbling together a security framework in the confused, panicked aftermath of 9/11 and b) he actually, you know, once campaigned against quite a lot of this stuff. Then again, he's maintained perhaps 80% of the Bush architecture (and expanded some other parts) so even if you were prepared to give the President a pass it remains the case that there is little reason to do so.

See Adam Serwer for more.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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