New article for PolicyMic.
While those of us who have been highly critical of the Obama administration since the beginning are happy to see this media-protected president finally face some close political scrutiny, this flurry of scandals is sadly just the tip of the iceberg. The IRS’s targeting of conservative and Tea Party groups and the Justice Department’s monitoring of Associated Press emails show an administration desperate and hungry to hold on to power at all costs. “Benghazi-gate” is an example of blowback, leadership failure, and a compliant media.
These scandals, while undoubtedly examples of corruption, are hardly new in American politics and though they are an indictment of the dangers of political power, there are far more important issues and abuses committed by the U.S. government that represent institutionalized and systemic threats to liberty and peace.
The Obama era has seen an unparalleled increase in authoritarian levels of spying and surveillance. According to documents and tapes obtained by the ACLU, political dissenters practicing constitutionally protected speech and activity have been subject to detailed monitored and spying. For example, in September 2010, the FBI infiltrated a left-leaning antiwar group and agents launched simultaneous raids on activists in Minneapolis, Chicago, and Grand Rapids. The FBI was searching for evidence of “material support for terrorism” and 23 people, targeted specifically for their political beliefs, have been issued subpoenas. The Department of Homeland Security has given local and state law-enforcement centers the authority and means to track our movements and read text messages and emails without warrants, and has instructed local law enforcement to keep an eye on the Occupy movement and Ron Paul supporters.
2. Suspension Of Due Process
The Bush administration may have shredded much of what was left of the Bill of Rights, but the Obama administration has codified those misdeeds. Two U.S. citizens were targeted and killed without due process, and detainees at Gitmo would rather die than live in Obama’s Gitmo. The torture dungeons in Bagram and Mogadishu make an absolute mockery of anything resembling the rule of law.
Section 1021 of the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed right before New Year’s Eve, gives the president the authority to arrest and detain American citizens without trial. In an eerie look at where this type of legislation might be taking us, libertarian activist, radio host, and Iraq war veteran Adam Kokesh was arrested in Philadelphia last weekend at a pro-marijuana rally. Kokesh had not smoked or committed a crime, yet was assaulted by police and taken away for “resisting arrest.” Footage of the incident reveals that Kokesh was not resisting, that the police were obviously targeting him specifically (possibly for his planned July 4 Open Carry march in Washington, D.C.), and that they possibly even tried to plant evidence by attempting to slip a joint underneath his belt.
The NDAA and the entire national-security-state apparatus gives the U.S. government the power to do exactly this: target and monitor political dissent with great intensity and arrest whoever it wants for an indefinite amount of time.
Another chilling example happened last week in New Jersey. Second Amendment activist James Kaleda was pleading his case against gun control before the State Senate when in the middle of his speech, a bureaucrat showed his true colors by yelling and berating Kaleda. An armed police officer then forcefully removed Kaleda from the room, showing how state governments are imitating their federal counterparts in their impatience for individual rights.
Secrecy is perhaps the staple of the Obama administration. The century-old Espionage Act has been revitalized with new teeth, and whistleblowers are feeling how sharp the state’s fangs can be. Just ask Bradley Manning, John Kirakou, Peter van Buren, Aaron Swartz, and Jeremy Hammond.
When pressed by courts and activists over these unconstitutional and dangerous powers, the Obama administration has pleaded the Fifth, so to speak, and shrouded nearly everything it does in tight-lipped secrecy.
And where was the Tea Party outrage for the five years before that? Have they never heard of Cointelpro, where the FBI targeted and infiltrated left-wing and black nationalist groups in the 1960s? The irony over this IRS scandal is that the ability of the federal government to commit these type of acts was fully supported by conservatives during the Bush administration. The Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Acts gave the federal government the ability to basically spy on anyone for any reason, the prosecutorial power to then indefinitely detain them, and helped create top-down “fusion centers” where local and state governments are little more than appendages of this federal Leviathan.
4. The AUMF and The Permament War on Terror
Last Thursday, Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, told the Senate during an Armed Services Committee hearing that the “war on terror” would last at least another 10 to 20 years and that the legislation supposedly justifying the war, the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), needed to be revised and expanded.
The 2001 AUMF, already broad and vague like nearly all government legislation, is the piece of legislation that has been used to justify all of the worst government abuses of the last ten years. Everything from torture to perpetual war, suspension of civil liberties, and drone strikes has been justified by the AUMF, and given the Obama administration’s propensity for authoritarianism and lawlessness, it is no surprise that they desire an expansion of the AUMF to justify possibly two more decades of endless war and a Constitution-free government.
As Glenn Greenwald argues, “That the Obama administration is now repeatedly declaring that the ‘war on terror’ will last at least another decade (or two) is vastly more significant than all three of this week’s big media controversies (Benghazi, IRS, and AP/DOJ) combined … It is hard to resist the conclusion that this war has no purpose other than its own eternal perpetuation.”
So while I am more than happy to see the Obama administration take heat for its corruption and abuse of power, I am always a bit skeptical of any scandals that dominate the media headlines and are repeated through their echo chamber. Conservatives and liberals should also think twice about excusing and/or supporting “their guy” abusing civil liberties, since that gun is easily turned around and around.
The trio of scandals plaguing the White House are of course indeed cause for concern. But what is far more dangerous are the legislative, institutionalized and codified means for the Obama administration — and more importantly, future administrations — to further erode our liberties and fight perpetual war across the globe.