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Flip-Flops and Assassinations

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Is anyone even remotely surprised that President Obama reserves the right to assassinate US citizens for any reason (or no reason at all)? Should you be so unfortunate as to incur Mr. Obama’s displeasure, you may wake up one morning to find yourself on the business end of an M-16 assault rifle and a grimly determined marine dispatched to “take out the threat” (i.e. you). You need not be on a battlefield  or even have committed any crime – Mr. Obama merely has to label you an “enemy combatant”. You can gain this unfortunate moniker for such acts as speaking out against the American occupation of your country, consorting with “unknown elements”, or, indeed, no reason at all.

It is clear, as Mr. Greenwald repeatedly points out, that such extra-judicial presidential murders are unconstitutional and a dangerous new investment of power into the Executive Branch. One recalls the massive powers President Bush gave himself as a “war president” to craft legislation (via “signing statements), unilaterally declare war, imprison “enemy combatants” without trial or habeas corpus, interrogate by torture, and send CIA hit squads all around the globe. One wonders, however, if even Mr. Bush would have assumed the right to kill American citizens wherever, whenever, and however he wished.

During his campaign, Mr. Obama naturally spoke out against the vast powers accumulated under the Bush Administration. Mr. Bush was terribly unpopular, after all, and Mr. Obama had to distance himself from him as best he could. Let’s take a look at what he said then:

Regarding warrantless wiretapping and Telecom immunity:

1/28/2008, Campaign statement: “I strongly oppose retroactive immunity in the FISA bill. Ever since 9/11, this Administration has put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. The FISA court works. The separation of power works. We can trace, track down and take out terrorists while ensuring that our actions are subject to vigorous oversight, and do not undermine the very laws and freedom that we are fighting to defend.”

Mr. Obama voted for the FISA bill (which he “strongly opposed”), only six months later.

Regarding separation of powers:

10/2/2007, Speech at DePaul University: “We face real threats. Any President needs the latitude to confront them swiftly and surely. But we’ve paid a heavy price for having a President whose priority is expanding his own power. The Constitution is treated like a nuisance. Matters of war and peace are used as political tools to bludgeon the other side.”

We continue to pay that “heavy price”, as Mr. Obama has taken for himself powers which even Mr. Bush would have blushed to demand.

Regarding indefinite detention:

Q: Does the Constitution permit a president to detain US citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants?

A: No. I reject the Bush Administration’s claim that the President has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.

Boston Globe Questionaire, December, 2007

Well, apparently he didn’t like that answer, because almost immediately after his inaguaration, he redacted it. Now, not only does he think the Constitution allows detention without charges, Mr. Obama has come to believe that under the Constitution, the President has the power to impose arbitary death sentances upon any of his subjects who dare incur his wrath.

Here is the most tragic part:

2/26/2008, Speech in Cleveland: “It’s time to give our intelligence and law enforcement agencies the tools they need to track down and take out terrorists, while ensuring that their actions are subject to vigorous oversight that protects our freedom. So let me be perfectly clear: I have taught the Constitution, I understand the Constitution, and I will obey the Constitution when I am President of the United States.”

You see, once upon a time, before being seduced by the Dark Side, Mr. Obama was an upstanding constitutional lawyer, and even taught classes on the subject. In fact, that was a major appeal to his candidacy – since he was a constitutional lawyer by profession he would surely have more respect for that document than his predecessor Mr. Bush, who likely had never once read it. I have no idea what happened to Mr. Obama between 2/26/2008 and his inauguration, but something has surely changed his mind on these issues.

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2 Responses

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  1. or maybe he didn’t believe what he was saying then, either. if he really believed in upholding the constitution, he would have supported the impeachment bill back in 07-08, and more generally, his criticisms of the Bush administration would have been stronger.

    Aditya

    February 12, 2010 at 11:15 am

  2. Yeah, I agree – but the question still remains: how far back does this moral pliancy go? At one point he must have believed in some sort of constitutional limit to executive power. He was a constitutional lawyer, after all. I’m willing to accept that later events (a grueling primary race, millions of dollars in corporate bribes, a ruthless polity which demands he be “tough on terror”) later changed his mind, but I’d be interested to know how and why that happened. If you read his books, particularly his first one which was written before he even had senatorial ambitions, you get a far different picture of his political viewpoints than you do now.

    pavanvan

    February 12, 2010 at 11:36 am


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