His abandonment of the promised veto of the military bill that threatened to unleash the military in the homeland to capture, and detain indefinitely without charges, anyone suspected of being a member of al Qaeda or of “substantially supporting” them is another sign that his campaign pledge to be vigilant about civil liberties in the war on terror was a lie. Yes, a radical part has been removed – and the civilian criminal law system will not be actually prevented by law from being used to capture and prosecute al Qaeda suspects within the US. So complete militarization of domestic law enforcement – when anyone in authority screams the word “enemy combatant” – has been avoided. But not because Obama opposed the idea in principle, but because he opposed its encroachment on executive power. As Charlie Savage noted this morning,
The White House said in a statement that adjustments made by a House-Senate conference committee had sufficiently addressed its concerns. “As a result of these changes, we have concluded that the language does not challenge or constrain the president’s ability to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the American people, and the president’s senior advisors will not recommend a veto,” it said.
Notice not a whit of concern for civil liberties at all. So the very worst is avoided – for the wrong reasons. As one caustic Greenwald commentator put it,
Concerns about freedoms have been addressed. Presidential freedoms.
And something else much more damaging will be done: Obama will sign a bill that enshrines in law the previously merely alleged executive power of indefinite detention without trial of terror suspects. Greenwald is right that Obama has never explicitly rejected such a power in all cases, but until now, he has not actually gone so far as to put his signature behind its codification. That matters. Just as torture was reversible until John McCain caved and signed it into law in 2006, so the executive power of indefinite detention within America’s prison system might have been quarantined to the Bush-Cheney years. No longer. This soon-to-be-legislated power will also apply to American civilians. It is a legal and indefinite abolition of habeas corpus. And you will find every so-called liberty-lover in the GOP (with Ron Paul as the exception) rushing to vote for it.
Compare Obama with Truman, as Greenwald notes:
This is the first time indefinite detention has been enshrined in law since the McCarthy era of the 1950s, when — as the ACLU put it — “President Truman had the courage to veto” the Internal Security Act of 1950 on the ground that it “would make a mockery of our Bill of Rights” and then watched Congress override the veto. That Act authorized the imprisonment of Communists and other “subversives” without the necessity of full trials or due process (many of the most egregious provisions of that bill were repealed by the 1971 Non-Detention Act, and are now being rejuvenated by these War on Terror policies of indefinite detention). President Obama, needless to say, is not Harry Truman.
He’ll just play the part for re-election.