Before President Obama, it was grimly accurate to write, as I often did in the Voice, that George W. Bush came into the presidency with no discernible background in constitutional civil liberties or any acquaintance with the Constitution itself. Accordingly, he turned the "war on terror" over to Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld—ardent believers that the Constitution presents grave obstacles in a time of global jihad.
But now, Bush's successor—who actually taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago—is continuing much of the Bush-Cheney parallel government and, in some cases, is going much further in disregarding our laws and the international treaties we've signed.
On January 22, 2009, the apostle of "change we can believe in" proclaimed: "Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of my presidency." But four months into his first year in command, Obama instructed his attorney general, Eric Holder, to present in a case, Jewel v. National Security Agency, a claim of presidential "sovereign immunity" that not even Dick Cheney had the arrant chutzpah to propose.
Five customers of AT&T had tried to go to court and charge that the government's omnipresent spy, the NSA, had been given by AT&T private information from their phone bills and e-mails. In a first, the Obama administration countered—says Kevin Bankston of Electronic Frontier Foundation, representing these citizens stripped of their privacy—that "the U.S. can never be sued for spying that violated federal surveillance statutes, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or the Wiretap Act."
It is one thing, as the Bush regime did, to spy on us without going to court for a warrant, but to maintain that the executive branch can never even be charged with wholly disregarding our rule of law is, as a number of lawyers said, "breathtaking."
On the other hand, to his credit, Obama's very first executive orders in January included the ending of the CIA "renditions"—kidnapping terrorism suspects off the streets in Europe and elsewhere and sending them for interrogation to countries known to torture prisoners. However, in August, the administration admitted that the CIA would continue to send such manacled suspects to third countries for detention and interrogation.
Why send them to a foreign prison if they're not going to be tortured to extract information for the CIA? Oh, the U.S. would get "guarantees" from these nations that the prisoners would not be tortured. That's the same old cozening song that Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush used to sing robotically.
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