MSNBC contributor Ari Melber mentioned today how President Barack Obama, during his 2008 presidential campaign, made strong overtures to protecting civil liberties… and his campaign crowds reacted just as strongly in favor of what he had to say.
For a good, crisp example of this pre-presidency Obama, Melber cited a 2008 town hall appearance in Farmington Hills, Mich., in which then-Senator Obama condemned any suspension of the right to habeas corpus and lamented the sorry state of civil liberties under George W. Bush‘s command of the War on Terror.
When asked a rather general question about being “pushed into fear” and having civil liberties abused by the Bush administration, Obama responded thusly: “I have said, repeatedly, that there should be no contradiction between keeping America safe and secure, and respecting our Constitution.”
Gasp! He actually mentioned the words “civil liberties.” I’m certain he’s put those two words together at least a few times since taking office, but given his civil liberties policies since 2009, it strikes as odd and sadly refreshing to hear Obama utter them.
His response continued with what could be considered a slight tease to his successful pursuit of Osama bin Laden, but also a forewarning for a possible acceptance of something like a secret “kill list” for eradicating the world of suspected terrorists involved in the 9/11 terror attacks:
During the Republican Convention, one of them, I forget whether it was Rudy or Palin or one of them, they said, “Senator Obama is less interested in protecting you from terrorists than reading them their rights.” Now, let me say this: first of all, you don’t even get to read them the rights until you catch them. So they should spend more time trying to catch Osama bin Laden, and we can worry about the next steps later. I mean, seriously, these folks. Catch them first. If you stay in Afghanistan and focus. My position has always been clear: If you’ve got a terrorist, take him out. Anybody who was involved in 9/11, take him out.
But later in his response, Obama began to openly talk like a true civil libertarian. He took the time to go into a rather dramatic rant suggesting that Bush-era policies have effectively “mocked” the Constitution:
When you suspend habeas corpus — which has been a principle dating before even our country, it’s the foundation of Anglo-American law — which says very simply if the government grabs you then you have the right to at least ask “Why was I grabbed?” and say, “Hey, you’ve got the wrong person.” The reason you have that safeguard is because we don’t always catch the right person. We may think this is Mohammed the terrorist, it might be Mohammed the cab driver. You might think it’s Barack the bomb thrower, but it’s Barack the guy running for president. So the reason that you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism, it’s because that’s who we are. That’s what we’re protecting. Don’t mock the Constitution. Don’t make fun of it. Don’t suggest that it’s un-American to abide by what the Founding Fathers set up. It’s worked pretty well for over two-hundred years.
Notice the passionate tone in his voice. Notice the vociferous applause. And realize how if this same speech were made during the 2012 campaign, Obama would likely have been laughed off the podium.
Habeus corpus rights under President Obama have been just as much abused as under President Bush. Within 20 months after the Obama inauguration, former Salon civil liberties writer Glenn Greenwald was documenting the Obama administration’s successful efforts to detain people without habeus review.
Obama also signed the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act which included the infamous “indefinite detention” provision that essentially authorizes the U.S. government to pick up and imprison without charge or trial, civilians anywhere in the world.
On a similar note, Obama’s administration has utilized a top-secret “kill list” targeting suspected enemy combatants around the world with unmanned drone strikes. So, in other words, the killing of an occasional American citizen without due process.
Perhaps it’s an inevitable symptom of his taking over the reins of the National Security Complex, but it’s pretty clear that on civil liberties the Obama of 2012 is vastly and frighteningly different from the Obama of 2008. What the heck happened to that guy and will he return for the second term? Unlikely.
Watch the 2008 remarks below, presented without irony by the official Obama YouTube page:
[h/t Glenn Greenwald]
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