President Obama’s Emulation of George W. Bush’s Civil Liberties Positions

This is the second in a series of blogs designed to anticipate how President Barack Obama would perform on selected issues if elected to a second term. Because both Obama and Mitt Romney have articulated future policy in only the very broadest of terms, Obama’s future positions on civil liberties must be judged in relationship to his first term record.

II. Civil Liberties

The Obama administration has adopted virtually the entire panoply of the Bush II administration positions on civil liberties. On indefinite detention, the only difference between George W. Bush and Barack Obama is that Obama has proposed a periodic, case-by-case review of those indefinitely detained. Simularily, Obama has adopted Bush’s position on extraordinary rendition, whereby detainees from foreign countries are sent to other countries which have records of employing “enhanced interrogation”– enhanced interrogation means use of totrure.

President Obama has gone beyond Bush in one respect: even Bush did not claim the authority to order the deaths of U.S. citizens. It is appalling imagery that President Obama spends time determining which citizens should be targeted for death.

When Obama administration officials testified in congressional hearings on reauthorizing the most onerous provisions of the Patriot Act, they refused to spell out the administration’s positions in open hearings — they wanted closed hearings to do that. The provisions were reauthorized without any significant changes.

Extending this subject to include Guantanamo and torture, under neither Obama nor Ronney will it  be likely that Guantanamo will be closed by 2016; however, civil libertarians might be more comfortable with Obama, because Romney once said that he wanted to double the size of Guantanamo.

In regard to torture, both President Obama and his strongest supporters have claimed he has not practiced nor authorized it. The claim is very questionable in regard to practice and false in regard to authorization. Both the Associated Press and human rights groups have made convincing cases that there are U.S.-run prisons in Afghanistan which employ some torture techniques. Once more, the administration has turned a blind eye to the Afghan government’s use of torture against its own citizens.

Authorization of torture continues to exist in the Military Commissions Act of 2006. When the act was amended in 2009, it gave detainees more legal rights but there was no change in the provision giving the president the authority to allow the CIA to use torture under a national security rationale.

III. Energy and the Environment

President Obama’s record is very mixed in this topic area. He included significant funding for renewables in the major stimulus funding plan; however, some of that funding, particularly the vehicle battery component of it, was largely money wasted. The EPA has proposed more stringent standards on arsenic and pushed for authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. On the more questionable side, the EPA has approved some mountaintop removal plans and opposed others; also, Obama put politics over science when he nixed new smog control rules.

Candidate Obama said he would oppose any further oil and gas drilling leases until the companies drill on lthe leases they already had and then proceeded to greatly expand oil and gas drilling leases. Obama’s current “all of the above” energy policy includes more drilling leases, at least mild support for fracking for natural gas recovery, and “clean coal,” an animal that many energy experts say does not exist.

I previously thought that the higher vehicle gasoline mileage standards that Obama negotiated was perhaps his greatest achievement in regard to both environmental protection and oil usage, but after reading Peter Bergel’s article on the subject, I realize that Obama could have been much bolder. (Peter Bergel is the executive director of Oregon Peaceworks.)

On climate change, President Obama has done nothing of consequence. He does, however, have an edge on Mitt Romney, because Obama at least believes that human agency is a causative factor, while Romney remains unconvinced that human actitivty is a cause.


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