Odious Civil Rights Legislation Given New Life

On December 30, 2012, President Barack Obama signed into law the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2012, which provides a five-year extension of Title VII of the Foreign Intelligence Act. By dong so he has permitted warrantless wiretapping to continue until the end of 2017. The ACLU called this an act in favor of “dragnet collection of American’s communications.” [1]

Just over a year ago, Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 (NDAA), which granted the military far-reaching powers to indefinitely detain people — not only those identified as enemies on a battlefield — but others perceived by the military as having “supported” the enemy. The indefinite detention provision was renewed in the NDAA for 2013. Besides putting U.S. citizens at risk of indefinite detention, any journalist who interviews a member of a defined terrorist organization is at risk of being indefinitely detained.

Although President Obama signed an executive order in 2009 to close the Guantanamo Bay prison complex and has recently reiterated that goal, the 2013 NDAA contains a provision that prohibits spending any money for construction or alteration of any facility for the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo.

When Barack Obama first ran for president, he promised not to continue the onerous civil rights restrictions put into effect by President George W. Bush. He has not only virtually adopted the entire Bush civil rights agenda, but he has gone one step further by assuming the right to order the assassination of U.S. citizens.

The secrecy of the Obama administration’s targeted killing of perceived terrorists was given a boost by Judge Colleen McMahon of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, who upheld the administration’s refusal to disclose information about the targeted killing of terrorism suspects. But Judge McMahon described a “veritable Catch-22” of security rules that allow the executive branch to declare legal “actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.” [2]

The lawsuit in case cited public comments made by high officials about the drone program. The government’s counter-argument was that it had referred only to the broad outlines of their legal rationale and not to specific operations or documents. The judge wondered if we “are indeed a nation of laws, not of men.” She said the Obama administration has referred to targeted killings in “cryptic and imprecise ways.” Judge McMahon said the Court is constrained by law and the government cannot be compelled to “explain” in detail the reasons why its actions do not violate the Constitution and laws of the United States.

The judicial system is very loath to challenge the executive branch when it invokes national security reasons for its actions and Judge McMahon’s language in her ruling seems to contradict the ruling itself.


[1] Amy Goodman, “Obama Lets Dangerous Laws Stay Active,” Albuquerque Journal, January 5, 2013.

[2] Karen DeYoung, “Judge backs Obama administration on secrecy of targeted killings of terrorism suspects,” The Washington Post, January 2, 2013.


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