As the NSA spying scandal has progressed, congressional Democrats have grown co-opted by an Obama administration committed to defending, entrenching, and perpetuating the Bush administration’s legacy—despite the president’s campaign promises in 2008 to reverse it. This co-optation spells grave threats not only to partisan Democrats, but also to principled progressives attached to an ideology inadvertently weakened by partisan Democrats aligned with the president.
Rallying around President Obama…to shoot themselves in the feet
In August 2013, during the debate on the House defense appropriations bill, only 7 votes protected the NSA from debilitating budget cuts that would have ended its domestic bulk collection activities. Seven members of Congress could have changed the outcome of the vote, reflecting a razor thin (under 2%) margin of victory for the surveillance state.
That margin of victory could be explained in many ways. One explanation may surprise progressives: Democrats from the Bay Area and Chicago, representing safe blue seats, who were outspoken about surveillance abuses at one point, comprised the NSA’s entire margin of victory. They chose to resign their principles, oaths of office, and constituents’ concerns in order to support their partisan patron, the president. They’re carrying the Bush administration’s water because it’s now President Obama holding the glass.
Apparently consumed by what Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi calls the “most meaningless national election we’ve ever had,” the recent enactment of the National Defense Authorization Act, a sweeping law that some constitutional experts argue poses grave dangers to civil liberties, has garnered limited attention from the media.
In a three-part series for the People’s Blog for the Constitution, Shahid Buttar, in a Q-and-A format, explains why the NDAA, which President Obama signed at the end of December, deserves far more attention for its possible detrimental effects on civil liberties. (The bill does more than authorize billions in military spending, $662 billion to be exact. It also, as Buttar explains, provides the executive branch with potentially far-reaching powers to detain Americans suspected of terrorism-related activities. In signing the bill, Obama maintained he would never authorize indefinite military detention of Americans citizens, and that he would not feel compelled to try all suspects in military tribunals, as the law authorizes. Buttar’s exhaustive series, however, explains why such assurances are wobbly.)
Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, in his first blog post, “The NDAA: Another assault in the dead of night,” blasts Congress for supporting, with passage of the NDAA, “indefinite military detention of even US citizens.” The version that Obama signed into law contains provisions that only appear to limit the law’s reach, Buttar writes.
“Apologists for the NDAA,” Buttar states, “forget that laws remain fixed until changed, beyond the terms of particular officials who write them. And the ambiguity created by the law could be construed by future Presidents (or their advisors) to confer dramatic, sweeping powers to detain US citizens without a right to trial or Due Process. In the wrong hands, it could be used as a powerful tool to suppress dissent, with predictably catastrophic consequences.”
The Obama administration is also joining the celebration. The White House’s Bill of Rights Day proclamation reads, in part, “Throughout our country’s history, generations have risen to uphold the principles outlined in our Bill of Rights and advance equality for all Americans. The liberties we enjoy today are possible only because of these brave patriots, from the service members who have defended our freedom to the citizens who have braved billy clubs and fire hoses in the hope of extending America’s promise across lines of color and creed. On Bill of Rights Day, we celebrate this proud legacy and resolve to pass to our children an America worthy of our Founders’ vision.”
Others are marking the day, however, by highlighting a piece of legislation – the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – that they argue seriously threatens the tenets of the Bill of Rights, by greatly expanding executive power.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee says the NDAA “contains the most potentially oppressive national security powers we’ve seen in our lifetimes, easily worse than any Bush administration policy.”
Writing for the ACLU’s Blog of Rights, Chris Anders says the NDAA “would authorize the president to send the military literally anywhere in the world to imprison civilians without charge or trail. Prison based on suspicion alone. The power is so sweeping that the president would be able to direct the military to use its powers within the United States itself, and even lock up American citizens without charge or trial.”