A Troubling Bipartisan Consensus on Counterterrorism Policy

May 29, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama leveled broadsides against the counterterrorism efforts waged by the administration of George W. Bush. Deep into President Obama’s term many see a continuation if not drastic advancement of Bush counterterrorism policy.

In an extensive piece Jo Becker and Scott Shane report for The New York Times that Obama has “preserved three major policies – rendition [where prisoners are sent to secretive sites to undergo harsh, often brutal interrogation], military commissions and indefinite detention – that have been targets of human rights groups since the 2001 terrorist attacks.” 

The story also states that the president, who as a candidate railed against the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, and promised if elected to close it, did not have a plan to convince Congress to shutter the prison.

A major piece of The Times reporting focuses on the personal involvement of the president in sessions to determine which terrorist suspects to kill or capture. “It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.” The president, The Times reports, will then sign off on who to target.

In a piece titled “Obama the Warrior” for Salon, Glenn Greenwald highlights the support Obama has garnered from some of the far right architects of the Bush counterterrorism policy, noting a progressive myth that the far right never lauds the president:

Virtually every one of the most far-right neocon Bush officials – including Dick Cheney himself – has spent years now praising Obama for continuing their Terrorism policies which Obama the Senator and Presidential Candidate once so harshly denounced. Every leading GOP candidate except Ron Paul wildly praised Obama for killing U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki without a shred of due process and for continuing to drop unaccountable bombs on multiple Muslim countries.

Greenwald again notes that “Obama – by leading blind-partisan Democrats and progressives to cheer for these policies rather than denounce them – has converted what were just recently highly divisive and controversial right-wing Assaults on Our Values into fully entrenched bipartisan consensus.”

Civil liberties groups, such as the ACLU, however, continue to level unvarnished criticism against the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policy. Indeed the ACLU continues to challenge in courts integral parts of that policy. (Last week the Supreme Court announced it would consider whether the ACLU can represent a group of plaintiffs challenging the administration’s widespread use of surveillance to eavesdrop on Americans’ international e-mails and phone calls.)

Greenwald highlighted a comment from ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer regarding Michael Hayden, the former CIA director, who applauded but raised concerns about the Obama administration’s use of the spying program.

“That Hayden, of all people, is complaining about secrecy is one measure of how far Obama has strayed from his commitment to transparency,” Jaffer tweeted.