Archive for the ‘civil liberties’ Category

THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Change You Can Parse

March 17, 2009

Obama Abandons Bush’s Talk, Keeps His Walk

You can’t blame Dick Cheney for being annoyed at Barack Obama. Obama is closing Guantánamo. He’s ordering the CIA to interrogate prisoners according to the rules written in the Army Field Manual, which doesn’t allow torture. He’s even phasing out such classic Bushian phrases as “enemy combatant” and “war on terror.”

But the dark prince of neoconservatism should relax. Obama’s inaugural address may have promised to “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,” but—in all the ways that matter—he’s keeping all of Bush’s outrageous policies in place. Sure, he talks a good game about “moving forward.” But nothing has really changed. From reading your e-mails to asserting the right to assassinate American citizens to bailing out companies whose executives pay themselves big bonuses, Obama’s changes are nothing but toothless rhetoric.

Closing Gitmo, reported The New York Times, was merely “a move that seemed intended to symbolically separate the new administration from Bush detention policies. But in a much anticipated court filing, the Justice Department argued that the president has the authority to detain terrorism suspects there without criminal charges, much as the Bush administration had asserted. It provided a broad definition of those who can be held, which was not significantly different from the one used by the Bush administration.”

What will happen to the 241 POWs still at Gitmo? They won’t be called “enemy combatants” anymore but most won’t be going home. “The filing signaled that, as long as Guantánamo remains open, the new Administration will aggressively defend its ability to hold some detainees there,” wrote the Times. Where will they go after that?

Welcome to Gitmo II—courtesy of Barack Obama.

Countless victims have been tortured by U.S. military personnel at Bagram, the U.S. airbase in Afghanistan where Bush imprisoned 600 people without charges. Some were murdered in the camp’s notorious “salt pit.” “Even children have not been spared,” says Amnesty International.

Now Bagram is being expanded—nearly doubled in size—in order to accommodate 200-plus detainees from Gitmo, as well as future POWs from Obama’s expanded war against Afghanistan. As bad as Guantánamo was, conditions at Bagram are worse.

Unless you believe indefinite detention without due process to be torture, Obama says his detainees won’t be tortured. Mostly. Probably. Maybe. The Washington Post quotes an Administration insider as saying that the CIA will enjoy “more leeway” than the Army Field Manual allows, in order to “take into account the differences between battlefield interrogations and those aimed at eliciting intelligence about terrorist groups and their plans.”

Extraordinary renditions, the Times reports in a different article, will continue under Obama. “In little-noticed confirmation testimony recently,” says the paper, “Obama nominees endorsed continuing the CIA’s program of transferring prisoners to other countries without legal rights, and indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects without trials even if they were arrested far from a war zone.”

During the 2008 campaign Obama’s critics accused him of saying nothing, albeit beautifully. Now that we’ve gotten to know him a bit, it’s time to refine that assessment: He’s just a weasel. An eloquent weasel. But a weasel who says the right things while doing the opposite.

On March 9th Obama ordered federal agencies to suspend Bush’s infamous “signing statements,” sneaky documents issued after the signing of a bill that ordered government agencies not to enforce the very same bill he’d just approved in front of the cameras. Signing statements, says the American Bar Association, use one-man dictatorial rule to negate the people’s will as expressed by Congress and are thus “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional separation of powers.”

“Yet two days later—literally—Obama signed a $410 billion spending bill and appended to it a signing statement claiming that he had the Constitutional authority to ignore several of its oversight provisions,” writes Glenn Greenwald of Slate.

Greenwald regrets having to quote the vile Rich Lowry of the right-wing National Review magazine. So do I. But even the right is right sometimes:

“Barack Obama has perfected a three-step maneuver that could never even be attempted by a politician lacking his rhetorical skill or cool cynicism. First: Denounce your presidential predecessor for a given policy, energizing your party’s base and capitalizing on his abiding unpopularity. Second: Pretend to have reversed that policy upon taking office with a symbolic act or high-profile statement. Third: Adopt a version of that same policy, knowing that it’s the only way to govern responsibly or believing that doing otherwise is too difficult.”

This week’s example is Obama’s grandstanding over $165 million in bonuses paid to executives of American International Group (AIG), which received billions in federal bailout money. He feigned outrage: “How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?” But his Treasury Department knew about the bonuses—which amount to roughly 55 cents per American—ages ago. He also knows there isn’t much the government can do legally to claw the money back.

Unlike the word count limit of this column, Obama’s perfidy knows no limits. He’s already become more dangerous to democracy and basic human rights than George W. Bush. Unlike Bush, he has no political opposition. Cheney may nitpick, but most Republicans are happy to see Bush’s policies remain in place. Meanwhile, liberals remain loyal, silent, and tacitly pro-torture.

COPYRIGHT 2009 TED RALL

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June 21, 2007

Alberto Gonzales’s Civil Rights Division Lite: Taking the “Justice” Out of Justice Department
Posted by Mikhaela Reid

Taste the new “Justice” Department’s Civil Rights Division Lite! Now with 99% less: hate crimes prosecution, voting rights enforcement and police brutality investigations! Super-Action-Packed with Loyal Bushies, Wiretapping and Religious Extremists! It’s a Yum-Tastic Justice Department makeover!

The Bush administration has laid waste to the Justice Department on a large scale, as the scandals over the replacement of high-performing federal prosecutors with “loyal Bushies” and that whole warrantless wiretapping nastiness have shown.

The Bush makeover of the Civil Rights Division is similarly extreme. The pre-Bush Justice Department Civil Rights Division was founded in 1957. The Division protected voting rights and enforced anti-discrimination laws, with a particular focus on discrimination based on race and national origin. From the Division website:

The Division enforces the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, 1964, and 1968; the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended through 1992; the Equal Credit Opportunity Act; the Americans with Disabilities Act; the National Voter Registration Act; the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act; the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act; and additional civil rights provisions contained in other laws and regulations. These laws prohibit discrimination in education, employment, credit, housing, public accommodations and facilities, voting, and certain federally funded and conducted programs.

Or do they? Under Bush and Gonzales, Justice has shifting funding, focus and resources to more Dubyafied priorities. As the New York Times reported this week (“Justice Dept. Reshapes Its Civil Rights Mission”):

In recent years, the Bush administration has recast the federal government’s role in civil rights by aggressively pursuing religion-oriented cases while significantly diminishing its involvement in the traditional area of race.

Read the whole article, but here are some particular horrors:

DISCRIMINATION

The old Civil Rights Division (Civil Rights Clasic, if you will) fought discrimination in hiring. The Civil Rights Lite Division defends the right of religious groups like the Salvation Army to discriminate (see “Charity Cites Bush Help in Fight Against Hiring Gays” and “Court OKs Religious Hiring Bias by Federally Backed Charities”).

HATE CRIMES

Civil Rights Classic lent federal enforcement weight to the prosecution of hate crimes cases: KKK attacks, lynchings, and more. Civil Rights Lite has diverted that funding to a pet cause of the Christian Right. Again from the NYT, the Civil Rites Lite Division is…

Taking on far fewer hate crimes and cases in which local law enforcement officers may have violated someone’s civil rights. The resources for these traditional cases have instead been used to investigate trafficking cases, typically involving foreign women used in the sex trade, a favored issue of the religious right.

Certainly trafficking cases deserve funding–but not at the expense of victims of racism, hate crimes and police brutality. Trafficking cases used to and should be handled elsewhere.

VOTING RIGHTS

Civil Rights Classic defended the voting rights of people of color. Civil Rites Lite suppresses the voting rights people of color through new voter ID requirements and baseless “voter fraud” case–and has even pursued its first claim of voter intimidation against white people. As John Nichols writes in The Nation (“Curing the Rot at Justice”):

The Brennan Center for Justice and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law have uncovered evidence of what they describe as “a much broader strategy on the part of the Administration to use federal agencies charged with protecting voting rights to promote voter suppression and influence election rules so as to gain partisan advantage in battleground states.” There is now a compelling case that the White House used the Justice Department’s Civil Rights and Criminal divisions and the Election Assistance Commission to create a false perception of widespread voter fraud to justify initiatives–stringent voter identification laws, crackdowns on voter registration drives and pre-election purges of eligible voters from the rolls–designed to disenfranchise the poor, minorities, students and seniors.

The New York Times reports on this as well. Civil Rights Lite is:

Sharply reducing the complex lawsuits that challenge voting plans that might dilute the strength of black voters. The department initiated only one such case through the early part of this year, compared with eight in a comparable period in the Clinton administration.

Trouble is, only the federal government has the resources to deal with these voting dilution cases. Oh well–it’s not like black voters get disenfranchised anymore, right? Too bad, but they’ve got a new kind of case to focus on:

The civil rights division also brought the first case ever on behalf of white voters, alleging in 2005 that a black political leader in Noxubee County, Miss., was intimidating whites at the polls.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM TRUMPS ALL OTHER FREEDOMS

But back to the Salvation Army. If you visit the Justice Department website, you’ll read very little about racist discrimination and the ongoing disenfranchisement of voters of color. Instead, you read about this exciting “special initiative” from Alberto “Geneva Conventions Are Quaint” Gonzales, “The First Freedom Project”:

Religious liberty is often referred to as the “First Freedom” because the Framers placed it first in the Bill of Rights. Yet it is not merely first in order: it is a fundamental freedom on which so many of our other freedoms rest.

Forget freedom of speech, forget freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, and most especially freedom from unreasonable search and seizure: the first and most important freedom is the freedom of religious organizations to receive government funding for firing gay people.

Some of the other evidence of Civil Rights Lite cited by the New York Times:

Supporting groups that want to send home religious literature with schoolchildren; in one case, the government helped win the right of a group in Massachusetts to distribute candy canes as part of a religious message that the red stripes represented the blood of Christ.

Conservative religious groups who love the taste of Civil Rights Lite say that the weight of the federal government is no longer needed to combat racism and discrimination–silly stuff like that can be left up to local authorities. Of course, local authorities often lack the resources, will or perspective to fight racism. Historically, local authorities in the South often deliberately turned their backs on racist attacks and civil rights violations, and I’m not so sure those days are totally behind us. And that whole federal ignoring of civil rights and the issues of black people worked out great during Katrina, didn’t it?

HIRING LOYAL BUSHIES

Oh, and then there’s the hiring thing. We all remember sweet little Monica “I crossed the line” Goodling, trying so hard to make everything harmonious at Justice by hiring only “loyal Bushies”. The NYT analyzed department statistics and found that Civil Rights Classic hired lawyers with impressive backgrounds and qualifications. Civil Rights Lite hires lawyers from religious law schools (like Pat Robertson’s academically questionable Regent Law) who play up their conservative and religious credentials as much as possible.

Finally, while we’re on the topic of Civil Rights, I figured I’d close with Bush channeling his role model Martin Luther King, Jr.:
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Cross-posted at Boiling Point Blog.

P.S. Have you bought Attack of the 50-Foot Mikhaela! Cartoons by Mikhaela B. Reid (with foreword by Ted Rall) yet? Why not?