The slogan of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign was “Forward.” As progressives and others celebrate his victory, they need to take a moment to soberly reflect on the reality that his second term will be marked by advancing policies that he helped institutionalize or allowed to become further entrenched—some of which picked up on expanding executive power where President George W. Bush left off in 2008.
The institutionalization of kill lists, the normalization of targeted assassination and the gradual redefinition of due process by killing US citizens suspected of terrorism without judicial process is an unchecked and ghastly power, which Obama asserted during his first term.
The signing of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which included an indefinite detention provision authorizing the military to detain US citizens indefinitely without charge if suspected of terrorism was a disconcerting act. Obama publicly suggested he had not wanted these powers and would not use them and there was no reason to be alarmed. When a group of individuals mounted a lawsuit and a federal judge issued a permanent injunction against the provision and declared it unconstitutional, the Obama administration had its lawyers file an appeal and a judge restored the new power.
The decision was made to not try terror suspects in federal courts. Terror suspects believed to have been involved in the 9/11 attacks and others imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, which Obama failed to close, are now going through a military tribunal process—a second-class justice system where one is not allowed to testify in court about torture experienced at the hands of CIA interrogators because the government claims it controls the thoughts and memories of detainees.
Warrantless surveillance escalated sharply under Obama. The ACLU obtained Justice Department documents that showed federal law enforcement agencies were “increasingly monitoring Americans’ electronic communications, and doing so without warrants, sufficient oversight, or meaningful accountability.” Now, the Supreme Court is deciding whether to hear a challenge against the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which allowed telecommunications companies to be granted retroactive immunity for warrantless wiretapping under Bush. The act also allowed for the expansion of dragnet surveillance. Obama Justice Department lawyers have argued it does not have to tell plaintiffs challenging the law they have been unlawfully monitored and, even if they did violate their privacy, it would not matter because the surveillance state is here to stay.
Obama refused to prosecute war criminals. Not a single person was prosecuted and convicted of torture. Even though he signed an executive order as president that prohibited “enhanced interrogation techniques” used under Bush, torture was effectively decriminalized. The “state secrets” privilege was invoked when torture victims tried to sue government for torture, effectively preventing justice. Moreover, former CIA agent John Kiriakou was prosecuted for allegedly leaking the name of a covert officer, who had been a kidnapper in the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program. It was believed that various individuals in human rights organizations knew this officer’s identity, and it was largely suspected the government was prosecuting Kiriakou because he was one of the first in government to say on television the CIA had an official policy of torture while Bush was president. The prosecution destroyed his life, took a tremendous toll on his wife and his five children so he ended up taking a plea deal.