The tradition of liberty is old. The common people will let it grow old, yes. They will sell liberty for a quieter life...On Monday, President Obama appointed former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel to be his next secretary of defense, sending a curious signal to Democrats and progressives about the president's values. And while the nomination of Hagel received most of the attention, the president also on Monday appointed John Brennan to head the CIA. As explained by Salon's Alex Seitz-Waltz:
-"The Writer," from Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange
Meanwhile, no one on the left or the right seems to much care about Brennan’s nomination, despite the fact that he was forced to withdraw his name from consideration from the very same job in 2008 thanks to controversy over his alleged involvement with Bush-era interrogation programs. Brennan spent years at the CIA and served as chief of staff to former director George Tenet during the creation of the post-9/11 detention and interrogation programs. The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer described him as a “supporter” of the programs, which included torture and the use of secret prison “black sites.”The man who was so controversial that his initially rumored nomination to head the CIA had to be withdrawn before Obama had even been inaugurated now finally will have his chance. So much has changed since late 2008.
“There are some really important concerns that need to be publicly addressed before the Senate moves forward with the nomination,” said Laura Murphy, the ACLU’s Washington legislative office director, in an interview with Salon. The ACLU doesn’t take positions on nominees for executive branch jobs, but Murphy said Brennan’s appointment is “troubling,” adding, “We definitely are concerned.”
In his current job, for example, Brennan has spearheaded some of Obama’s most controversial national security tactics, such as the aggressive escalation of drone strikes and so-called signature strikes, where targets are hit based on incomplete intelligence. He’s also caught flak for claiming drone attacks didn’t result in a “single” civilian death in Pakistan one year and for initially (and erroneously) claiming that Osama Bin Laden “engaged in a firefight” with Navy SEALs during the 2011 raid in which he was killed.On Monday, Meteor Blades quoted Spencer Ackerman:
In 2008, liberals and civil libertarians were outraged by the possibility of Brennan heading the CIA.
Privately, Brennan has expressed doubts about the long-term efficacy of the drone war — even as it spreads from Pakistan to Yemen and perhaps elsewhere. But publicly, not only has Brennan defended the drone program, he’s claimed that “there hasn’t been a single collateral death” from drone strikes, which is difficult to square with what little evidence from the drone campaign is on display.But that was a whole four years ago. Back then, Hagel was about to receive his first rating above zero from the Human Rights Campaign, for his one positive vote, in favor of emergency AIDS relief, which as John Aravosis points out, "isn't gay at all." So let's just forget that the new Defense nominee has a long history of virulent bigotry, and let's just forget that the new CIA nominee was considered too controversial for Democrats at the end of the Bush era, because of his activities during the Bush era. This is 2012, not the late-2000s, which is ancient history. The statute of limitations on outrage over abuses of human rights apparently is less than a handful of years.
Accordingly, Brennan’s nomination is attracting criticism even before Obama announces it on Monday afternoon. Mary Ellen O’Connell, an international law expert at the University of Notre Dame, sent out a statement urging the Senate to vote against sending Brennan to the CIA on the grounds that the drone program is among “the most highly unlawful and immoral practices the United States has ever undertaken.” Council on Foreign Relations scholar Micah Zenko doesn’t explicitly oppose Brennan’s nomination, but called the claim that the drone strikes haven’t killed civilians “preposterous and in no way supported by reality.” Brennan withdrew as Obama’s choice to head the CIA once before, in 2008, when he came under criticism for alleged involvement in the CIA’s Bush-era torture efforts.
(Continue reading below the fold.)
Also on Monday, the British newspaper The Guardian reported what the American media mostly did not:
The United States' use of drones is counter-productive, less effective than the White House claims, and is "encouraging a new arms race that will empower current and future rivals and lay the foundations for an international system that is increasingly violent", according to a study by one of President Obama's former security advisers.Yeah, an occasional oops that kills civilians tends to have adverse strategic effects. Like making people hate the people and the nation responsible for killing them. But as Seitz-Wald continued, the new Obama CIA designee has a different, and demonstrably false, opinion:
Michael Boyle, who was on Obama's counter-terrorism group in the run-up to his election in 2008, said the US administration's growing reliance on drone technology was having "adverse strategic effects that have not been properly weighed against the tactical gains associated with killing terrorists".
Civilian casualties were likely to be far higher than had been acknowledged, he said.
In his current job, for example, Brennan has spearheaded some of Obama’s most controversial national security tactics, such as the aggressive escalation of drone strikes and so-called signature strikes, where targets are hit based on incomplete intelligence. He’s also caught flak for claiming drone attacks didn’t result in a “single” civilian death in Pakistan one year and for initially (and erroneously) claiming that Osama Bin Laden “engaged in a firefight” with Navy SEALs during the 2011 raid in which he was killed.It is the new normal: What was unacceptable during the Bush era isn't anymore. And the Brennan nomination is not a unique example, even from just the past month. In December, almost unnoticed, the Senate by a 73-23-4 vote passed the FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012. As explained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
Incredibly, the Senate rejected all the proposed amendments that would have brought a modicum of transparency and oversight to the government's activities, despite previous refusals by the Executive branch to even estimate how many Americans are surveilled by this program or reveal critical secret court rulings interpreting it.And the ACLU:
The common-sense amendments the Senate hastily rejected were modest in scope and written with the utmost deference to national security concerns. The Senate had months to consider them, but waited until four days before the law was to expire to bring them to the floor, and then used the contrived time crunch to stifle any chances of them passing.
Unfortunately, the public discussion of George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program may soon fade back into the shadows.The ACLU does offer some hope that amendments still could be forthcoming.
The heartbreak of another Senate vote in favor of dragnet collection of Americans’ communications, however, pales in comparison to the rejection of modest amendments in favor of more FISA transparency and accountability. These amendments would not have limited the government’s spying program in any way; they would have only compelled the government to tell the public what the law says and whether it protects us from government prying.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a long-time member of the Intelligence Committee, valiantly fought for a year- and-a-half for basic information about how this surveillance program affects Americans and put a hold on the bill until a debate and amendment process was scheduled. He finally got a vote to force disclosure of whether the National Security Agency is vacuuming up wholly domestic communications or searching through FISA taps for Americans, yet it failed by a vote of 42-52. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also went to the mattress over the secret FISA court opinions that determine whether we have constitutional rights to privacy in foreign intelligence investigations. He put the Senate to a vote on whether the administration should be forced to release the court opinions, supply unclassified summaries of them, or explain why they should be kept secret. That one went down 37-54. Simply put, if the public were to find out what the government is doing with our information, or how many of us are affected, the program would be “destroyed,” according to Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
Wyden will never, ever give up. Seriously.And anyone who still has any hope for the protection of individual privacy in this nation must support him, Merkley, and all who are working to raise awareness and end complacency. And speaking of Merkley, all one has to do is read his brief statement, after the Senate, also over the holidays, sent to the president's desk the National Defense Authorization Act:
The freedom and liberty of American citizens are the bedrock, founding principles of our government. I am extremely disappointed that after the Senate unanimously passed this bill 98-0, it came back from negotiations with the House stripped of a bipartisan provision designed to safeguard that freedom and liberty. The indefinite detention of citizens, without due process or the right to a speedy trial, goes against our Constitution and our core principles as a nation. Though I support much of this bill, I voted no because allowing those policies to continue unchecked undermines the freedoms written into our founding documents, and that is unacceptable.And the ACLU:
In January 2013, President Obama has signed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which jeopardizes his ability to meet his promise to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay during his presidency. The law also contains a troubling provision compelling the military to accommodate the conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of all members of the armed forces without accounting for the effect an accommodation would have.ACLU Washington Legislative Office Director Laura Murphy explained:
The NDAA restricts Obama’s ability to transfer detainees for repatriation or resettlement in foreign countries or to prosecute them in federal criminal court. Originally set to expire on March 27, the transfer restrictions have been extended through Sept. 30. As recently as October, Obama reiterated his commitment to close Guantanamo. Currently, 166 prisoners remain at the prison camp.
The language is too broad. We strongly support accommodating beliefs, so long as doing so does not result in discrimination or harm to others. The hastily drafted provision, though, has the potential to give rise to dangerous claims of a right to discriminate against not just lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members, but also women, religious minorities, and in the provision of health care.And while the president went through the motions of tempering some of the worst aspects of the legislation, using the same type of signing statement that Democrats such as Obama decried, when used by the Lesser Bush, he also used the signing statement to undermine some protections that were written into the legislation, to temper its possible abuse. As explained by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA):
The President’s objection to whistleblower protections for private sector employees who expose waste, fraud, and abuse in government programs is deeply disturbing. These protections, based on bipartisan legislation I introduced in the House, were passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the House and Senate. Congress has the authority and responsibility to oversee the operations of the executive branch. It is our duty to ensure the laws we create are faithfully executed, and that taxpayer dollars are used responsibly.As bad as this all is, what makes it even worse is that none of it is necessary. These measures are not protecting the United States to any degree beyond which it already was protected, before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The various national security and intelligence services of that time were doing their jobs, and gave all manner of warnings, which would have been heeded and acted upon by any administration other than the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice axis of incompetence. When that cabal then conspired to use those terrorist attacks to pursue a political agenda that had nothing to do with those attacks, many Americans were very vocal and active in opposing them and it. But now that a Democratic administration is codifying Bush administration abuses, and calcifying and normalizing what just a decade ago provoked outrage, it is not only that Bush and his cronies are winning, it is that all America and all the world are losing.
Either we stand for our principles and those basic rights that long have been celebrated all throughout the developed democratic world, or we never really had those principles to begin with. As Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor said, more than a century ago:
Oh, we shall persuade them that they will only become free when they renounce their freedom to us and submit to us. And shall we be right or shall we be lying?If we, the people, refuse to answer that question in defense of freedom itself, that question will be answered for us.
Under cover of the holidays, and of the media focus on the concocted fiscal "crisis," the end of last year and the beginning of this saw some terrible laws enacted or perpetuated, and to repeat what shouldn't need repeating, indeed what shouldn't even need to be said, even if you somehow trust this president and the people who work for him to use such powers wisely and judiciously, this president won't always be president. And we will again someday have a president from a more conservative opposing political party. And if history has taught us anything, it is that not only will legally sanctioned powers be used and misused, but they also inevitably will be but the takeoff point to even more extreme tactics and abuses. And as if to slam down the exclamation point on these new and renewed powers, the president started the new year by appointing to two of the most important national security posts two men who should be nowhere near a Democratic administration.
As the Grand Inquisitor continued:
And they will be glad to believe our answer, for it will save them from the great anxiety and terrible agony they endure at present in making a free decision for themselves.Freedom is not easily won, and once lost, it is even harder to regain.