Meet the New Boss

Edit out Obama’s name and image, and you might be excused for thinking a lot of the “national security” news in the press these days is two years old or more.

For example, who among the Change enthusiasts on David Plouffe’s email list a couple years ago would have expected to see Obama’s name in conjunction with a story on the “plenary presidential right to assassinate?” That’s what the Obama administration claimed last spring: The right to assassinate any American citizen, anywhere in the world outside the United States, if the president summarily judges they’re supporting terrorism in some (unspecified) way.

National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair tried to reassure the American people by pointing out that any U.S. operatives assassinating American citizens overseas would “follow a set of defined policy and legal procedures that are very carefully observed.” Yyou’ll have to take his word for it, because the administration refuses to disclose the actual legal standards used to put anyone on the target list. “National security would be compromised” if they described the actual criteria used. So they claim to be doing everything by the book — but the book’s classified.  And of course they can always rewrite the book without telling you.

In the past few days, the administration argued in federal court that its power to assassinate American citizens, as one of the national security prerogatives of the executive, is beyond judicial oversight.

But don’t worry. You really think the government would do crooked stuff and lie about it, just because its officials can do anything they want with no risk of getting caught? Shame on you. Surely you don’t think the government would falsely accuse someone it wanted out of the way for questionable political reasons. If somebody’s accused of something they must be guilty, just like Nancy Grace says — that’s why we didn’t clutter up the Bill of Rights with a bunch of pinko “due process of law” stuff.

But at least Obama’s in the process of maybe, someday, sort of closing down Gitmo, right? Or headed vaguely in that direction, anyway? Well, yeah — and he’s got executive orders in place for shutting down the CIA’s worldwide network of torture sites, as well.

Only he’s expanded the “Black Jail” at Bagram, a sort of Gitmo in Afghanistan. That’s under less oversight than Gitmo because it’s not technically on American soil, so the spooks can do anything they want there. Namely, according to the Open Society Institute, “holding detainees in cold cells, forced nudity, physical abuse, detaining individuals in isolation cells for longer than 30 days,” and refusing access to the Red Cross.

And he’s refused to rule out “extraordinary rendition” in principle. 

But hey, it’s a lot less embarrassing to have the torture happening on the other side of the world, instead of right next door to Miami (although even at Gitmo military judges, on orders from Obama, heard testimony extracted from a 15-year-old under threat of gang rape and death).

Here at home, where — theoretically at least — the government doesn’t yet claim plenary authority to assassinate American citizens on their own soil, federal law enforcement engages in the somewhat less alarming activity of spying on American citizens who exercise their right of protest. You know, like J. Edgar Hoover did to Martin Luther King. The FBI, pursuant to an ongoing Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation, in late September raided the offices and homes of anti-war activists in Minneapolis.  One such activist, who had protested U.S. military aid under Plan Colombia, was allegedly suspected of ties to FARC. Which, in the unlikely event she actually was, is a Bad Thing because, you know, only the U.S. government should be deciding which terrorist organizations to support in Colombia.

I know what you’re thinking:  Somehow, the U.S. still isn’t quite enough like East Germany. But fret no more!  Thanks to the Suspicous Activity Reporting program, you too can turn your neighbors in to the Stasi! And the beauty of it is, you don’t have to limit yourself to reporting actual criminal behavior — just “suspicious activity,” like stuff that’s perfectly legal but might or might not indicate intent to commit a crime. Because you can never be too careful about rounding people up based on stuff they might be planning to do!

Seriously: Do you ever wonder whether Yoo and Gonzales were secretly funding the Obama campaign in hopes of a “Nixon to China” thing?

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