If Ron Paul Were Debating, He Would Highlight Obama's Awful Civil Liberties Record


On Monday, President Obama and Mitt Romney square off in their third and final debate of the 2012 election, a contest that will focus upon foreign policy, ranging from Iran and Afghanistan to China. But, one issue that is not likely to come up is civil liberties, and particularly, President Obama's dismal record when it comes to civil liberties for the past four years.

For live coverage of the presidential foreign policy debate on Monday, including real-time analysis and coverage, see here.

In Congress’ 2012 Defense Authorization Act that was just passed 99-1 in the Senate, there includes an amendment cosponsored by Sen. Carl Levin and Sen. John McCain that would empower the military to detain American citizens captured on U.S. soil indefinitely and without due process. Although President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it passes the House, the Obama administration’s record on civil liberties should deeply trouble those who value the Bill of Rights.

Obama’s veto threat of the bill comes not from a principled opposition to the idea that the military should have the power to arrest U.S. citizens and detain them without trial, but as Glenn Greenwald points out, “Because the Obama administration already interprets the 2001 AUMF [Authorization to Use Military Force] so broadly as to vest them with all of the war-fighting powers in Levin-McCain” and that “Military custody for accused terrorists is already a staple of the Obama administration.” This is where Obama claims he has the legal right to wage war in Yemen, Somalia, Africa, assassinate American citizens, and also detain U.S. citizens without due process.

Although Obama has often offered lip service in reversing the Bush administration’s policies, his record on civil liberties proves that Obama’s stance on the Levin-McCain amendment should not be a surprise.

Last May, Obama, over widespread bipartisan objections, approved a four year extension of controversial parts of the Patriot Act that were set to expire. Federal wiretaps are at an all-time high, up 34% since 2009. 

The Obama administration has prosecuted five “whistleblowers” under the Espionage Act, more than all the other previous administrations combined. Under his watch, Private Bradley Manning has been held for over a year and has been tortured numerous times. Obama has used the excuse of “state secrets” to stifle investigations and dismiss cases against the Bush Administration and his own administration. The “material support” statute has been strengthened, allowing the federal government to criminalize legal actions of U.S. citizens if it falls under the increasingly vague umbrella of “supporting terrorist groups.” 

Within weeks of taking office, although specifically vowing to not prosecute medical marijuana facilities legal under state law, the DEA launched multiple raids in California.

These are only some of the more egregious examples of the Obama administration’s abuse of the liberties that the Bill of Rights was designed to protect. Is it any wonder that Obama’s only opposition to codifying the principle that the military can lock up U.S. citizens without a trial is that it will restrict his ability to prosecute the “war on terror” and create a bureaucratic paper trail for detentions?

What is ultimately missed behind discussions over civil liberties is that powers claimed by the president will be passed on to his successor. Conservatives outraged over Obama’s power grabs have only themselves to blame for their support of these very same abuses the last time a Republican was president. Progressives, too, should think twice about supporting a president with such a dysmal record on civil liberties.

For live coverage of the presidential foreign policy debate on Monday, including real-time analysis and coverage, see here.