The Obama administration has affirmed, continued, and expanded almost all of the draconian domestic civil liberties intrusions pioneered under the Bush administration. Here are 19 examples of serious assaults on the domestic rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, the right to privacy, the right to a fair trial, freedom of religion, and freedom of conscience that have occurred since the Obama administration has assumed power.
1. PATRIOT Act. On May 27, 2011, President Obama, over widespread bipartisan objections, approved a Congressional four-year extension of controversial parts of the Act that were set to expire. In March 2010, Obama signed a similar extension for one year. These provisions allow the government, with permission from a special secret court, to seize records without the owner’s knowledge, conduct secret surveillance of suspicious people who have no known ties to terrorist groups, and obtain secret roving wiretaps on people.
2. Criminalization of Dissent, Militarizing the Police. Anyone who has gone to a peace or justice protest in recent years has seen that local police have been turned into SWAT teams and SWAT teams into heavily armored military with shields, shin guards, heavy vests, military helmets, visors, and vastly increased firepower. Protest police sport ninja turtle-like outfits and are accompanied by helicopters and special tanks. Even sound-blasting vehicles and wireless fingerprint scanners first used by troops in
3. Wiretaps. Wiretaps for oral, electronic, or wire communications, approved by federal and state courts, are at an all-time high. Wiretaps in year 2010 were up 34 percent from 2009, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
4. Criminalization of Speech. Muslims in the
5. Domestic Government Spying. In activities that offend freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and several other laws, the NYPD and the CIA have partnered to conduct intelligence operations against Muslim communities in
6. Top Secret
7. Other Domestic Spying. There are at least 72 fusion centers across the
8. Abusive FBI Intelligence Operations. The Electronic Frontier Foundation documented thousands of violations of the law by FBI intelligence operations from 2001 to 2008 and estimate that there are over 4,000 such violations each year. President Obama issued an executive order to strengthen the Intelligence Oversight Board, an agency which is supposed to make sure the FBI, CIA and other spy agencies are following the law. No other changes have been noticed.
9. Wikileaks. The publication of U.S. diplomatic cables by Wikileaks, and then by mainstream news outlets, sparked condemnation from Obama administration officials who said the publication of accurate government documents was an attack on the United States. The Attorney General announced a criminal investigation and promised, “This is not saber rattling.” Government officials warned State Department employees not to download the publicly-available documents. A State Department official warned students that discussing Wikileaks or linking documents to social networking sites could jeopardize their chances of getting a government job. The Obama administration continues to try to find ways to prosecute the publishers of Wikileaks.
10. Censorship of Books by the CIA. In 2011, the CIA demanded extensive cuts from a memoir by former FBI agent Ali H. Soufan, in part because it made the agency look bad. Soufan’s book detailed the use of torture on captured prisoners and mistakes that led to 9/11. A 2011 book on interrogation methods by former CIA agent Glenn Carle was subjected to extensive black outs. The CIA under the Obama administration continues its push for censorship.
11. Blocking Publication of Photos. In May 2009, President Obama reversed his position and refused to release photos of
12. Technological Spying. The Bay Area Transit System in August 2011, hearing rumors of protests against fatal shootings by the police, shut down cell service in four stations. Western companies sell email surveillance software to repressive regimes in
13. Use of State Secrets to Shield Government from Review. When the Bush administration was caught hiring private planes from a Boeing subsidiary to transport people for torture to other countries, Bush successfully asked the federal trial court to dismiss a case by detainees tortured because having a trial would disclose “state secrets” and threaten national security. When Obama was elected, the state secrets defense was reaffirmed before a federal appeals court. It continues to be a mainstay of the Obama administration’s effort to cloak their actions in secrecy.
14. Material Support. The Obama administration successfully asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow the government to criminalize humanitarian aid and legal activities of people providing advice or support to foreign organizations that are on the government list of terrorist organizations. The material support law can now be used to penalize people who provide humanitarian aid or human rights advocacy. The Obama administration Solicitor General argued to the court “When you help Hezbollah build homes, you are also helping Hezbollah build bombs.” The Court agreed with the Obama argument that national security trumps free speech in these circumstances.
16. Punishing Whistleblowers. The Obama administration has prosecuted five whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, more than all other Administrations. He charged a National Security Agency advisor with ten felonies under the Espionage Act for telling the press that government eavesdroppers were wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on misguided and failed projects. After their case collapsed, the government, which was chastised by the federal judge as engaging in unconscionable conduct, allowed him to plead to a misdemeanor and walk. The Admin-istration also prosecuted former members of the CIA, the State Department, and the FBI. They even tried to subpoena a journalist and one of the lawyers for the whistleblowers.
17. Bradley Manning. Army private Bradley Manning is accused of leaking thousands of government documents to Wikileaks. These documents expose untold numbers of lies by
18. Solitary Confinement. At least 20,000 people are in solitary confinement in
Human Rights Watch reports that one-third to one-half of the prisoners in solitary are likely mentally ill. In May 2006, the UN Committee on Torture concluded that the
19. Special Administrative Measures. Special Administrative Measures (SAMS) are harsh conditions of confinement imposed on prisoners (including pre-trial detainees) by the Attorney General. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons imposes restrictions on such segregation and isolation from other prisoners and limitation or denial of contact with the outside world such as: no visitors except attorneys, no contact with news media, no use of the phone, no correspondence, no contact with family, no communication with guards, 24-hour video surveillance and monitoring. The DOJ admitted that several dozen prisoners, including pre-trial detainees, mostly Muslims, were kept incommunicado under SAMS.
These concrete examples document a sustained assault on domestic civil liberties in the
Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and law professor at