Imperial presidency hurts our nation

Published 9:31 am Friday, January 25, 2013

In the early days of 2009 the new President, Barack Obama, visited the CIA bearing good news for those who had tortured during the Iraq war: They would not face prosecution.

Candidate Obama had, as many experts had agreed, acknowledged that waterboarding and other U.S. acts of interrogation, constituted torture and violated civil and military law, the U.S. Constitution, the military code of conduct and the Geneva Conventions.

Yet those who committed what were clearly crimes were exonerated by the new president as though they had walked on the White House lawn and were forgiven. This decision argues the same basis as the Nuremberg defense of “just following orders” according to Jeffery Turley, Public Interest Law Professor at George Washington University.

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It was the beginning of President Obama’s shift away from protecting civil liberty and movement toward security over liberty.

It is unconstitutional to detain any person or combatant without due process, but the U.S. continues to hold prisoners without trial, conviction, or a chance for exoneration, a Bush policy continued by Obama.

Further, in direct conflict with the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring due process, this president has asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens when the president deems it justified. The first killing justified by this newly claimed authority was Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen reputed to be an Al Qaeda terrorist. Al Awlaki was killed by a U.S. drone authorized by the president.

The Fifth Amendment expressly requires the approval of the judicial system to grant due process as a means to limit the power of the executive branch of government.

The Obama administration, through Attorney General Holder claims that the executive branch conducts a “thorough and careful review” before authorizing the killing of a U.S. citizen. Holder also asserts that due process and judicial process are not the same.

But they are unless Congress rules otherwise, and Congress has not done so.

This president has also permitted the expansion of warrantless wiretapping. In this week’s news, Internet titan Google reports an 85 percent increase in information requests from the government from 2010 to 2012. And 68 percent of the requests in 2012 were without warrants, often providing only subpoenas, an easier to obtain document.

In late December of last year the Senate passed a FISA renewal of these powers by wide margin. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon demanded to know how many Americans had undergone surveillance by warrantless wiretap and his request was refused.

And, in a troubling portent of future war, the president has claimed the right to drone attacks in the sovereign territory of other nations based solely upon U.S. intel by security agencies, the same ones that have gotten the facts wrong far too many times to count.

Will these attacks be viewed as acts of war by other nations? It is certainly possible that the drone attacks could inadvertently draw the U.S. into conflicts around the globe.

America likes this president; a recent survey cites 74 percent of Americans like President Obama while only 47 percent agree with his policies. But liking a president, and liking security, is not worth surrendering freedom and denying long held civil rights.

President Obama should not be remembered as Richard Nixon and George Bush, presidents who sought executive power over Constitutional authority. Obama needs to leave a legacy to freedom, principle, and honor to the Constitution.

And while Congress has been either silent or complicit in permitting the executive overreach, it must live up to its constitutional role, fulfilling its obligations to all citizens.


Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.