Among President Barack Obama’s many accomplishments—both in and out of the US presidency—is constitutional law professor. Presumably he knows more about—and respects—the US Constitution, its history, underpinnings, and importance more than just about everyone else. But he’s governed as if he hasn’t a clue.
Embracing and extending the constitutional civil liberties missteps of his predecessor, including but not limited to warrantless wiretapping of the citizenry and indefinite detention, Obama has worked seemingly tirelessly to extend the powers of the imperial presidency with the assertion of power to assassinate US citizens overseas and unilaterally authorizing unmanned drone strikes across the globe. (In September 2011, two US citizens were assassinated during a drone strike in Yemen.)
Obama didn’t just go along with President George W. Bush’s constitutionally questionable policies; he fervently defended them. In March 2009, for example, Obama defended Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, insisting it was beyond judicial examination or question.
Four months later, in July 2009, Obama promised to veto legislation that would have required him to keep the US Congress informed about covert action by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
In December 2009, Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan.
In February 2010, the US Department of Defense, under President Obama’s approval, provided details of citizen internment and resettlement in the event of terrorist attacks or natural disasters.
The next month, March 2010, saw Obama’s Homeland Security use stimulus funds to deploy full-body scanners in US airports.
In May 2010, the Obama administration arrested and detained Bradley Manning, charging him with leaking classified documents to Wikileaks. In September 2012, Manning’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss all charges with prejudice as Manning had yet to be tried. In November 2012, Manning offered to plead guilty to the lesser charges if the aiding the enemy charge was dropped.
In February 2010 and again in May 2011, Obama renewed the three most controversial (and dangerous) provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act:
- Section 206: Roving wiretaps, which unlike traditional wiretaps, are authorized for surveillance of a specific individual rather than a specific device
- Section 215: Court-authorized searches of business records
- Section 6001 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004: While not part of the USA PATRIOT Act, this provision sunsets with the others and is generally discussed together with them. The “lone wolf” provision allows surveillance of individuals without confirmed ties to terrorist organizations
Also in May 2011, Obama urged the US Supreme Court to set aside the Fourth Amendment and give law enforcement the authority to break into homes—without warrants—if they suspect evidence might be destroyed.
Bringing 2011 to a close, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) including a provision mandating that anyone suspected of terrorism—even US citizens—be indefinitely detained by the US military.
Getting an early start on the election year, in February 2012 Obama authorized the use of armed unmanned drones for surveillance within the US borders.
In October 2012, President Obama institutionalized his kill list in a database developed by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) disturbingly called the “disposition matrix.”
During his first term, President Obama arguably set back civil liberties in the US more than any modern president. These are just the major policy gaffes; there were innumerable smaller ones. Here’s hoping he’ll do better in his second term.