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Barack Obama, the Quiet Dictator

In 2005, Irregular Times responded to the Bush administration’s plans for lifetime detention without criminal charges or trial, writing an essay calling George W. Bush “The Quiet Dictator”:

It was revealed this week that the Bush Administration is planning to keep people as prisoners for their entire lives, even though there is no evidence that those people have committed any crime against the United States. The lack of evidence against these people is so striking that the American government does not even have enough grounds to bring them before a form of military tribunal that has been set up by George W. Bush precisely for the purpose of evading the standards of justice set by the United States Constitution….

In the old, pre-Homeland, United States of America, a person had to be convicted of murder, by a jury of peers, in a public, open trial, on the basis of evidence without a reasonable doubt, and with the opportunity for fair representation and appeal to the justice system to rule out mistakes and prosecutorial fraud. Oh, but that was before The Homeland was created, and as we’re told over and over again, in the Homeland, everything changed.

At first, it was a scandal that the President of the United States had claimed the power to set up his own courts, outside of the judicial branch of government, to force people through military tribunals that would be little more than kangaroo courts. Now, it appears that Mr. Bush, the Master of our Homeland, has decided that he does not have to give prisoners any trial at all, ever. He can just lock them up, forever….

It is a sad day for those Americans who actually care about freedom, to see the American President give himself the power to convict people and punish them with life sentences without any need of evidence or even the formality of a show trial. This power is at the heart of totalitarianism, and now that George W. Bush has seized it, he is nothing more than a dictator….

The saddest thing of all is that most Americans just don’t care. So long as they are not taken prisoner, they don’t care if other people are. So long as they are not tortured, they don’t care if other people are. So long as they are able to live safely in their homes, they don’t care if other people, in other countries, are killed in their homes.

There is a new nonchalance in America about the withering of freedom. Freedom has now become an abstract concept for most Americans, something that is to be given only to some people, but not to others. Now, under the shadow of The Homeland, Americans seem to like the idea that only good people that the government approves of have the privilege of freedom. Gone are the days when freedom was regarded as a universal human right. Americans seem to want only security and vengeance.

It’s five years later and George W. Bush is no longer in the White House. But have matters changed? Barack Obama, the new Master of our Homeland, has agreed with the old Master that he does not have to give some prisoners any trial at all, ever. He, too, can just lock them up forever.

On what basis does Barack Obama justify his seizure of dictatorial powers? The Obama Administration says that the people it is imprisoning are suspected of providing support to “terrorist organizations.” But at the same time, the Obama administration’s own task force declared in 2010 that:

Notably, the principal obstacles to prosecution in the cases deemed infeasible by the Task Force typically did not stem from concerns over protecting sensitive sources or methods from disclosure, or concerns that the evidence against the detainee was tainted. While such concerns were present in some cases, most detainees were deemed infeasible for prosecution based on more fundamental evidentiary and jurisdictional limitations tied to the demands of a criminal forum….

Generally these detainees cannot be prosecuted because either there is presently insufficient admissible evidence to establish the detainee’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in either a federal court or military commission, or the detainee’s conduct does not constitute a chargeable offense in either a federal court or military commission.

In plain English, what does this mean? It means that the Obama administration is maintaining the Bush administration practice of detaining people without end when there is not sufficient evidence to actually convict them of terrorist acts, or terrorist support, or even terrorist affiliations.

The Guantanamo Review Task Force, consisting of officials from six branches of the Obama administration, was unanimous in making these declarations. In its unanimous report, the Guantanamo Review Task Force approvingly placed the following fig leaf over the indefinite detention of people who have insufficient evidence of guilt and whose conduct does not constitute a chargeable offense:

Significantly, the Executive Order does not preclude the government from prosecuting at a later date someone who is presently designated for continued detention. Work on these cases continues. Further exploitation of the forensic evidence could strengthen the prosecution against some detainees. Other detainees may cooperate with prosecutors. If either the Department of Justice or the Department of Defense concluded in the future that prosecution of a detainee held without charges has become feasible in a federal court or in a military commission, the detention decisions made in the course of this review would permit the prosecution to go forward.

You read that right: the Obama administration wants to keep these people locked up because one day some new evidence might come up that connects these people to prosecutable crimes, and just in case the government wants to keep them handy.

It is another sad day for Americans who care about freedom but see the American President give himself the power to punish people with a life in detention without any need for evidence, without even the formality of a show trial. Such power is still at the heart of totalitarianism, and now that Barack Obama has taken that power, we might as well call him what he is: a dictator.

American liberals long warned that George W. Bush was leading America toward dictatorship. But Barack Obama has taken the same dictatorial powers for himself. Bush may be gone, but the dictatorship is still here.

5 comments to Barack Obama, the Quiet Dictator

  • I’m with you 100 percent on this one. Policies like this matter, and Obama’s positions on them are too much like Bush’s for me to support Obama’s re-election in 2012.

    What do liberals of good conscience do in 2012? I can’t jump on the Obama bandwagon, but other than that, I don’t have a good answer, other than to support solid non-profit organizations instead of unreliable politicians.

    Could that be a successful Shadow 2012 liberal campaign – withholding support from Obama, and organizing support for the solid liberal organizations Obama has snubbed instead?

    Perhaps we call that campaign: Obama-As-He-Should-Have-Been 2012.

  • I have tried to give Obama every break and assumed when he was elected that he would live up to his promise to CHANGE the status quo and move in a strong, honest, compassionate direction in all areas..specifically in regard to treatment of Gitmo prisoners. Instead, despite claiming that “we will no longer torture”, I understand we continue to practice “rendition” to foreign governments..where torture WILL occur, and Obama has created a new “law” which allows our security forces to ASSASSINATE Americans who are “suspected” of collusion with the “enemy” This isn’t the president I wanted. I am grossly embarrassed..and ashamed of him now. Dictator? If the shoe fits…….

    Cappa

  • Chase

    While this is indeed a saddening article, it has to be re-noted that there’s alot on the plate of any president when it comes to making decisions and seeing them through in a 4 year time period. Considering it takes a long time to see most things through for people in general, this could be the reaction to pushing this back in lieu of more important issues – so it may have been easier to just leave this in a status similar to the previous administration’s instead of causing yet another scuffle amongst government officials and look badly, once again, when broadcasted on the ever-so-already-biased news stations. You’d think people would know he’s facing enough trouble over health care and spending, amongst other things. Unless the tactic of ‘well, I’m in this deeply, I might as well overturn as much as possible” is being hoped for.

    To the people that commented, you keep speaking of Obama as if this is anything that he himself, on camera has said, instead of, as the article above says often, something that his administration is passing along – and unless we were actually in the White House to see what goes on, there could be a chance that decisions were given to be made by someone other than the president because he’s tied to one of the other many issues he has to deal with.

    There’s already enough pressure put on a person elected president in 4 years, regardless of whom they may be or what party they’re member of – and while the American people are quick to vote negatively against any of them, as the article above also says, most Americans also don’t care about this issue’s decision to begin with – and even more, if not the majority, don’t know anything about what’s going on or what’s being decided within our government as it is.

    So to say that you’re disappointed in the president, whom has only been given a year and a half (from sworn in date) to do ANYTHING, is a bit disappointing. Not only is America nonchalant and happy to cast the blame elsewhere, but nothing much is done about their complaints past commenting blithely about it from the comfort of their own homes. That, coupled with the fact that, for some reason, most citizens are unwilling to acknowledge the fact that the Republican party is doing all in their power to see that Obama makes as few changes as possible to start with, makes that embarrassment unwarranted.

    Somehow, we seem to forget that presidents are human as well as the fact that we, as citizens, have, at least historically and constitutionally, the power to fight against the growth of a dictatorship and make our needs known as people living within a free country. Not many complainers, however, are willing to do that, are they? Especially with enough faith in their actions to do it as often and as intensely as necessary – half of the population could care less enough about the good of the people as a whole for it to matter.

    So, before deciding you won’t vote again for the guy, perhaps people should begin to think about what all they might be able to accomplish in a year and a half. If the majority of people can’t even remember or carry through their self-appointed new year’s resolutions, it’s folly to believe that one man could possibly do as much as you’re asking him to. Unless, after 4 years, he’s been sitting on his butt the entire time doing nothing, or wrecking havoc in other countries because of what seems to be a sadistic showing of arrogance, considering him a dictator’s a bit strong.

    In a country of freedom, if you’re not going to be fair and objective when needed, what’s the point?

    • Jim

      The whole point is that when Barack Obama acts as he does in the manner mentioned here, this ceases to be a “country of freedom.”

      It’s hardly “folly” to ask that a president maintain the rule of law and not throw people in lifetime detention without charge on the justification that maybe one day some evidence might turn up that they did something. It’s a very low bar for a president to meet.

      A “dictator” is a president who, rather than obeying the law, subjects people under his rule to his extra-legal punishments like lifetime detention without charges. Like Cappa said, if the shoe fits… I’m much more worried about Barack Obama acting like a dictator than I am worried about Obama’s feelings getting hurt by strong criticism.

      And finally, it is one thing for a president to fail to deliver on a campaign promise. It is another thing for the president to turn around and do the OPPOSITE of what he promised to do.

      It is not my job as a citzen to be Barack Obama’s fawning supporter when he throws justice in the crapper..

  • Chase

    And to play the devil’s advocate and point out a few things about my comment –

    Yes, I know that when running, he said he’d be able to do quite a few things but that was, by far, not the first election the American people have been through and they should know by now that it makes more sense to assume that the president won’t accomplish all he says he can. If nothing else, they should know it’s an overflow of goals that most people have perhaps even in hopes of being re-elected. They should pay attention to what he does try to accomplish, however, and judge him from there. To believe he’s going to do everything he said he would (really, are people seriously taking stock in governmental promises now?) is just silly on their part.

    The fact that people have been complaining about him furiously since his first 3-6 months in office makes me peeved, not because I’m an ‘obama-lover’ but simply because they’re being unreasonable. After 8 years of what we just went through, the quite apparently stored up reserve of hostility being blown this administration’s way makes ‘a day late and a dollar short’ a drastic understatement.

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