During the first term of the presidential administration of George W. Bush, we offered an essay titled The Quiet Dictator in which we bemoaned the "descent of the Bush administration into totalitarian depravity" and amazed at the silence of Republican and Democratic party politicians alike in the face of the about-face change in American justice.
A year and a half into the first term of the presidential administration of Barack H. Obama, it is no longer possible to wave away the similarities as part of the nature of government in transition. In the majority of its national security practices, the Obama administration has maintained the course of the Bush administration.
If the name fit George W. Bush, it fits Barack Obama. It's time to call President Obama out as The Second Quiet Dictatorship.
The following essay is a near-exact copy of the words we wrote in 2005. We've had to change scarcely more than names and current examples. That's very, very sad.
July 9, 2010 The continuation of Bush Administration depravities by the Obama administration finds America still sitting at a moral low which was new eight years ago but is no longer new in 2010. It was revealed in 2005 that the Bush Administration planned to keep certain 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 was so striking that the American government did 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.
Furthermore, it has been determined that these prisoners are of no use to American spies. As Reuters news service put it, these are people "the government believes have no more intelligence to share".
In the old, pre-Homeland, United States of America, a person had to be convicted of a crime, 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. But now Mr. 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 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 declares 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."
and "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, this 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 of terrorist support, or even of 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 this 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 the government wants to keep them handy just in case.
It is a sad day for Americans who actually 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 or even the formality of a show trial. Such power is 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.
The saddest thing of all is that most Americans just don't care. So long as they are not themselves taken prisoner, they don't care if other people are. So long as they are not themselves tortured, they don't care if other people have been. So long as they are themselves able to live safely in their homes, they don't care if other people, in other countries, have been and are being killed in their homes.
There is an ongoing 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.
This continuing attitude is typified by a 2010 letter sent to the editor of Oregon Live with advice for the war in Afghanistan. "I don't care if it takes forever. Find them all; kill them all. Period. Next question."
Where have members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives been? Where is their protest? There is none from them, be they Democrat or Republican or Independent. Not one Senator or Representative has even uttered the words "indefinite detention" since the Obama administration task force emerged with the detain-in-case-evidence-comes-up justification in January of 2010. Our elected representatives merely walked away from the news, quietly whistling to themselves, doing nothing. The blood and guts constituency has prevailed.
People once imagined that an American dictator would have to march into power dramatically, with tanks and guns, the declaration of martial law, and the imprisonment of hordes of good citizens who would not be silent while their freedoms were taken away. Now, we see that this notion was nonsense. An American dictator has slipped in, quietly, taking power little by little in secret, and through measures that never got to the front page of our newspapers. George W. Bush seized the powers of dictatorship. Barack Obama maintains those powers. Both have given the people exactly what they want.
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