Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, is “disgusted” with President Obama,” he told a conference of progressive activists on Wednesday. Politico‘s Josh Gerstein has a short piece on the quote, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. The ACLU has been the central bulwark against the relentless weakening of civil liberties protections since 9/11. Civil liberties activists fervently hoped that Obama, a former constitutional law professor, would be different. I talk to people in this community often, and there is definitely a sense of despair now. Think about some of the things Obama has done (or not done) that affect civil liberties:
- He hasn’t closed Guantanamo.
- More important, he hasn’t ended the indefinite detention without trial that makes Guantanamo so controversial.
- He’s still using military commissions instead of the federal court system, and has backed away from plans to try the 9/11 suspects in New York.
- He seems to believe he can order the “targeted killing” of American citizens, without trial or other due process.
- His Justice Department has mounted a wide-ranging investigation of the Guantanamo defense bar. That investigation is reportedly led by Patrick Fitzgerald, the US attorney that some civil liberties activists wanted to investigate the Bush administration’s torture and detention policies.
- He hasn’t authorized a full, independent investigation of torture, let alone a criminal probe of the people who supposedly authorized it.
- He has embraced the use of the state secrets privilege in order to shield the government from inconvenient lawsuits.
- He has launched an all-out war on national security whistleblowers and leakers.
- He’s pursued the right to detain anyone indefinitely, without formal review, in Afghanistan—even if they weren’t captured there.
- He’s reauthorized controversial Patriot Act wiretapping provisions.
- He pushed for and signed a new law allowing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to block the release of photos of detainee abuse.
People can disagree on civil liberties. But given their positions on these issues, no one should expect Romero and the ACLU to be anything but disillusioned.