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Sun Feb 10, 2013, 03:22 PM

Obama’s Smart Move on Drones - by Michael Tomasky

Feb 10, 2013 7:38 PM EST

The President’s civil liberties record is far from ideal. But, says Michael Tomasky, at least give Obama credit for exploring ways to limit his own power

At John Brennan’s CIA confirmation hearing last week, which came right after the leak of the controversial Justice Department memo about the targeting of U.S. citizens, Senator Dianne Feinstein said that the Senate was reviewing proposals for special courts to oversee the program. At least that way, this awesome power to determine that a U.S. citizen had forfeited his right to due process by joining an enemy army wouldn’t repose in one person. Then on Saturday, The New York Times noted that President Obama has been considering exactly this move. This provides a good occasion, then, to reflect on a difference between Obama and his predecessor—Obama has certainly continued and maybe even expanded some dreadful Bush-era practices on wiretapping, but at least he’s apparently willing to relinquish some executive power. And that serves as a reminder that while we always have to be on guard against abuse of executive power, it’s also the case that some presidents are less creepy than others, and that in the post 9/11 era, we don’t have much choice but to live with a lot of ambiguity in these matters.

The Times article cites a number of senators—Feinstein, Ron Wyden, Saxby Chambliss, freshman Angus King—expressing their concern about the fact “that a president can use secret evidence to label a citizen a terrorist and order his execution without a trial or judge’s ruling.” For several paragraphs, you’re reading this piece thinking that it’s a building congressional hue and cry that will force the Obama administration to submit to judicial reviews of the targeting of citizens.

But then you get to this sentence: “An administration official who spoke of the White House deliberations on the condition of anonymity said President Obama had asked his security and legal advisers a year ago ‘to see how you could have an independent review’ of planned strikes. ‘That includes possible judicial review.’”

Now, let me acknowledge the obvious, which is that the Obama administration hasn’t implemented this review. The leak of this memo to Mike Isikoff of NBC may indeed have been made by someone frustrated that the process wasn’t moving fast enough. Carrying this change through is going to require legislation, and then these courts will need to be set up. Equally obviously, a secret court of the type envisioned is not going to satisfy civil libertarians, not only because it’s secret, but because the target would presumably have no representation at hearings.

But it would address a major concern—that the president alone shouldn’t have such power. I’m not saying that Obama deserves … oh, the Nobel Peace Prize (!) for initiating such a process, if indeed it comes to pass. But it’s worth noting anyway. I don’t know many presidents who would willingly see their own power be subject to more scrutiny. Can you imagine George W. Bush turning to Alberto Gonzales and saying, “Fredo, I’ve been thinking, I have too much executive power, howzabout we get some judges to review some of my decisions?” And on the off chance there was such a moment of presidential weakness, Dick Cheney was there to cut any such nonsense short.



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Response to DonViejo (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 03:24 PM

1. This requires multiple readings (at least by me ). Thanks for posting.

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Response to DonViejo (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 03:35 PM

2. On the matter of implementation, who would implement such a thing in the last 4 years' political

environment? especially if there were still some seriously dangerous double-triple-crossers out there?

Once again!! One doesn't have to approve in order to at least try to hypothetically understand all of the different dimensions of what is going on.

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Response to patrice (Reply #2)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 04:00 PM

3. I even doubt it will be implemented anytime before *at least* early 2015...

Methinks the tearorists will block that one too...

gRidlock oblige

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Response to Amonester (Reply #3)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 04:11 PM

4. tearorists: + fight against any movement to reform the U.N., thus leaving the IMF to continue its

its evil ways - AND - bad mouth the World Court at any and every opportunity - AND - pretend that what we don't know doesn't matter, because there are NO risks, though it'll be a long cold day in hell before the tearorists offer their OWN lives to die if their "calculation" that there are NO risks is wrong . . . .

. . . getting TIRED of all of this!

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Response to DonViejo (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 04:27 PM

5. K&R and Bookmarked so

I can take more time to read it.

Thanks DonViejo

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