Drone attacks and new NDAA law under fire as critics fear US civil liberties are being undermined
President Barack Obama is facing a liberal backlash over his hardline national security policy, which critics say is more extreme and conservative than that pursued by George W Bush.
The outrage comes after a week in which Obama’s nominee to be the next head of the CIA, current White House adviser John Brennan, faced a grilling from the Senate intelligence committee over his enthusiastic support of using unmanned drones to strike suspected Islamic militants all over the globe.
It also comes after a court hearing in New York in which numerous liberal activists and journalists argued that a new Obama law – the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) – has dealt a serious blow to civil liberties by allowing American citizens to be detained indefinitely without trial.
Both developments also add to liberal frustration with an Obama administration that has ruthlessly cracked down on whistleblowers, especially on matters of national security, and failed to implement a promise to close down the Guantánamo Bay prison camp.
“If Bush had done the same things as Obama, then more people would have been upset about it. He is a Democrat though, and to an extent can get away with it,” said Daniel Ellsberg, who as a government official leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 and helped to expose the truth about the Vietnam war. Ellsberg is now one of the plaintiffs in the case against the NDAA and insists that the administration has used the law to give itself widespread and unconstitutional new powers: “We have been losing our guaranteed freedoms one by one.”
The government denies that the NDAA represents any sort of threat to ordinary citizens and has appealed against a judge’s ruling that it is unconstitutional, saying that the White House needs such powers to fight terrorism. However, critics say its use of broad language to define what constitutes a terrorist or what actions make up support for terrorist groups could drag in journalists, activists and academics. The case, which is currently on appeal in New York, could go all the way to the supreme court. Liberal film-maker Michael Moore has attacked the Obama administration for backing the NDAA. “In order to protect us from terrorism, the government is taking away our constitutional rights,” said Moore, who made the anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.