On Civil Liberties, A Tale Of Two Obamas

by Andrew Kaczynski, BuzzFeed.com  |  published on February 8, 2013

A Justice Department memo that surfaced this week providing legal justification for the Obama administration’s use of drone strikes against American citizens suspected of plotting terrorist attacks stands in stark contrast with the platform Barack Obama ran on in 2008 — and the civil liberties he championed as a young, liberal state senator in Illinois.

The memo, which was first reported by NBC News, argues that the U.S. government can legally use drone strikes to kill American citizens without due process if they are determined to be high-ranking al-Qaeda officials who show “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.”

“I can just say that this president takes his responsibilities very seriously, and first and foremost, that’s his responsibility, to protect the United States and American citizens,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday, defending the drone policy. “These strikes are legal, they are ethical, and they are wise. The U.S. government takes great care in deciding to pursue an al-Qaeda terrorist, to ensure precision and to avoid loss of innocent life.”

But for a politician who made his name in the state Senate by fiercely advocating reforms to the justice system — including mandatory recordings of all police interrogations and confessions in capital murder cases — and later decried the Patriot Act as an assault to civil liberties, Obama’s defense of such drone attacks represents a remarkable departure from principles he championed not long ago.

As early as 2002, Obama was publicly carving out a decidedly progressive stance on these issues, using a Chicago television appearance to defend the civil liberties of American terror suspects who were being detained indefinitely without charges.

“There always has been a distinction between citizens and non-citizens,” he said. “It means something to be a citizen. And that’s important.”

“I’m always more concerned about encroachment on civil rights or civil liberties that apply selectively to people. When they apply to everybody, there tends to be a majoritarian check,” Obama added.

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