ACLU– On Thursday, May 26th, 2011, award-winning Salon.com columnist and New York Times-bestselling author Glenn Greenwald gave a fiery address to attendees at the ACLU of Massachusetts annual Bill of Rights Dinner. He described how the Obama administration has aggressively defended–and at times expanded–the Bush White House’s attacks on civil liberties, expansion of government surveillance and secrecy, and executive power assertions in the “war on terror.” He argues that this continuity between the two major political parties spells long-term trouble for the Bill of Rights in the United States, and suggests that the work of the ACLU is crucial to reestablishing the rule of law.
GLENN GREENWALD: Thank you very much and thank you for coming out tonight and thanks so much to the ACLU of Massachusetts and Carol Rose and all of the lawyers and excellent people who work there for inviting me to come and speak tonight. There is literally no organization in the nation which I’d rather be spending my time than the ACLU and its affiliates and of those I really feel most at home with the ACLU Massachusetts and I mean that sincerely so thank you very much for inviting me.
I last spoke to this group in February of 2009 which was just a few weeks, less than a month after President Obama’s inauguration and the other day, a couple of days ago I went back and listened to some of what I had said to try and remember some of my remarks and it was really quite remarkable and almost even sort of amusing in a dark kind of way, a dark and warped kind of way to think about how radically things have changed in such a short period of time because what I talked about in that speech I was actually lamenting the difficulty of writing about political issues and general and civil liberties in particular at the time because of what I have described as this euphoria that have descended upon the citizenry as a result of President Obama’s inauguration.
The sense as I said at the time that was very pervasive even among lots of allies that the veil of darkness have been lifted and that as a result of President Obama’s inauguration and his empowerment that civil liberties were on the march and progress was being made and it was very difficult to talk about some of the real impediments that still remained and some of the risks that were quite evident to the civil liberties agenda notwithstanding and perhaps even because of Barack Obama’s election. And even as the evidence began to compile somewhat rapidly over the course of that year that President Obama intended to embrace and in some cases even accelerate many of what have been some of the most controversial policies of the Bush administration when it came to terrorism and civil liberties, it was really quite controversial, quite provocative to stand up in front of a group of people or to write that President Obama was continuing the essence of Bush/Cheney radicalism. And what’s so remarkable is that a short two years later it’s neither controversial nor provocative in the slightest to stand up and make that observation because for the most part everyone has come to see that it’s quite true. It’s self-evident; it’s simply a fact of our political life.
So much so that when I used to come and speak at events like this a year and a half ago or even as recently as a year ago, if I were to stand up and make that observation I would devote the bulk of my time to proving its truth because I knew that if I said it it would provoke skepticism, what is he talking about, Barack Obama the constitutional scholar, the liberal who ran on a platform of civil liberties is copying George Bush and Dick Cheney that’s absurd, that’s impossible. So you have to spend a lot of time going down one by one the policies that President Obama had embraced in order to demonstrate its truth. That no longer is necessary, I wouldn’t even take your time spending much of my time this evening proving that to be true because I assume that everyone knows that it’s true.
Suffice to say people across the political spectrum now routinely acknowledge that truth and what’s most interesting to me is what the people on the American right are saying about that issue because what has always been true is for many decades is that if you find that Conservatives and you wind him or her up what they’re going to start doing is start saying that Democrats, especially the Democratic president is weak on national security. It’s just instinctively what they do. I think Conservatives take their children and train them to say that before they even learn how to say mother and father or any other words. It’s what Conservatives do when you just leave them to their own devices and for the first few months of the Obama Administration, the Obama Presidency, you saw Conservatives doing that. Dick Cheney’s spawn, Liz, and Bill Kristol created a group called Keep America Safe that run around making that accusation that he was rendering the country vulnerable to terrorist by abandoning these policies that George Bush and Dick Cheney had implemented to keep us safe. But overtime pretty quickly actually it became unsustainable to maintain that even given the very permissive standards when it comes to facts and accuracy and our political discourse not even Conservatives with the straight face could say that Barack Obama was doing anything other than continuing the path that George Bush and Dick Cheney had created.
In 2009, in October of 2009 Jack Goldsmith who was a Justice Department lawyer for the Bush Administration, this severe right wing idealogue who approved the illegal eavesdropping program that the New York Times uncovered in 2005 and who now teaches at Harvard Law School wrote an article in the New York Public in which he said that Barack Obama was doing more to entrench George Bush and Dick Cheney’s terrorism and civil liberties policies than George Bush and Dick Cheney could have ever dreamed of achieving. And what he said actually was “Obama’s decision to continue George Bush’s terrorism policies just like Nixon’s going to China” meaning to have a self-described progressive constitutional scholar now embrace those policies “would essentially prove to the nation that they were right after all.”
And you see statements like this one after the next coming from right wing officials. Michael Hayden was the Chief of the NSA at the time the illegal eavesdropping program was instituted under George Bush, such a right wing ideologue he that Barack Obama when he was in the Senate was one of the very few people to vote against his confirmation as CIA Director on the grounds that he had so blatantly broken the law by overseeing that policy and yet that same Michael Hayden, Bush’s CIA Chief and NSA Director gashed and lavished Barack Obama with praise in a Washington Times interview six months ago on the grounds that “there’s been a powerful continuity between the 43rd and the 44th president.” Even the Heritage Foundation told the New York Times in January “I don’t think it’s even fair to call it Bush light, it’s Bush, it’s really, really hard to find the difference that’s meaningful and not atmospheric.”
And even the face of Bush-Cheney extremism himself Dick Cheney, who ran around for the first few months saying that Barack Obama was going to render us all vulnerable to a terrorist attack by abandoning those policies has now acknowledged that that isn’t actually true. In an ABC News interview of January of this year, when asked whether or not he still believes that Obama is making us unsafe he said “in terms of a lot of the terrorism policies, the early talk for example about prosecuting people on the CIA, I think that he’s learned that what we did was far more appropriate than he ever gave us credit for while he was a candidate, all of that’s fallen by the wayside. I think he’s found it necessary to be more sympathetic to the kinds of things we did.”
So even American Conservatives that would love to be out there accusing Barack Obama of abandoning these policies, even they are too are not so shameless or brazen to be able to say that they acknowledge what’s obviously true which is that he’s continuing them. And then people who aren’t among the American right have said the same thing. The Executive Director of the National ACLU, Anthony Ramiro stood up at a convention of progressive last year and gave a talk on civil liberties and he began it by saying “I’m going to say something quite provocative” and in the very next sentence he made quite good on that promise because the next sentence was “when it comes to civil liberties I’m disgusted by this president” which won over as well as you would think that it would. And Yale Law professor Bruce Ackerman who was one of the harshest critics of George Bush and Dick Cheney’s terrorism policies wrote in Form Policy just three weeks ago when he was writing about the commencement of the was in Libya even without a pretense of Congressional authorization “Obama is bringing America closer to the Imperial presidency than Bush ever did.”
So, as I said it’s a recognized fact across the political spectrum. It need not even really be demonstrated. The policies that Barack Obama has embraced as his own, I don’t mean the ones that he’s failed to reverse quickly enough, I mean the ones that he’s affirmatively embraces as his own are the very ones that define what half the nation at least believe to be the dangerous, radicalism of George Bush and Dick Cheney. Just weeks ago Obama signed an Executive Order implementing a policy of indefinite detention which was already the policy that he had been administering. Indefinite detention mean putting people in cages for life without charging them with a crime, without according them due process and without giving them an opportunity to establish their innocence even though the evidence is overwhelming that a large percentage of the people who had been in Guantanamo and still are there, if not the majority, ended up being completely innocent, guilty of absolutely nothing.
And what a lot of the defenders of the administration will say was that it’s not Obama’s fault that he hasn’t closed Guantanamo yet because the Congress impeded him in doing so and you can leave that debate to the side because even before Congress acted it all on Guantanamo the plan that President Obama announced he’s closing Guantanamo Plan was not to close Guantanamo at all. It was simply to move it a few thousand miles north to Thompson, Illinois but keep the core aspect of what made it controversial. The controversy over Guantanamo was not – isn’t it terrible that George Bush and Dick Cheney are imprisoning people without charges on a Caribbean Island instead of doing it in Illinois? So therefore you close Guantanamo, move it to Illinois, problem solved. The controversy was we’re putting people into cages for life without charging them with a crime which the Constitution explicitly prohibits and is contrary to our values and yet that policy is one that President Obama has enthusiastically embraced and continues to this day.
And then if you go down the list you have the State’s secret doctrine which George Bush and Dick Cheney warped into a full scale immunity doctrine that says that even if you sue them in Court and claim that they’ve broken the law by doing things like torturing people or eavesdropping on Americans without the warrants required by the Constitution and by the law that these policies are such vital State secrets that no Courts can even examine and adjudicate what they’ve done, it removes the president from the rule of law literally. And one after the next lawsuits has seen Barack Obama’s lawyers, the Justice Department march into Court and makes the same arguments. We continue to have military commissions which the New York Times in November of 2001 when George Bush did it, condemned as an extreme perversion of American justice and American history. Those continue, all be it with some modifications but there still new inventions. You see the administration now aggressively defending the Patriot Act and demanding its extension without a single reform and the massive surveillance tape that grew rapidly in the wake of 9-11 continues to grow. These are all the policies that have justified all the quotes that I’ve just read to you about how Barack Obama’s continuing the Bush-Cheney framework and architecture.
But there are certain instances in which he’s gone even further. Now one of those is the war on whistleblowers that is being conducted by the United States government. Whistleblowing is one of the very few means left that we have for learning what the government does behind this massive wall of secrecy. Almost every single political controversy of significance over the last decade from Abu Ghraib to the NSA eavesdropping scandal to the torture regime and on and on has been the by-product of brave people in government stepping forward and informing the nation of the seed or criminality. And yet this administration is conducting literally a war on the activity of whistleblowing even though candidate Obama in Astons’ website, you can go read it said I believe that whistleblowing needs to be encourage not prosecuted because these are patriotic and courageous people and yet as a New York article by Jane Meyer two weeks ago just pointed out there are more prosecutions under the Obama administration, under the Espionage Act than all other presidents combined in history to the point where as one person put it President Obama has a greater fixation on stopping leaks and whistleblowing than even Richard Nixon had.
And then you look at the policy in the video that we just saw where activists and dissidents and people who in any way are associated with Wikileaks or other groups the president just likes are literally having their laptops searched and seized for often times forever and the contents copied. I know documentary makers and journalists, who have had their reporter’s notes seized all without warrants, have had their laptops similarly taken. There have been efforts to obtain the online information of people who in some ways seem to advocate four Wikileaks and there was just another subpoena served on a New York Times reporter to learn his source, all things that the Bush administration either didn’t do or didn’t do legally to the extent that this administration is doing. And then you have the program instituted by the Obama administration literally to target American citizens who are outside of the United States for assassination simply on the president’s say so that such individuals are involved with terrorism. No due process, no indictments, no charges, no opportunity to defend themselves and a drone was just to Yemen to kill one of that people on that list, Anwar al-Awlaki had missed and killed two other people but there is clearly in the New York Times nd the Washington Post have confirmed it an assassination program aimed at American citizens at least four people are on that list.
Now if you look at what the Constitution actually says and think about the fact that we tolerate this, that we allow the government to take our laptops and copy its contents without a whiff of suspicion or judicial oversight, or to target our fellow citizens for assassinations simple based upon the president’s unproven allegation, untested allegation that they are involved in terrorism. It’s hard to imagine what limits remain. The Fifth Amendment simply says as clearly as it can no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. The Fourth Amendment guarantees that no person shall be subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures, they shall be safe in their papers and the facts that no warrant shall issue expect upon finding a probable cause. These policies cannot be more anti-ethical to those guarantees and yet this administration, far more than the previous one in these areas continuous to violate them.
Now, there are – for people who care about civil liberties, who try to see as most if not all of the people in this room you don’t really need to talk about the consequences of these acts because these acts are odious onto themselves. They’re odious on principle. So I don’t – I’m not going to spend any time talking about it’s wrong to put people into prison without due process or to kill them without due process. I assume that we all understand the reason why but I do want to talk about what the consequences are of this administration continuing the prior administration’s approach on these issues because I think the consequences are extremely significant and not discussed very often. So that’s what I want to devote the rest of my time to or what I think are the implications of this continuation.
The first is that these policies which were as recently as two years ago, nothing more than very divisive, controversial prongs of right wing dogma. Ones that divided the citizenry and sparked debate have now been converted into bipartisan consensus as a result of their adoption by a Democratic president. And the reason that’s so significant is because the way our political discourse functions is that once the two parties and their leadership agree on a certain issue the media seizes to cover it and it gets removed from mainstream debate. There’s a law professor at Yale, Jack Balkan, who has studied exactly that process and talked about it, the way in which one something becomes bipartisan consensus it gets entrench for generation at least.
Conservatives in 1940’s were obsessed with destroying the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt and once they elected the first Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, he tinkered on the margins with it but didn’t dismantle it. It became the policy of both parties and therefore the policy of the United States and was removed from serious contention. The same thing happened with the Conservative hatred for the great society of Lyndon Johnson when Richard Nixon was elected he actually increased a lot of the domestic advances of Lyndon Johnson in a fairly liberal way and removed from debate those programs as well because Conservatives, Republicans and Democrats no longer disagreed about those things, they became the policies of both parties. That is what has happened with what until two years ago was right wing dogma, the face of Bush/ Cheney radicalism; it is now the face of both parties and therefore no longer disputed.
You see this really vividly in lots of different instances but one place that you see it is right this very moment in the ongoing fight over to extend the Patriot Act without any reforms. It’s really amazing because if you look at the civil liberties debates for the last decade entail typically what would happen is you’d have a few murmurings among Democratic politicians about civil liberties and about maybe some of these policies are going too far and the Bush administration would stand up and they would dispatch their National Security officials and they would say you either give us what we want, and this is not hyperbole, they would say you either give us what we want or you will have the blood on your hand from the next terrorist attack. And Liberals and Progressives and Democrats were horrified about this idea, how dare they exploit the terrorist threat for political gain and this is extremely manipulative and yet look at what is happening in the Patriot Act debate.
What I just described happened in the Patriot Act debate in 2005 only the roles were reversed. Russ Feingold led a filibuster of the Patriot Act renewal in order try and add reforms and the Bush administration told media that the Democrats were jeopardizing the lives of American citizens and the Democrats capitulated and extend the Patriot Act by four years about reforms and in 2008 when Bush and Cheney wanted their eavesdropping program legalized retroactively the Democrats at first resisted a little bit, they sent Michael McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence to the Congress and said literally if you don’t renew this within a matter of weeks, not months weeks, there could very well be a terrorist attack on the US Congress if you don’t give us this authority that we’ve demanded and of course the Democrats capitulated and passed the Protect America Act. That was the modus operandi of the Bush administration that Democrats were horrified by.
Well now that’s there are Democrats in the White House and controlling the Senate and they want the Patriot Act themselves extended there’s a handful of Senators, roughly ten, evenly divided between the two parties who are trying to hold up the Patriot Act extension simply in order to add a few reforms to correct some of the prior abuses and what do you have the Democrats doing in response? Here’s what Dale Wiggle, who is a reporter at Slate, wrote on Twitter yesterday as he listened live to the Patriot Act debate being conducted on the floor led by Harry Reid. He said “Reid is on the floor warning that terrorist will eat us if Rand Paul makes the Patriot Act expire.”
Now that may sound like some hyperbole but if you actually look at what Harry Reid said about the efforts on the part of the Senators to hold up the Patriot Act it really was fairly accurate. Reid wrote in the Best or Worst Tradition of Karl Rove “if the Senator from Kentucky and other refuses to relent that would increase the risk of a retaliatory terrorist against the homeland and hamper our ability to deal a truly fatal blow to Al Qaeda.” Diane Fine finds out the same things, she said it “if somebody wants to take this on their shoulders not having the Patriot Act in place which is necessary to protect the United States at this time that’s a big, big weight to bear”. So what you have is now the Democrats adopting the same fear mongering tactics that only a couple of years ago is the province of the Republicans, it’s now the political establishment’s beliefs, not one of the parties beliefs. And that virtually guarantees that the principles will remain embedded in place for a decade if not a generation, quite an extraordinary legacy for a president who ran a campaign not with an insularly promise but with as the centerpiece of campaign to restore civil liberties in the United States.
The second consequence is that when the government is permitted to violate civil liberties systematically for this long in the name of terrorism it creates a climate of fear among the citizenry that changes the relationship between citizens and their government. I spent a lot of time over the last year and a half writing about Wikileaks and in defense of Wikileaks because as I said whistleblowing and leaks are one of the few avenues that we have left for learning about what our government is actually doing and the first time that I wrote about Wikileaks it was really quite eye opening for me in regards to this climate of fear that’s being created. It was January of 2010, before very many people including myself knew much about Wikileaks, it was before their most controversial leaks and I had learned about them because there was a report prepared by the Pentagon in secret in 2008 that described Wikileaks as an enemy of the State and talked about ways that the Pentagon could destroy it and this report ironically enough was leaked to Wikileaks which then posted it online and the New York Times wrote about it. And I read that article and I read that report and I didn’t know much about Wikileaks but I knew that if they were declared an enemy of the State by the Bush Pentagon that they were a group in which I had a lot of interest and probably felt pretty good about.
And so I read more about them and saw that they had indeed been exposing corruption around of the world and the part of the world’s more powerful factions for years and I wrote about them and I interviewed Julian Assange and I encourage my readers to donate money to them because they were in need of financial support. I provided links to where they could that, how they could do that online. And in response to my writing that, in my recommending that money be donated to them I had dozens of readers if not more contact me in multiple ways by email, in person, by the comments section. And I’m talking here about people who are very sober rational American citizens, not prone to conspiracies and what they said was I agree with what you say, I’m supportive about Wikileaks is doing but I’m actually fearful of donating money to them because I feel like if I donate money to them I’m going to end up on some government list somewhere, and that at some point I could have criminal liability for materially supporting a terrorist organization” or something along those lines and I didn’t consider those fears particularly well founded under the law from a strictly legalistic perspective. But the fact that so many people, American citizens reacted that way that they were fearful of donating money to a political group whose goals they supported, who had never been accused let alone convicted of any crime was really remarkable to me, really underscored the climate of fear that had been created in the United States over the past decade that led people to voluntary relinquish their own Constitutional rights. You can guarantee the right of free speech and free assembly and the right to petition the government all you want but if you scare the population into refraining exercising those rights because they know that you are limitless and what you can do those rights become meaningless.
And a similar realization happened as I began speaking with more and more people involved in Wikileaks through my reporting and my writing about them over the course of the next year, people who were especially are citizens of western European and eastern European countries who are very devoted to the cause of transparency and believe in the mission of Wikileaks. Now if you had talk to people involved in Wikileaks, American citizens or foreign citizens, especially foreigners, foreign nationals well they will tell you almost to a person is the same thing. They will say I’m not afraid of being charged with a crime under my government’s laws because I know that I’m doing nothing wrong and I will hire a lawyer and I will fight it but what I fear is that one day a government agent is going to knock on my door and say the United States has requested your extradition and that you are now being sent to the United States because they’ve seen how this country treats foreign nationals especially who are accused in some way of harming the United States by throwing them into a hole, by disappearing them, by rendering them, by torturing them, by denying them all due process and the fact that the greatest fear around the world is that people will end up in the grips of the American justice system after we spent decades lecturing to the world about what justice entails and holding ourselves out as the leader of the free world really underscored for me the climate of fear that had been created.
Carole mentioned earlier the case of Bradley Manning who is the accused leaker of much of the material that Wikileaks has published over the last year and one of the controversies is that as Carole said for the last ten months he’s been held in solitary confinement twenty three hours out of twenty four hours a day in his cell alone, barred from exercising, treated very inhumanely, the UN is investigating, amnesty is protested, and even the State Department spokesman PJ Crowley was forced to resign when he publicly denounced the treatment to which he’s objected. And a lot of times I would get the question why would they take a twenty-three year old private who’s obviously no threat and treat him in such an inhumane and grotesque manner?
And the same question used to get asked during the Bush years when people would say why are we torturing people when we know that torture doesn’t work and why are we putting people in Guantanamo when it’s creating such disrepute and destruction of credibility around the world and the answer for me was the same. The reason that we put Bradley Manning in solitary confinement, a form of torture that can destroy people psychologically forever is because we want to create, we the government, want to create a climate of fear that says to future whistleblowers if you too were of deceit and corruption and illegality and think about publicizing it to the world take a look at Bradley Manning and what we’ve done to him and what we can do, and that’s what will happen to you.
It’s the same reason, the same benefit that came from putting people in orange jumpsuits and shackles in Guantanamo and showing pictures of them to the world. It says to the world once we the government can operate without constraints as we can without Constitutional limits, without any other kinds of limit you should think twice and three times and ten times about challenging our power in any way. That is the benefit of a climate of fear, it protects people in power and the reason why people like David House have moral courage and are courageous and he is, he’s twenty-three years old and has continued despite the treatment that you just saw in that video is because that is a genuine threat having yourself detained by government agents, having your laptops seized, government agents recording all of your private communications and reading through it and doing who know what with it. All of these things are designed to intimidate the population to demand and induce them to refrain from exercising their rights. David House is unique because most people wouldn’t do it. That’s what the climate of fear creates.
Couple other implications just to finish. One of the very disturbing applications is what I write about and I call the one-way mirror effect and Carole talked about this a little bit as well. The idea of a republic that’s based upon guarantees of freedoms and liberties is that the individual is suppose to have rights to privacy in their private realm. People who wield public power are suppose to do that transparently so that we can know how public power is being wield, so that we can detect abuse because secrecy is the lynch pin of abusive power. Transparency is its antidote. And as Carole said we have completely reversed that. So that now virtually everything the government does of any significance takes place behind the wall of secrecy. Virtually everything we do is subject to an ever expanding surveillance state. One of the most remarkable things about the release of the Wikileaks documents and the diplomatic cables in particular was that the reaction to them among the media, they dismissive media, was that there’s nothing new in these documents, we haven’t really learned anything, these are all pretty boring documents.
Now, that wasn’t really true. There were enormous numbers of revelations of these documents included but what was true is that over the last year Wikileaks has produced and released of hundreds of thousands of documents. And what is amazing about them is that almost every single one of them with a few exceptions are really banal, inconsequential boring documents. But the reason that scandal is is because everyone of those documents, of those hundreds of thousands, upon hundreds of thousands that have been released have been stamped classified or secret and categorized as such under the laws and says it’s a crime to reveal them.
That’s because almost everything the government does instinctively is now a secret from the citizens on whose consent their power is supposed to depend. At the same time the surveillance state continues to grow wildly. The Obama administration is demanding that the Patriot Act now allow them to access internet records that will allow them to access your email logs and search terms as well as demanding that all internet providers and technology creators such as Blackberry’s include backdoors for the government to be able to access because the worst thing in their eyes is for you to be able to communicate with anybody anonymously or without their prying eyes having access. This is what the imbalance that we have created. Francis Bacon said and what has become a cliché “knowledge is power”. Right now, all of the knowledge is resting the National Security State, the Surveillance State, the public and private entities that form it. None of it is resting with you because except when whistleblowers act, you know virtually nothing about what they do.
Last point I want to make, and I think this is the hardest point to make, it’s one I’ve been trying to make ever since I started writing about civil liberties in late 2005 is that the accumulation of all of these policies and especially the propaganda and rhetorical premises that underlie them really start to change the character of the citizenry, change the national character in very substantial though imperceptible ways. And this was recently highlighted for me by the killing of Osama Bin Laden, which has an aspect of it that allows for reasonable debate. People can argue reasonably that it was a legitimate use of force, other people can argue that we ought to have arrested him and put him on trial the way we did with Nazi war criminals. But set that debate to the side, what really struck me was the aftermath and reaction of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. I first learned about it after I flew to Brazil that it occurred that I’m in a plane and I got off the plane and the cab driver was the first person who told me about and he said Osama Bin Laden was killed and Americans are in the streets marching and celebrating and dancing like they won some sporting competition. That night that the killing occurred President Obama announced it, and one of the things he said really struck me, was that he said tonight we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history.
Now, he’s right in principle that there are lots of incidents in American history that have generated national pride and have done so justifiably. We sent somebody to the moon, we discovered all sorts of cures for horrendous diseases that saved the lives of countless people around the world, the emancipation of slaves and the ultimate ending of Jim Crow and even the election of President Obama were incredible advancement for civil rights, there’s technology that been developed in the country that has employed millions of people and has improved the lives of people around the world in countless ways. These are causes for national celebration. These are things that show as he said that Americans can do anything that it sets its mind to but yet over the past decade there’s been almost no moments of national pride of that kind.
Maybe the inauguration of President Obama in the sense that it was a huge advancement for overcoming the country’s horrendous legacy on race but other than that there’s been very few of any moments of national pride and celebration. And the fact that we are now a country that finds purpose and cause for celebration and the fact that we can hunt somebody down and ferret them out and dump bullets into their skull and dump their corpse into an ocean really underscores I think what this posture of endless war and this constant erosion of civil liberties and this veneration of security has done to our political culture and our national character. And what’s most amazing about it is that some of the people who celebrated the Bin Laden death have argued that the reason why it was worth celebrating is because it would allow us to finally slow down some of these assaults on civil liberties and to return to the kind of country we were prior to 9-11.
And yet since the death of Bin Laden we’ve shot drone attacks on Anwar al-Awlaki, the US citizen in Yemen who has been targeted for assassination, and you see the debate on the Patriot Act, these fear mongering claims and demands that the Patriot Act be extended without any reforms, continuing as though the death of Bin Laden never happened. That’s because the death of Bin – that’s because Osama Bin Laden was not the cause of these civil liberty policies, he was simple the pretext for it. And the nature of what happens to a citizenry in a county when it constantly tells itself that its under a threat and that security is what matters and nothing else including privacy or retraining government is that it becomes its own cause, it finds reasons to continue.
Until we get back to what the founding principle was that security is one of many critical values and that there are times we sacrifice security for other equally important and even more important values. The values set forth in the Bill of Rights, the idea that we have the right to privacy from the government, that the government can’t exert power against us without constant checks. This mindset will ensure that these policies continue. And the ACLU and its affiliates and certainly this affiliate is really the leading force and has been for quite a long time and especially in those dark days after 9-11 and standing up in this corrosive mindset and in doing everything in its power to reverse it. And that’s why as I said in the beginning there is no organization with which I would rather spending my time and with that I thank you very much.
Questions for Glenn Greenwald: Justice For Who?
Questions for Glenn Greenwald: Whither DOMA?
Questions for Glenn Greenwald: Liberty Vs. Security?
Questions for Glenn Greenwald: Bradley Manning
Questions for Glenn Greenwald: Executive Orders
Questions for Glenn Greenwald: Why Should I Care?
To learn more about Glenn Greenwald check out his Salon column.