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Obama Breaks Pledge to Withdraw Troops from Iraq

Obama Breaks Pledge to Withdraw Troops from Iraq

IPS
August 3, 2010

Seventeen months after President Barack Obama pledged to withdraw all combat brigades from Iraq by Sep. 1, 2010, he quietly abandoned that pledge Monday, admitting implicitly that such combat brigades would remain until the end of 2011.

Obama declared in a speech to disabled U.S. veterans in Atlanta that “America’s combat mission in Iraq” would end by the end of August, to be replaced by a mission of “supporting and training Iraqi security forces”.

That statement was in line with the pledge he had made on Feb. 27, 2009, when he said, “Let me say this as plainly as I can: by Aug. 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.”

In the sentence preceding that pledge, however, he had said, “I have chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months.” Obama said nothing in his speech Monday about withdrawing “combat brigades” or “combat troops” from Iraq until the end of 2011.

Even the concept of “ending the U.S. combat mission” may be highly misleading, much like the concept of “withdrawing U.S. combat brigades” was in 2009.

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Obama normalizing Bush’s worst policies: ACLU

 

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Obama Wants Warrantless Access to Internet Activity Records

Obama Wants Warrantless Access to Internet Activity Records

Washington Post
July 29, 2010

The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual’s Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation.

The administration wants to add just four words — “electronic communication transactional records” — to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge’s approval. Government lawyers say this category of information includes the addresses to which an Internet user sends e-mail; the times and dates e-mail was sent and received; and possibly a user’s browser history. It does not include, the lawyers hasten to point out, the “content” of e-mail or other Internet communication.

But what officials portray as a technical clarification designed to remedy a legal ambiguity strikes industry lawyers and privacy advocates as an expansion of the power the government wields through so-called national security letters. These missives, which can be issued by an FBI field office on its own authority, require the recipient to provide the requested information and to keep the request secret. They are the mechanism the government would use to obtain the electronic records.

Stewart A. Baker, a former senior Bush administration Homeland Security official, said the proposed change would broaden the bureau’s authority. “It’ll be faster and easier to get the data,” said Baker, who practices national security and surveillance law. “And for some Internet providers, it’ll mean giving a lot more information to the FBI in response to an NSL.”

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Obama normalizing Bush’s worst policies: ACLU

The Obama DOJ’s warrantless demands for e-mails

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Obama normalizing Bush’s worst policies: ACLU

Obama normalizing Bush’s worst policies: ACLU

Raw Story
July 29, 2010

From the point of view of civil libertarians, the Obama administration has been an exercise in frustration, with every hopeful sign followed by failures to live up to its own promises.

The ACLU has just issued a report (pdf), titled “Establishing a New Normal: National Security, Civil Liberties, and Human Rights Under the Obama Administration,” which focuses on this pattern of inconsistency.

“The administration has displayed a decidedly mixed record,” explains ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romaro, “resulting, on a range of issues, in the very real danger that the Obama administration will institutionalize some of the most troublesome policies of the previous administration — in essence, creating a troubling ‘new normal.'”

As summarized in a press release announcing the report, “President Obama has made great strides in some areas, such as his auspicious first steps to categorically prohibit torture, outlaw the CIA’s use of secret overseas detention sites and release the Bush administration’s torture memos, but he has failed to eliminate some of the worst policies put in place by President Bush, such as military commissions and indefinite detention. He has also expanded the Bush administration’s ‘targeted killing’ program.”

The report is divided into seven sections covering transparency, torture and accountability, detention, targeted killing, military commissions, speech and surveillance, and watch lists. The most striking areas of the report, however, are those which focus not on torture or secret prisons but on less-publicized recent actions by the Obama administration.

The transparency section, for example, emphasizes that the program of “targeted killing” of suspected terrorists has been “shrouded in secrecy,” and that despite a FOIA request by the ACLU, “the CIA has refused even to confirm or deny whether it has records about the program.”

It also points out that rather than living up to Obama’s promise as a candidate that he would make sure whistleblowers got protection, “the administration has been prosecuting them.”

“It has charged Bradley Manning,” the report notes, “a 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst, for allegedly leaking a video showing the killing of two Reuters news staff and several other civilians by U.S. helicopter gunships in Iraq. (Reuters had spent nearly three years trying to obtain the video through FOIA; now that the video is in the public domain, it is clear that there was no basis for withholding it.)”

“We urge the administration to recommit itself to the ideals that the President himself invoked in his first days in office,” the report urges. “Our democracy cannot survive if crucial public policy decisions are made behind closed doors, implemented in secret, and never subjected to meaningful public oversight and debate. It cannot survive if the public does not know what policies have been adopted in its name.”

Another striking revelation appears in the section on surveillance: “Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has invested border agents with the authority to engage in suspicionless searches of Americans’ laptops and cell phones at the border; Americans who return home from abroad may now find themselves confronted with a border agent who, rather than welcoming them home, insists on copying their electronic records — including emails, address books, photos, and videos — before allowing them to enter the country. (Through FOIA, the ACLU has learned that in the last 20 months alone, border agents have used this power thousands of times.)”

And the report blasts the use of watch lists of suspected terrorists as “a disaster that too often implicates the rights of innocent persons while allowing true threats to proceed unabated.”

“Rather than reform the watch lists the Obama administration has expanded their use and resisted the introduction of minimal due process safeguards to prevent abuse and protect civil liberties,” the report charges. “The result is an unconstitutional scheme under which an individual’s right to travel and, in some cases, a citizen’s ability to return to the United States, is under the complete control of entirely unaccountable bureaucrats relying on secret evidence and using secret standards.”

“There can be no doubt that the Obama administration inherited a legal and moral morass, and that in important respects it has endeavored to restore the nation’s historic commitment to the rule of law,” the report concludes. “But if the Obama administration does not effect a fundamental break with the Bush administration’s policies on detention, accountability, and other issues, but instead creates a lasting legal architecture in support of those policies, then it will have ratified, rather than rejected, the dangerous notion that America is in a permanent state of emergency and that core liberties must be surrendered forever.”

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