Glenn Greenwald’s Civil Libertarian Propaganda


By Joe Campbell
September 28th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Last week, Glenn Greenwald felt compelled to make the same basic point that Jack Goldsmith did back in May just before the dueling speeches by Cheney and Obama – that the Obama administration’s national security policies do not make for as sharp a break from Bush’s as they have been portrayed. As Goldsmith described the similarity:

[T]he Obama practices are so close to the late Bush practices is that the late Bush practices were much different than the early ones. In 2001-2003, both fear of terrorism and Bush unilateralism were at their height. But in the last six years, the terror threat has appeared to fade (at least to the public), and Congress and the courts have engaged on terrorism issues, pushing back on some, approving others, and acquiescing in yet others…In these and many other ways, U.S. terrorism law looked wholly different at the outset of the Obama administration than in 2001-2003. The law was much clearer in 2009, and there was much greater consensus–across political parties and the branches of government–about permissible policies and their limits. Many Obama policies reflect that consensus.

Goldsmith doesn’t mention another relevant fact about the Bush administration’s approach – that even as it scaled back the vast powers it asserted in the aftermath of September 11 and rolled back certain practices, it was careful to never admit a mistake or repudiate the extreme measures it had used. At the same time, even to the extent that it did do so, the Bush administration had no credibility because they had lied about what they were doing in the first place – from warrantless wiretaps to torture.

Greenwald though omits this vast change of behavior between the worst practices of the early Bush administration and its later years. Because to bring that up would undermine his propagandistic purposes which involves attacking Obama. See what I mean:

This leads to a more general point:  when it comes to uprooting (“changing”) the Bush/Cheney approach to Terrorism and civil liberties — the issue which generated as much opposition to the last presidency as anything else — the Obama administration has proven rather conclusively that tiny and cosmetic adjustments are the most it is willing to do.  They love announcing new policies that cast the appearance of change but which have no effect whatsoever on presidential powers.  With great fanfare, they announced the closing of CIA black sites — at a time when none was operating.  They trumpeted the President’s order that no interrogation tactics outside of the Army Field Manual could be used — at a time when approval for such tactics had been withdrawn.  They repudiated the most extreme elements of the Bush/Addington/Yoo “inherent power” theories — while maintaining alternative justifications to enable the same exact policies to proceed exactly as is.  They flamboyantly touted the closing of Guantanamo — while aggressively defending the right to abduct people from around the world and then imprison them with no due process at Bagram.  Their “changes” exist solely in theory — which isn’t to say that they are all irrelevant, but it is to say that they change nothing in practice:  i.e., in reality.

Greenwald makes a big deal of the fact that the changes are in “theory” not “in reality” – but neglects to mention that most of the worst aspects of Bush’s abuses of power were only present in theory by the time Obama took office – due to pushback from Congress, the Courts, etcetera. Bagram is a serious issue – and Greenwald is entirely justified in talking about that particular hypocrisy. But the “ideological wind tunnel” that is Greenwald’s calling card causes him to omit key facts here – as it so often does.

And you n0tice – in setting up his own “spike,” Greenwald implicitly accepts Goldsmith’s contentions – that the Bush administration had stopped torturing, had reconstituted its wiretapping program with Congressional and court approval, and had otherwise already ceased the worst abuses of power.

A final note: Greenwald’s approach to Obama seems to have more to do with his discomfort with defending any establishment than with actual policy. There are certainly reasons for civil libertarians to be unhappy with Obama, but for Greenwald, there’s a strong sense he wishes no part in defending any Establishment. This makes him a gadfly – which while often useful does not make him right all the time.

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