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Drone Assaults on Civil Liberties

By Shahdabul Faraz Posted: 02/13/2012
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When people typically complain about the lack of bipartisanship in American politics, their outrage is grossly misplaced. While it is certainly true that our political discourse is home to contentious debates, this, in itself, is not the major problem. Rather, it is a distraction from the most potent toxin in American politics, which is our widespread bipartisan disregard for the preservation of civil liberties. When it comes to this issue, the distinction between Democrats and Republicans blurs to the point of non-existence. While right-wing politicians have a well-established history of ignoring civil liberties, Democrats have recently become much worse. The well-deserved condemnation that the Bush administration received from Democrats regarding civil-liberties violations has proven to be simply flowery political rhetoric based on their recent actions. The left’s outrage at Bush’s policies coupled with their acceptance of Obama’s reveals undeniable hypocrisy.

For the confused Democrat, let us revisit the outrage present during the Bush years. During his era, Guantanamo was the primary symbol of right-wing radicalism. Most left-wing Democrats saw it as not only counterproductive, but also as a step away from democracy and towards dictatorial governance. Democrats righteously, and correctly, pointed out that it was absurd that the Bush/Cheney duo could imprison individuals who were accused of being a terrorist without a trial. Back then, Democrats laughed at Bush defenders who argued that dangerous terrorists had given up all of their rights, even the right to a trial. Even if you were to subscribe to this cowardly notion that we have to fight terror with terror, it must still be pointed out that the guilt of an individual cannot, and should not, be determined by the whims of the President. The Constitution has made it so that the burden of proving guilt rests with the courts and America’s legal system.

Despite Obama’s defense of civil liberties while a Presidential candidate, he has not only retained many of Bush’s policies, but has also invented new ones. He has gone much farther than mere eavesdropping or indefinite detentions that the Patriot Act grants. His administration has given themselves the power to kill citizens, American or otherwise, without a fair hearing. In fact, this was the case with drone strikes that killed American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. Beyond that, the Obama administration has approved the use of drone strikes in military operations, which kill innocent men, women and children by the hundreds, if not thousands.

A drone strike is the use of remotely piloted planes to drop bombs on enemy forces or territories. According to British and Pakistani journalists quoted in the New York Times, these air raids have even repeatedly targeted rescuers who come to help at the scene of a strike, as well as mourners at subsequent funerals. The CIA privately insists that civilian casualties are rare, but even conservative estimates suggest otherwise.

Noor Behram, a campaigner documenting these strikes, says, “The youth in the area surrounding a strike gets crazed. Hatred builds up inside those who have seen a drone attack. The Americans think it is working, but the damage they’re doing is far greater.” As unfortunate as it is to say, much of Obama’s legacy has boiled down to this: he has transformed failed and power-hungry right-wing policies into bipartisan consensus.

Under Bush, Democrats and most on the left used to be against these abuses on both moral and practical grounds. Under their beloved leader Obama, they are conveniently more receptive to the same civil liberty abuses and less willing to speak out. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that 53 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats and 67 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats support keeping Guantanamo Bay open. The same poll reports that 77 percent of liberal Democrats approve of the use of drones, dropping only somewhat when asked about targeting American citizens. It is virtually impossible to imagine that liberals and Democrats would embrace such efforts to undermine our liberties under a Republican president.

The problem stems from the fact that both the right wing and left wing have become two different factions of the same pseudo-dictatorial cult. The members of these two factions have no fixed political beliefs, but are rather bound by their unconditional loyalty to their leader. In effect, the terms “liberal” and “conservative” have been drained of their political values. They serve not as an indicator of loyalty to ideas, but rather to individuals. During the Bush era, conservatism was analogous to loyalty to the man himself, despite any careful analysis as to whether the administration’s views were truly conservative in nature. Similarly, Obama has capitalized on this blind loyalty and hypocrisy in order to pass legislation that would be appalling to much of the idealistic political left.

One could even argue that the point of having a Democratic president is invalidated by these statistics. When a Republican president slashes our civil liberties, those of us on the left vehemently oppose it. When a Democrat uses and expands such policies, a much smaller percentage of liberals and Democrats voice their dissenting opinion. Of course, virtually no non-libertarian Republicans, despite their rhetoric, challenge Obama on this issue because this is one area where they both agree. A complete bipartisanship support in Washington usually signals a systematic destruction of our civil liberties or some other policy that expands their power-grabbing tendencies and confines our sphere of freedom.

Obama and the Democrats have done the Republicans a great favor. In the past, these policies were seen as fringe products of right-wing politics. Nowadays, since both Democrats and Republicans have adopted them, the framing of the issue has drastically changed. The radical has become the mainstream, and those of us who have remained consistent throughout this devolving transition are now ironically labeled as radical. It is about time that people abandon blind party affiliations and adopt critical thinking. Vehemently opposing policy X under Bush, while tolerating or supporting the same policy X under Obama flies in the face of rational thinking.

By utilizing and expanding on Bush’s policies, Obama has given them a sense of universal legitimacy that would otherwise not exist, and this is something that no right-wing president could ever have dreamed of achieving.

Assistant Editorials Editor Shahdabul Faraz is a College sophomore from Toronto, Canada.

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