Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 3, 2022

Civil liberties under fire from all sides

By BO TAO | February 29, 2012

America is founded on the notion "that all men are created equal," and that they are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." The founders added to the Constitution the Bill of Rights for the sole purpose of defending these rights from an encroaching federal government. Worried about the possibility of a future autocracy in America, the founders made it clear that there are certain rights that can never be repealed or abridged by government. These limits on government, they presumed, would ward off any chance of federal abuse and would ensure the protection of personal liberty. Since 9/11, though, these rights have increasingly come under attack from the federal government under the guise of homeland security.
George W. Bush had a terrible history of violating civil liberties, from the Patriot Act to Guantanamo Bay, waterboarding to illegal wiretaps. But the list doesn't end there. The U.S. government has consistently abridged civil liberties in its use of extraordinary rendition, torture and indefinite detention. It endlessly violates habeas corpus and then hides its iniquity from the public, citing the need for state secrets. The government, thus, has the ability to infringe those rights protected by the founders without anybody even knowing about it. If there was anything the founders were worried about, this is it.
Barack Obama ran on protecting civil liberties and repealing the Bush-era war on the American public. Obama promised to close down Guantanamo, reduce drone warfare and stop illegal wiretaps - to name a few. While Obama spewed these talking points to the public, though, he was secretly making backroom deals to continue Bush's policies. Not only did Obama not close down Guantanamo, but he has also continued most of Bush's policies of demolishing civil liberties. Not only did he re-sign the Patriot Act, but he also signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows for the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens by the military. This doctrine ultimately culminated in Obama's order to authorize the killing of U.S. citizens without trial through drone strikes. In September of last year, Obama okayed plans to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Yemeni cleric. Two ensuing drone strikes killed Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, another American citizen.
He even refused to prosecute officials from the Bush administration for violations of U.S. laws. There is clear evidence that officials under Bush's command authorized the torture of detainees held by the United States. It's estimated that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the supposed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was waterboarded 183 times. Waterboarding is considered a form of torture and is, thus, outlawed throughout the world in the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and even U.S. law. Obama, however, has done nothing. He has allowed those who have probably committed atrocious crimes to avoid standing trial and being held accountable.
Moreover, he increased the drone war and continues to kill innocent civilians around the world. Recently, Congress has even pushed for drone surveillance on the American public. Many of the Bush-era policies are still in place, including military commissions, extraordinary renditions, state secrets and egregious dismantling of habeas corpus.
Perhaps most importantly, however, is the fact that the public seems to be warming to such rights infringements. Recently, a poll was conducted on whether to keep Guantanamo Bay open: 53 percent of self-identified "liberal Democrats" and 67 percent of "moderate or conservative" Democrats favored keeping Gitmo open. A staggering 77 percent of "liberal Democrats" support the use of drone strikes, 58 percent of Democrats and 55 percents of "liberals" support drone strikes on American citizens, without due process or trial. We are clearly seeing a widespread dismantling of civil liberties, supported by a majority of those in both parties. This blatant disregard for civil rights is no longer strictly right wing ideology. What's more, it seems liberals are okay with their own hypocrisy: If Obama says it's okay, liberals seem to profess, then we should all be in favor of stripping civil rights.
We Americans need to realize that our natural rights do not come from political parties or the government. They were endowed to us by our Creator, and they cannot be taken away. It is time to take a stand for them. It is time to defend what our forefathers considered our most sacred rights and liberties. We need to stop playing party politics and ensure our own safety from the encroaching federal government our founders so utterly feared.

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