|We Don't Need No Stinking Constitution|
President Obama began his presidency with great promises, he publicly pledging to end many of the Bush administration attacks against the U.S. Constitution. He also pledged during his initial election campaign to end signing statements as a back-door method of legislating, or usurping the legislative branch’s powers under Article I of the Constitution, and end warrantless surveillance which violates the Fourth Amendment.
Detention without habeas corpus (Fifth Amendment) or trial (Sixth Amendment), torture (Eighth Amendment), and excessive executive branch secrecy under the "executive privilege" and “state secrets” claims, and pledged that he would not engage in offensive wars without the approval of Congress (Congress’ power under Article I, Section 8).
Since that first week, however, Obama has beaten a fast-track retreat on nearly all of these promises related to the U.S. Constitution and, in some instances, even committed worse offenses against the Constitution than the Bush administration. Following is a survey of those campaign promises and how Obama has fulfilled or — in nearly every case — reneged on them.
Candidate Obama told the Boston Globe on November 20, 2007 that he would never use signing statements — a public announcement by the President attached to a bill Congress has enacted into law — to undo the will of Congress. He correctly noted that the Bush administration had unconstitutionally done precisely this on a regular basis:
Yet within months of taking office, Obama had already used signing statements to put Congress on notice he would ignore provisions of laws he had signed on foreign relations, as well as on domestic spending bills. Even Congressmen in his own party complained to Obama in a letter that he had unconstitutionally usurped the exclusively legislative power to make rules for the spending of federal monies.
In short, Obama said he would ignore the clear law about federal funding for his “czars,” themselves created without any explicit congressional authority. Of course, this is a clear violation of the Constitution. Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution stipulates, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law,” and Section 8 stipulates that all laws must be passed by Congress.
|Congress and the Purse|
Obama’s campaign website pledged that “as president, Barack Obama will close the detention facility at Guantanamo.” Obama has broken this promise, issuing an executive order in March 2011 keeping the prison open.
President Obama issued an executive order January 22, 2009 designed to end torture. The executive order purported to restrict interrogations to methods in the Army Field Manual, comply with Geneva accords on treatment of prisoners of war, and restrict extraordinary rendition to states engaging in torture. Obama’s executive order required of U.S. government officials that detainees “shall in all circumstances be treated humanely and shall not be subjected to violence to life and person (including murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment, and torture), nor to outrages upon personal dignity (including humiliating and degrading treatment).”
But news reports of torture of detainees continue to reach the news media, especially from secret “black site” prisons in Afghanistan. The Washington Post reported black site torture continued into 2009, which included punching, slapping, and prolonged 24-hour-a-day darkness and isolation, sleep deprivation, and forced nudity. This torture and secret prison network has apparently continued to this day. “The most secretive of roughly 20 temporary sites is run by the military’s elite counterterrorism unit, the Joint Special Operations Command, at Bagram Air Base,”
When asked by the Boston Globe’s Charlie Savage on November 20, 2007, “Does the president have inherent powers under the Constitution to conduct surveillance for national security purposes without judicial warrants, regardless of federal statutes?” Obama responded:
But Obama’s record on unconstitutional warrantless surveillance is no different from that of the Bush administration. By April 2009, the Obama administration had pledged to keep intact the Bush-era NSA surveillance program, and to fight for it in court. “In a dangerous world,” Obama said in a statement released April 16, 2009, “the United States must sometimes carry out intelligence operations and protect information that is classified for purposes of national security. I have already fought for that principle in court and will do so again in the future.”
Candidate Obama pledged to curb the excessive Bush administration use of executive privilege and the “state secrets” privilege. Asked by the Boston Globe, “Does executive privilege cover testimony or documents about decision-making within the executive branch not involving confidential advice communicated to the president himself?” candidate Obama stressed in 2007 that he would use executive privilege as a means to keep advice from his close staff advisers confidential and candid. But he added, “I believe the Administration’s use of executive authority to over-classify information is a bad idea.”
In fact, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Obama has used the so-called “state secrets privilege” even more broadly than the Bush administration. Moreover, the Obama administration has even argued in court that the new reason it needs to have warrantless surveillance powers is itself a state secret; i.e., they can’t even tell the courts why they want to keep warrantless surveillance secret.