Civil libertarians and civil rights activists had high hopes that an Obama presidency would signal a reversal of the legislative challenges to civil liberties that were enacted during the Bush administration, specifically in relation to homeland security laws. However, there is a growing sense of disenchantment with the President over his perceived capitulation in the face of the ‘soft on terror’ charges made by his political opponents. So much so, Obama, with his long history of supporting civil liberties causes, is now seen as siding with the hawkish elements of Congress.
Legendary actor and prominent social and political activist, Harry Belafonte Jr., a noted Obama supporter, expressed his disappointment in the president’s approach to civil liberties while speaking after the screening of his autobiographical film at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville on January 24, 2012.
“More important,” he said, are “the homeland security laws, which were written to such extremes that they defied imagination that anyone could have thought of those laws.”January 25, 2012: The Examiner, Belafonte criticizes Obama on civil liberties in Charlottesville
That those laws made their way through Congress and were signed by the President, he said, “was an absolutely stunning experience for all of us, and certainly for some of us who saw it in the depth of its villainy.”
Looking out over the audience, Belafonte painted a darkly dramatic picture of the effect of laws like the USA PATRIOT Act and the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed on December 31 by President Obama.”
Obama’s signing of the wide-ranging $662 billion national defense bill, H.R. 1540 (National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012), in particular, has riled up civil liberties group. They accuse the President of abandoning his principles over political expediency. While a veto from him would not necessarily prevent a subsequent passing of the bill by Congress, it would establish his moral authority on the subject.
Activists are particularly concerned with Title X (Subtitle D, Section 1031-1032) of the Act, which authorizes the military to participate in domestic law enforcement and bypass the judicial process, which they believe is a direct infringement of the Fifth and Sixth Amendment, as well as the Posse Comitatus Act (U.S. Code § 1385), which states,
§ 1385. USE OF ARMY AND AIR FORCE AS POSSE COMITATUSWhite House insiders, meanwhile, argues that eliminating these provisions from the bill would have prevented its passing in Congress, and create another legislative battle that would affect the nation’s defense budget, including the wages for our military personnel, and the President had to make a pragmatic decision.
Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.
“I have signed the Act chiefly because it authorizes funding for the defense of the United States and its interests abroad, crucial services for service members and their families, and vital national security programs that must be renewed. In hundreds of separate sections totaling over 500 pages, the Act also contains critical Administration initiatives to control the spiraling health care costs of the Department of Defense (DoD), to develop counterterrorism initiatives abroad, to build the security capacity of key partners, to modernize the force, and to boost the efficiency and effectiveness of military operations worldwide.December 31, 2011: Obama announcing the signing of the NDAA
The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it. In particular, I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists…
… Ultimately, I decided to sign this bill not only because of the critically important services it provides for our forces and their families and the national security programs it authorizes, but also because the Congress revised provisions that otherwise would have jeopardized the safety, security, and liberty of the American people.”