Obama Ensnared in Bush’s Abuses

President Obama’s fateful decision – after winning the 2008 election to seek “continuity” rather than “change” and “to look forward, not backward” – has trapped him in a web of constitutional abuses that began in the Bush-43 presidency and extended into his own, as Coleen Rowley describes.

By Coleen Rowley

It’s ironic, to put it lightly, that whistleblower Edward Snowden —  whose message of the need for CHANGE essentially repeats President Barack Obama’s own original campaign promise — is now so threatened and persecuted by that very same “Change” president that he must seek asylum in foreign countries and cannot safely travel outside of Russia (which granted him temporary asylum).

Snowden’s disclosures, backed up by documents, served as a grave warnings that no good can come from empowering a “Deep State, Top Secret America” to secretly and illegally spy on its own citizens. Freedom of the press is now threatened and ordinary citizens are not allowed to know about — or democratically control — the Deep State’s “security” surveillance.

President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush (with First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush) walk to a White House event on May 31, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush (with First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush) walk to a White House event on May 31, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

We have also reached the point where the CIA secretly and illegally attempts to thwart the Senate Intelligence Committee from investigating the CIA’s torture, an assault on congressional oversight powers and responsibilities that has created a real constitutional crisis. This level of dangerous blowback is exactly the danger that Snowden blew the whistle on!

But isn’t it also what Sen. Obama campaigned he would change, if elected to the presidency, before further damage could occur to our Constitutional rule of law?  And isn’t the current perilous situation a parallel to the similar constitutional crisis involving the FBI’s COINTELPRO, CIA’s CHAOS and NSA’s MINARET programs that occurred in the final years of the Vietnam War, which led to Watergate and President Richard Nixon’s resignation?

The spying and intimidation of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s committee is very similar to the spying on Senators Frank Church and Howard Baker, civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Whitney Young, and top New York Times and Washington Post newspaper editors and columnists along with thousands of other innocent Americans who found themselves targeted by these secret spy programs during the last six years of the Vietnam War.

These “national security” programs claimed authority not only to listen but to “disrupt” Americans domestically.  Wasn’t this the important history lesson that Obama actually based his campaign for “Change” on?!  Senators Church and Baker have passed on but surviving Church Committee members and staffers have quickly realized that history is repeating which is why they’re so urgently calling for a new Church Committee-type investigation.

When Obama came into power, he had a choice to make as to whether to put into effect the “change” that he had promised, a change away from the illegal, unethical and highly counter-productive actions “justified” in secret memos that his predecessor, George W. Bush, had ordered, just days after 9/11 to wage his “war on terror.” Obama unfortunately decided to go against his promises.

Maybe the history lesson was lost on him or maybe he believed the strength of his speechifying could distract people from the fact there was to be NO (significant) CHANGE, just some minor tweaking, i.e. in the verbiage from “war on terror” to “overseas contingency operations”; switching the emphasis from capture to kill (in “kill or capture”) and the like.

Perhaps Obama gambled that the secret programs would not get out of hand so quickly or that no one would see the official hypocrisy in telling the troops they are fighting “for freedom” when here in the U.S., government officials had already put the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments — freedoms of speech, association, religion, and press; protection from unreasonable search and seizure; rights against self-incrimination and for due process — on the chopping block.
Unfortunately, that decision dropped us so far down the rabbit hole that Chairman Feinstein’s apt warning of “constitutional crisis” hardly gets a rise out of her fellow spied-on colleagues, many of whom still seem inclined to continue the partisan gaming of such serious wrongdoing as torture.

By contrast, similar COINTELPRO-type revelations at the end of the Vietnam War and outing of war deceits and cover-ups did meet with widespread outrage and concern, making for bipartisanship that led to the end of the Vietnam War, the Church and Pike Committees’ investigations and Nixon’s resignation.
Does anyone know whether Senators Frank Church and Howard Baker ever realized (or even guessed) they were themselves being targeted by the NSA’s secret Minaret Program? (The NSA also monitored 1,650 other Americans — whose identities still remain largely unknown.)

It seems that Feinstein’s seeing of the light could be a kind of deja-vu from that moment when Senators Church, Baker and maybe others realized that the war, its corollary spying, Kent State-type repression, and attempt at public information control, etc., weren’t merely directed toward others. They may have realized that they were no longer seen as “us” in “us versus them.”

When that truth hits, then the Congress, media and public opinion can turn against continuing the status quo — see the funny “no problem” cartoon depiction — and some real change can become possible.

In this vein, it’s darkly funny that the Secret Spy Machine’s greatest defender Michael Hayden only seems to have shown concern once about any potential adverse repercussions of his hasty post 9/11 decision to turn the massive spy operation upon U.S. citizens as well as foreign people. It was when some FBI agent (probably not understanding who’s in the “Us” insider club) applied “collect it all” to Hayden’s buddy, General David Petraeus’ sex affairs. Hayden finally became a little concerned that “collect it all” had gone too far when it took down his friend. Information IS power!

I just hope that Feinstein and other congresspersons now understand they really aren’t in the trusted top echelons of the Deep State Secret Spy Club and ultimately this “nearly Orwellian” apparatus has already been turned onto even other branches of government just as it was upon those foreign country leaders termed “allies.” It’s very much a constitutional crisis!

Recall also that the only time Feinstein seemed concerned about NSA spying was learning it included German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone. Maybe she identified with the other powerful female leader who previously thought she was in the Club. A little light was starting to go on. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi should wake up too that “collect it all” means her legislative oversight efforts are also in the crosshairs.

Congress should realize it must rein in this out-of-control Security State which now threatens the balance of power set up under the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The President needs to fulfill his promises to change the rotten system that has resulted from years of deceitful “war on terror.”

A good first step would be to listen to Edward Snowden along with other NSA whistleblowers (as well as those from other agencies) who know the truth about these programs instead of threatening them with prison terms and equating them with being “spies.”

Instead of magnifying the vilification of Edward Snowden who happens, for better or worse, to have no option but to remain in a country of asylum, Obama ought to recognize that Snowden and earlier NSA and other government whistleblowers are the ones who possess the insights to help him climb out of this rabbit hole, fix the constitutional mess, and restore the rule of law. Edward Snowden should become the first witness called by a new Church Committee!

Ultimately, common sense tells us that restoring the rule of law will entail: 1) ending the “global war on terror”; 2) focusing on the bad guys, not the innocent.  Stop adding hay to the haystack. Restoring due process that allows greater intrusiveness upon individuals’ freedom only as the level of evidence and judicial certitude increases; 3) reducing governmental secrecy to a necessary minimum by making it temporary instead of perpetual; 4) increasing independent oversight of and whistleblower protection in all intelligence agencies and national security contractors; 5) reducing governmental corruption and “revolving door” conflicts of interest that Eisenhower was first to warn about and which were supposed to be banned by Office of Government Ethics rules; and 6) repealing the two provisions of the 1917 Espionage Act, 18 U.S.C. 793 (d) and (e), that are being used to prosecute disclosures to the press, i.e. the copying and retaining of classified information as well as potentially prosecuting news reporters and organizations directly.

We hope to get this message across this week in Washington DC at the Press Club at 1 pm on Tuesday, March 25, and also via delivery of 100,000 “Roots Action” signed petitions to Secretary of State John Kerry and Attorney General Eric Holder at the Departments of State and Justice (further details here).

We may also read aloud some of the 100,000 signers’ comments outside the White House.  The moment again seems reminiscent of the days after the popularity of Lyndon Johnson’s war presidency dropped and so many American citizens were forced to shout messages over the fence that he needed to change course.

Coleen Rowley is a retired FBI agent and former chief division counsel in Minneapolis. She’s now a dedicated peace and justice activist and board member of the Women Against Military Madness and works with the Veterans for Peace chapter in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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8 comments on “Obama Ensnared in Bush’s Abuses

  1. Its a bit misleading to say that Obama made this decision ‘after’ he got elected. Actually, it was said very publicly by Obama campaign officials well before the election. I don’t remember if he said this during the primary campaign, or if it was a part of the hard-right move that Obama made in ’08 after securing the nomination. But I certainly remember that highly placed Obama officials were announcing this ‘we won’t look back’ amnesty policy towards the Bush officials. It was a key factor in my decision not to vote for Obama.

  2. A good article and a worthy effort, Coleen.
    I think that we are up against Gold, the economic concentrations which have arisen since the Constitution was written, which now control the mass media and elections. Every branch of the federal government has failed in oversight of the dark agencies, and so have the mass media, precisely because they all serve Gold, and dark agencies do that more efficiently. Checks and balances have never worked because the Executive branch has always had the real enforcement power, and now they cannot work because every branch is controlled by Gold. What you need to push are two constitutional amendments to limit financing of (1) elections, and (2) the mass media, to limited registered personal contributions. Nothing else will provide the will for oversight, regardless of investigation.

  3. elmerfudzie on said:

    Colene, I’ve almost forgotten anymore, who’s on first and who’s on second. Bush senior once affectionately known as Poppy Bush, got this whole “deep state” momentum going when he and E.Howard Hunt played some integral part in the assassination of JFK. After a certain time, this greatly shaken nation went back to normal until President Ford came into office. During his presidency, the Neo-cons reasserted themselves and an open public debate resurfaced as to what direction our economy would take. The military, industrial path or JFK’s benevolent Hamiltonian central government with a peace-time economy, once colloquially expressed as, making cars and not tanks on the assembly line. In any case, the Banksters would win out because either direction or emphasis depended on a command type economy. Now to the point, no matter what the choice, it seemed to bring us to the edge. Globalization has gradually bled off the (domestic) means of production; cars, parts, computers, service industries as well, from physicians to telemarketers. Our latest fighter aircraft have parts made in China. Hamilton saw this globalization problem coming and no-one took notice. So called gains in wealth made with financial capitalism exposed the ugly side of a fiat currency system and to make matters worse we’ve lost our industrial base; tool and die, metal stamping, finished products ET cetra. The last gasps of this great nation have assumed the shape of intensive information gathering (Intel Agencies), drones (can’t afford foot soldiers anymore), corporate monopolies (The Rockefeller’s hate competition) , eradication of the middle classes and organized labor groups, speculative investments mingling or bundled with, the long term holdings in retirement funds. There’s just one last event yet to surface; A new Mussolini’s march on Rome! Some, yet to be Presidential candidate will suggest violence and incipient fascism to solve long standing social and political problems. Those who back the corporate mogul fascists will have the guns and the rest of us will not. Murder charges against them will be dropped while the good, but hungry citizens, will suffer from arrest and detention at resurrected Japanese Internment camps through out our country. Pray tell, how did we get to this point?

    • Daniel Pfeiffer on said:

      “Pray tell, how did we get to this point?”

      Through decades of willful deception on the part of a ruling class who subscribe to a domination-by-war-economy agenda.

      Ms. Rowley skillfully points this out and makes some great common sense proposals in response, but the seemingly irreversible domination of our institutions by powerful corporations have had their desired effect – we are now a country which lacks common knowledge or leaders of will, courage and moral fiber to do anything in challenge to the status quo. Obama’s tragic disaster of a presidency illustrates these rotted truths plainly.

      But Obama has served at least one purpose: to show all who would bother to pay attention that, no matter who occupies the oval office, the West is being guided by a thoroughly corrupted global compass that has no intention of charting a new course. The question is: What will the people do now?

  4. F. G. Sanford on said:

    The big kerfluffle over separation of executive privilege and legislative oversight will be resolved. Ms. Feinstein, the lady that doth protest too much, is playing her scripted role admirably. Her husband’s investments in the surveillance technology sector will remain safe, and some “compromise” will be announced to assure the public that, “See, the system works”. Surely, you must all remember when “Poppy” Bush used that line.

    Meantime, Hopey and Popey will have a ‘tailored for public consumption’ love-fest from which both the EU and US will emerge with a fresh coat of moral authority chrome plating. Elections in Europe have legitimized a new batch of fascist right-wingers. The Lega Nord Mussolini Fan Club has staged a successful PR campaign to re-float the turds in Italy’s political sewage swamp masquerading as a cultural heritage. England’s BNP operates in the open with no public condemnation. Egypt has announced that its Kangaroo judicial system will execute 529 former Morsi supporters. Yarosh, along with Pravy Sektor, the Fatherland Party and Svoboda have put “Yats” on notice that he is insufficiently committed to Nazi family values. Back here at home, we’ve got loons like Mike Rogers campaigning for spreading democracy by political assassination. You have to keep in mind that extra-judicial execution is the same political tool that these democratic reformers used to rein in the Kennedy administration when it got too uppity about Constitutionally defined boundaries. Watergate and the Church committee accomplished essentially nothing.

    Unless the Kennedy records are released and those 28 redacted pages exposing Saudi complicity are made public, don’t kid yourself: we won’t have made any progress. The Weimarization of western democracy rolls on, and as the rule of law continues to unravel, the deep state oligarchs get richer and richer. Delusional religious hypocrisy, war rhetoric and de-industrialization go hand in hand with modern feudalization of the economy. We’re becoming a medieval oligarchy with nukes and drones instead of swords and crossbows. The President can fire ANY Presidential appointee. Let me repeat that. He can fire ANY cabinet member or Presidential appointee. ANY Congress member can be impeached. Failure to uphold the law is not a matter of political gridlock. IT IS A MATTER OF WILLFUL, PURPOSEFUL EVASION.