Obama's War: Criminalize the Left

by Glen Ford 

The Obama administration is methodically erecting the legal structures of a police state. The president late last year smoothed the way for bipartisan passage through Congress of a preventive detention bill that is so vaguely worded, a federal judge in New York last week ruled that it is likely to be successfully challenged on Constitutional grounds.

And in Richmond, Virginia, a three-judge appeals court heard Justice Department lawyers argue that reporters can be compelled to reveal the identities of whistleblowers in so-called national security cases.

The government is prosecuting a former CIA officer, Jeffrey Sterling, for allegedly leaking secret documents to New York Times investigative reporter James Risen. The ex-spy is accused of showing the reporter documents on the agency’s campaign of sabotage against Iran’s nuclear research program, information the reporter later used to write a book.

In both cases, the Obama legal team has been single-minded in its determination to make political dissent a crime. The judge in the preventive detention proceeding repeatedly asked the government to explain, specifically, how or if the seven plaintiffs might be detained under the wording of the National Defense Authorization Act, which makes it a crime to provide “substantial support” to groups “associated” with Al Qaida. The plaintiffs, including former New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges, academic activist Noam Chomsky, and Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, wanted to know exactly what the terms “substantial support” and “associated groups” meant, and if their actions as journalists, authors, activists and just plain citizens made them vulnerable to detention without trial.

Obama’s lawyers refused to explain, as if the vague and highly interpretable language spoke for itself. What they were trying to create is a legal trap so vague and amorphous that it can ensnare almost anyone opposed to Washington’s foreign policies. The New York federal judge refused to accommodate the government’s lawyers, and allowed the plaintiffs legal standing to sue.

The Richmond federal appeals court is being asked to recognize the government’s contention that reporters who receive secret government documents are not protected as journalists because they are witnesses to a crime. One of the judges pressed the prosecutor to explain how the public’s interest in the maintenance of a free press might be outweighed by the specific circumstances of the case. Obama’s lawyers refused to explain, claiming there was no need to balance Constitutional issues, because the reporter was the only witness to a crime. Receiving secret government documents, he said, is the same as receiving illegal drugs.

The Obama legal doctrine seems to be that whatever the government does not want the public to see, is criminal. Having knowledge of government wrongdoing is criminal, in the eyes of this administration.

President George Bush may have felt that way, too, but Obama will go down in history as the major architect to date of the evolving American police state. He has already prosecuted more whistleblowers than all his presidential predecessors, combined, and is the first chief executive to arm himself with a preventive detention law. And to think, Angela Davis says Obama identifies with the historical Black radical tradition. In reality, he has much more in common with the traditions of fascism.

This article first appeared on the site Black Agenda Report.