The Obama Legacy Part V: Waging War on Civil Liberties

by Danny Haiphong

“Mass unemployment and poverty has brought the war home in the form of the national security state.”

State repression is an indispensable tool of the ruling class. When the communist and liberation movements of the 20th century fundamentally challenged the rule of capitalist law, the US government waged a counterinsurgency war under the leadership of the still young FBI, NSA, and CIA intelligence organizations. US intelligence infiltrated, detained, and assassinated revolutionary leaders and organizations in relative secrecy. The repression of 20th century upheaval would eventually become a universal, open-air war under the War on Terror regime in 2001.

The War on Terror expanded the counterinsurgency war to capture the entire US population. Civil liberties have since become a thing of the past and privacy a luxury not even world leaders backed by the richest capitalists can afford. In 2008, there were many who believed President Barack Obama would roll back Washington’s assault on civil liberties. Eight years later, Obama’s record on civil liberties is objectively worse than his predecessor, George W. Bush.

George W. Bush signed the Patriot Act in 2001. The Act gave US intelligence agencies the resources and powers to spy on the communications of every American with impunity. President Obama renewed the unpopular bill in 2011. In 2012, President Obama signed a five year extension of the FISA Amendments Act which continues to give US intelligence agencies such as the NSA the right to wiretap telephone calls and emails of private citizens. In Obama’s first two years in office, wiretaps increased by 34 percent.

“Obama’s record on civil liberties is objectively worse than his predecessor, George W. Bush.”

Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and the courageous individuals who released the WikiLeaks documents have played a large role in uncovering Obama’s support for Washington’s enormous spy dragnet. However, Obama’s assault on civil liberties has not been limited to mere spying. In 2010, the homes of 20 anti-war activists around the country were raided by the FBI. The investigations of the activists were all directed by the Obama Administration’s Joint Terrorist Task Force. None of the activists have been charged with any formal crime to this date. By 2012, Obama had prosecuted more whistle blowers such as Manning under the Espionage Act than any other President in US history combined.

These attacks are part and parcel of Obama’s total war on civil liberties. The first “Black President” is also the first President to possess a personal “Kill List” of potential drone targets to be assassinated by Presidential decree. Obama also signed the National Defense Authorization Act in 2012. This Act expanded Presidential powers to include the indefinite military detention of citizens without trial or cause. It also included a provision that birthed the Conflicts Records Research Center. The newly created think tank signed off by Obama gave the Department of Defense an additional arena to collect intelligence on each and every person the US deemed to be a threat to its “national security.”

Obama has stabilized and expanded the National Security State to a size and scope not seen in history. The National Security State, as explained by former Black Panther Party leader Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, has labeled every person in the US a potential terrorist. From this framework, Obama has transformed the executive branch into a heavily militarized arm of US imperial repression. Whatever democratic rights existed for “citizens” in the US prior to the War on Terror have been nearly extinguished in the Obama era. The question is, why?

“Obama had prosecuted more whistle blowers such as Manning under the Espionage Act than any other President in US history combined.”

US imperialism has been on a path to crisis ever since the end of the 1970s. Over this period, the income and wealth of working class Americans has been in a free fall. The US has also become the world’s largest warfare state and the world record holder in number of prison inmates. The growth of the warfare and prison state has gone hand in hand with the evisceration of any and all gains working people have won over the course of the 20th century. Imperialism has become overstretched with the help of technological advances to support the profits of the capitalist class without the wholesale robbery of labor’s surplus value on a global scale. Mass unemployment and poverty has brought the war home in the form of the national security state. The capitalist class fears the coming rebellion of the impoverished masses. This has been confirmed from the mouth of one of its richest members.

Obama’s war on civil liberties must be placed in this context. His mission, like that of every US president before him, was to manage and stabilize the affairs of US capital. However, Obama’s legacy possesses a special quality. His presence in the White House silenced the left, as evidenced by the large gap between the impact of his policies and the grassroots response. After eight years, the fact that a Black President perfected the national security state’s repressive capabilities remains a secret to most. Obama is on his way out, but the consequences of his rule will stay with us for years to come. And the National Security State he helped fortify will be watching those who resist the ever increasing levels of oppression, and the entire population for that matter, every step of the way.

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