Executive Power Only A Problem When Someone Else Has It

On the day of Obama's inauguration,  I wr0te:

I will be suitably thrilled if the Obama administration renounces some of the creeping executive power grabs of the last 16 years, but he has been oddly silent about this.  It seems that creeping executive power is a lot more worrisome when someone else is in power.

I want to highlight two recent stories.  First, via Popehat:

The White House is considering endorsing a law that would allow the indefinite detention of some alleged terrorists without trial as part of efforts to break a logjam with Congress over President Barack Obama's plans to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday.

Last summer, White House officials said they had ruled out seeking a "preventive detention" statute as a way to deal with anti-terror detainees, saying the administration would hold any Guantanamo prisoners brought to the U.S. in criminal courts or under the general "law of war" principles permitting detention of enemy combatants.

However, speaking at a news conference in Greenville, S.C., Monday, Graham said the White House now seems open to a new law to lay out the standards for open-ended imprisonment of those alleged to be members of or fighters for Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

That is a really, really bad idea.  What would J Edgar Hoover had done with such a law?  Would Martin Luther King have been declared a terrorist.  And speaking of King, who the FBI kept under illegally deep surveillance for years, we have a second related story via Disloyal Opposition:

Last Friday, federal attorneys told the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals that government officials should be able to track the location of Americans by following their cell phone transmissions -- without having to get a warrant. While the FBI and state and local officials have already obtained logs from mobile phone companies that reveal the locations of customers' telephones, the practice has never formally been endorsed by the courts. The latest federal arguments -- and rebuttals by civil liberties organizations -- give the courts the opportunity to either support or repudiate federal claims that Americans have no "reasonable expectation of privacy" so long as they carry cell phones.

Yes, I blame Bush for getting the ball rolling on both these fronts, but wtf did we elect Obama for?  Many libertarians held their nose at his interventionist economics in order to try to thwart what they saw as a scary trajectory for executive power and civil liberties.  If we had wanted populist economic machinations combined with limitations on individual liberties, we could have voted for Pat Buchanon.


  1. anon:

    Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

    Obama 2012.

  2. Greg:

    /signed on the "indefinite detention" remarks, but I don't think that "enemy combatants" = "alleged terrorists." We need some good ideas in this area.

    "Many libertarians held their nose at his interventionist economics in order to try to thwart what they saw..."

    And many would have held their nose and voted for Bush (again) over Obama, if they voted at all, having a pretty clear idea of what Obama was about. The hope in our camp was that with some adult supervision he might not be so bad. Too bad the adults didn't get access.

  3. John Moore:

    J Edgar wouldn't have done anything with the laws, if they are for unlawful combatants. It's way out of FBI jurisdiction.

    I think Libertarians are nuts, and showing themselves to be nuts, for opposing indefinite wartime detention of foreign terrorists. It is a-historical (we have always held POWs until the end of war, and frankly, have shot unlawful combatants).

    There are plenty of ways the government is going after your liberty and mine. Guantanamo isn't one of them.

    The Constitution is not a suicide pact, but Libertarianism, in its full civil-liberties absolutist glory, seems to be!

  4. Ron H.:

    John Moore, you said:

    "J Edgar wouldn’t have done anything with the laws, if they are for unlawful combatants. It’s way out of FBI jurisdiction."

    Surely you are aware of the enormous power Hoover wielded, and his extreme racism. He spent countless millions of taxpayer dollars investigating and monitoring black officials and civil rights leaders, especially Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is believed by some that the FBI routinely carried out illegal break-ins at King's offices, and wiretapped his phones.

    Do you really believe that if Hoover had had a "preventive detention" statute at his disposal he would not have used it to detain Dr. King?

  5. Ron H.:


    I'm really surprised to hear you say that you had hoped Obama would put the brakes on the rapid growth of executive power and the erosion of individual liberties. Everything I have read of his history describes a radical progressive hell-bent on "fundamentally changing the United States of America" as quickly as possible into a socialist state.

    All of his early influences were communists and radicals, and his political career was launched at the home of that unrepentant domestic terrorist Bill Ayers. (Come to think of it, that's another screw-up we can blame on J. E. Hoover)

    Obama scared me so badly I actually voted for McCain in an attempt to stop him. That's not a choice I made lightly.

  6. Ron H.:

    Coyote, A comment I made on this thread hasn't yet appeared. Is it stuck in the spam filter?

  7. John Moore:

    Ron H - JEH was a bad guy, and if he had such a statute within his jurisdiction, he would no doubt have abused it. However, I don't believe we are talking about a statute that applies to Americans, or at least not to Americans captured in America (although I would object to this statute applying to any Americans).