Under Obama, war, and terror, go on

January 30, 2011

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PETER S. Canellos suffers from the malady that many of us had when we enthused over Barack Obama’s candidacy — the conquest of hope over experience. Alas, Obama has turned out to be the biggest disappointment in precisely the arena where Canellos credits the president with “his most significant accomplishment,’’ namely “peeling back the excesses, rhetorical and otherwise, of Bush’s war on terror’’ (“Obama’s speech problem,’’ Ideas, Jan. 23).

The national security state has continued to make gains under Obama, and it surely has kept the inroads it made under George W. Bush. Secrecy is the order of the day, including the administration’s self-protective invocation of so-called national security to thwart court cases seeking money damages and answers by victims of our security agencies and those they surreptitiously fund in dark corners around the world.

When the Humanitarian Law Project sought an interpretation from the Supreme Court of one of the statutes criminalizing rendering “material assistance’’ to terrorists, Obama’s Department of Justice persuaded the court to include private peace-making efforts within the bounds of that impossible-to-understand statute.

Surveillance of law-abiding Americans has remained the order of the day. Targeting and entrapment of Muslim Americans by the FBI remains a tactic of choice.

In terms of civil liberties, there may be some change on the margins here and there, but by and large, “change you can believe in’’ has shown its true colors: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Harvey A. Silverglate

The writer, a criminal defense and civil liberties lawyer, is the author of “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent.’’