The Obama administration is in danger of entrenching some of the most draconian aspects of the Bush administration's controversial national security policy, warns a new report, [text, PDF; press release] from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] [press release] released Thursday. The report, titled "Establishing a New Normal: National Security, Civil Liberties, and Human Rights Under the Obama Administration," concludes that the first 18 months of the Obama White House betray a civil rights record that is "mixed, at best." Though the group concedes that "the Obama administration inherited a legal and moral morass" and has had some early successes reinstating certain civil rights protections undone by the Bush administration, it says that the Obama administration risks legitimizing controversial Bush-era policies through its refusal to take action to actively address the civil rights abuses those policies have perpetrated:
[H]is second full day in office ... President Obama signed a series of executive orders that squarely repudiated some of the most egregious abuses of the Bush administration ... These auspicious first steps toward fulfilling candidate Obama's promise of change ... placed the power and prestige of the presidency behind restoration of the rule of law ... But ... on a range of issues including accountability for torture, [indefinite] detention of terrorism suspects, and use of lethal force against civilians, there is a very real danger that the Obama administration will enshrine permanently within the law policies and practices that were widely considered extreme and unlawful during the Bush administration.The report emphasizes the administration's failure to break with Bush-era policies relating to accountability and transparency, targeted killing of terrorist suspects, warrantless surveillance, the use of military commissions and other civil rights abuses for which the Bush administration was widely criticized. It urged the administration to restore "the nation's historic commitment to the rule of law."
Last month, the ACLU called [press release; JURIST report] on the Obama administration to stop shielding Bush administration officials from civil suit and criminal prosecution stemming from treatment of detainees in US custody, touching on issues prominently addressed in today's report. Throughout June, the organization publicized previously classified documents detailing the detainee abuses of the Bush administration in honor of Torture Awareness Month [official website]. In April, an ACLU Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] suit resulted in the release [JURIST report] of internal Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] documents [part 1, PDF; part 2, PDF; part 3, PDF] revealing that a former agency head may have agreed to the destruction of videotapes [JURIST news archive] showing harsh interrogations of terror suspects. Last May, the ACLU harshly criticized [press release; JURIST report] the Obama administration's plans to revive [JURIST report] the military commissions system to try Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archives] detainees, another of the major issues in today's report.