• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

CounterPunch needs you. piggybank-icon You need us. The cost of keeping the site alive and running is growing fast, as more and more readers visit. We want you to stick around, but it eats up bandwidth and costs us a bundle. Help us reach our modest goal (we are half way there!) so we can keep CounterPunch going. Donate today!
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Trump Must Expose Obama’s Abuses of Power

Photo by www.GlynLowe.com | CC BY 2.0

Photo by www.GlynLowe.com | CC BY 2.0

President-elect Donald Trump will face pervasive doubts about his legitimacy from the day he takes office.  Trump’s opponents will assert that he is governing in unprecedented and reckless ways.   The best response to that charge is to open the books to reveal how the Obama administration stretched its power far beyond what most Americans realized.

Trump should follow the excellent precedent set by Barack Obama. In 2009, shortly after he took office, Obama released many of the secret Bush administration legal memos that explained why the president was supposedly entitled to order torture, deploy troops in American towns and cities, and ignore the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on warrantless, unreasonable searches.  Those revelations proved that the Bush administration was far more of an elective dictatorship than most people suspected.  The disclosures signaled a new era and helped give Obama – at least temporarily – a reputation as a champion of civil liberties.

Turnabout is fair play.  Trump should quickly reveal the secret memos underlying Obama’s “targeted killing” drone assassination program. Administration lawyers defeated lawsuits by the ACLU and New York Times seeking disclosure of key legal papers on how the president became judge, jury, and executioner. Obama sought to codify a presidential right to kill that would have mortified earlier generations of Americans.  His program has been cloaked in secrecy and sanctimony from the start and most of the media have shown little curiosity and no outrage even when the feds admitted that innocent civilians were killed.  A Trump administration could disclose the memos and legal rationales on the program without endangering anything other than the reputation of the soon-to-be former president and his policymakers.

At the end of Obama’s presidency, the United States is bombing seven foreign nations – but most of the actions have been cloaked in secrecy, often supplemented by deceit. Opening the files at the Pentagon, CIA, and State Department  on U.S. intervention in the Syrian Civil War might explain why the U.S. plunged deeper into that morass.  Pentagon-backed Syrian rebels have openly battled CIA-backed rebels.  The U.S. has armed and bankrolled Al Qaeda-linked groups in Syria despite federal law prohibiting providing material support to terrorist groups. The U.S. dropped 12,192 bombs on Syria last year – at a time when much of the Washington establishment and media was vilifying Obama for not intervening.  We need the bureaucratic smoking guns on this policy.

Likewise, revealing the paper trail behind the U.S. bombing of Libya in 2011 – which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton labeled “smart power at its best” – could preempt cheerleading for similar follies in the future. The purported rationales for this debacle have never passed the laugh test. Obama told Americans that “the democratic values that we stand for would be overrun” if the U.S. did not join the French and British assault on the Libyan government. Obama asserted that one goal of the U.S. attack was “the transition to a legitimate government that is responsive to the Libyan people.”  But there was no sober reason to expect a happy ending from blasting that regime.  What did the U.S. government know and when did it know it regarding the likely effects of  toppling Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi?

It is naive to assume that “truth will out” from federal bureaucracies. It is vital for a Trump White House to compel disclosures because the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has become largely a mirage in recent years.  While Obama boasted of “the most transparent administration in history,” federal agencies slammed the door on routine requests – especially from the media. The Associated Press reported last year that the Obama administration “set a record again for censoring government files or outright denying access to them” under FOIA.  Federal agencies were also hit by a record number of lawsuits contesting FOIA denials in 2015.

If Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, some people would have blamed the State Department’s “slow walking” of FOIA requests for her emails (which she improperly kept on a private server). The FBI worked through 650,000 emails from Anthony Weiner’s computer in eight days but the State Department claimed it needed 75 years to fully answer a FOIA request on Hillary Clinton’s aides’ emails.  The State Department delayed for more than five years answering a simple request from the Associated Press for the schedule and meetings attended by Ms. Clinton.  A fFederal judge and the agency’s Inspector General slammed its FOIA stonewalling.

The Department of Homeland Security also has a dreadful FOIA record.  That agency  permitted political appointees to stifle FOIA responses in a process that “reeks of a Nixonian enemies list,” according to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Cal.)  Under Obama, the Transportation Security Administration, part of DHS, became far more intrusive and abusive. TSA launched “enhanced patdowns” that, as USA Today noted, “require screeners to touch passengers’ breasts and genitals.” Millions of butts and boobs have been squeezed but no terrorists have been caught.  TSA conceals almost all information over its groping with a “sensitive security information” FOIA designation that justifies perpetual secrecy. Congress has been utterly feckless at exposing the excuses behind TSA abuses.  Ending  TSA coverups and reining in the agency would create a bounty of early good will for  the Trump administration. (TSA is foot-dragging on a FOIA request I filed in 2015 to see the agency’s files on me.)

Similar coverups and rascality permeated some areas of domestic policy.  The Obama administration endlessly revised the Affordable Care Act – often based on closed-door calculations that could not have survived sunlight. For instance, a vanload of senior IRS financial managers were summoned in 2014 to the Old Executive Office Building and only permitted a peak at a secret Office of Management and Budget memo explaining why the Obama administration was entitled to spend $4 billion on subsidies for consumer health insurance.  As the New York Times reported last year, the IRS officials “were told they could read it but could not take notes or make copies. The O.M.B. officials left the room to allow their visitors a moment to absorb the document, and then returned to answer a few questions.”  The Obama administration acted as if its rationales for spending tax dollars deserved the same level of secrecy as a handy-dandy guide to building nuclear warheads. Federal judge Rosemary Collyer recently slammed the administration’s Obamacare consumer subsidies as unconstitutional.

Recent polls show that fewer than 20% of Americans now trust the federal government. As Attorney General Ramsey Clark warned in 1968, “Nothing so diminishes democracy as secrecy.” Regardless of the policies that Trump pursues, it would be a booster shot for democracy for Americans to learn the back story of the Obama era.

A shorter version of this column originally appeared in USA Today.

More articles by:

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books. Bovard is on the USA Today Board of Contributors. He is on Twitter at @jimbovard. His website is at www.jimbovard.com  This essay was originally published by Future of Freedom Foundation.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

May 23, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Belligerence of Empire
Ralph Nader
What and Who Gave Us Trump?
Ramzy Baroud
Madonna’s Fake Revolution: Eurovision, Cultural Hegemony and Resistance
Tom Engelhardt
Living in a Nation of Political Narcissists
Binoy Kampmark
Challenging Orthodoxies: Alabama’s Anti-Abortion Law
Thomas Klikauer
Why Reactionaries Won in Australia
John Steppling
A New Volkisch Mythos
Cathy Breen
So Many Wars: Remembering Friends in Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Kurdistan and Turkey 
Chuck Collins
Ending the Generational Abuse of Student Debt
Robert J. Burrowes
Understanding NATO, Ending War
Nyla Ali Khan
Dilution of “Kashmiriyat” and Regional Nationalism
May 22, 2019
T.J. Coles
Vicious Cycle: The Pentagon Creates Tech Giants and Then Buys their Services
Thomas Knapp
A US War on Iran Would be Evil, Stupid, and Self-Damaging
Johnny Hazard
Down in Juárez
Mark Ashwill
Albright & Powell to Speak at Major International Education Conference: What Were They Thinking?
Binoy Kampmark
The Victory of Small Visions: Morrison Retains Power in Australia
Laura Flanders
Can It Happen Here?
Dean Baker
The Money in the Trump/Kushner Middle East Peace Plan
Manuel Perez-Rocha – Jen Moore
How Mining Companies Use Excessive Legal Powers to Gamble with Latin American Lives
George Ochenski
Playing Politics With Coal Plants
Ted Rall
Why Joe Biden is the Least Electable Democrat
May 21, 2019
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Locked in a Cold War Time Warp
Roger Harris
Venezuela: Amnesty International in Service of Empire
Patrick Cockburn
Trump is Making the Same Mistakes in the Middle East the US Always Makes
Robert Hunziker
Custer’s Last Stand Meets Global Warming
Lance Olsen
Renewable Energy: the Switch From Drill, Baby, Drill to Mine, Baby, Mine
Dean Baker
Ady Barkan, the Fed and the Liberal Funder Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
Maduro Gives Trump a Lesson in Ethics and Morality
Jan Oberg
Trump’s Iran Trap
David D’Amato
What is Anarchism?
Nicky Reid
Trump’s War In Venezuela Could Be Che’s Revenge
Elliot Sperber
Springtime in New York
May 20, 2019
Richard Greeman
The Yellow Vests of France: Six Months of Struggle
Manuel García, Jr.
Abortion: White Panic Over Demographic Dilution?
Robert Fisk
From the Middle East to Northern Ireland, Western States are All Too Happy to Avoid Culpability for War Crimes
Tom Clifford
From the Gulf of Tonkin to the Persian Gulf
Chandra Muzaffar
Targeting Iran
Valerie Reynoso
The Violent History of the Venezuelan Opposition
Howard Lisnoff
They’re Just About Ready to Destroy Roe v. Wade
Eileen Appelbaum
Private Equity is a Driving Force Behind Devious Surprise Billings
Binoy Kampmark
Bob Hawke: Misunderstood in Memoriam
J.P. Linstroth
End of an era for ETA?: May Basque Peace Continue
Weekend Edition
May 17, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Trump and the Middle East: a Long Record of Personal Failure
Joan Roelofs
“Get Your Endangered Species Off My Bombing Range!”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Slouching Towards Tehran
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail