NYT condemns what it calls "Obama's cover-up"

A leading pro-Obama outlet says he "has clung to Bush's expansive claims of national security and executive power."

Published October 26, 2009 10:27AM (EDT)

(updated below)

The New York Times Editorial Page has long been one of the most reliable and vocal pro-Obama outlets in the nation.  When they endorsed him for President, they praised his "strength of will, character and intellect, sober judgment and a cool, steady hand," attributes they said he possesses in "abundance," and predicted he would provide "sensible leadership, compassionate leadership, honest leadership and strong leadership."  Throughout this year, their praise of him has been fulsome and their criticisms rare and restrained.  Most recently, they made numerous arguments as to why he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.  I could go on, but I assume the pro-Obama bona fides of The New York Times Editorial Page are well established.

That's what makes this morning's scathing condemnation of Obama so notable.  As suggested by the editorial's headline -- "The Cover-Up Continues" -- the NYT accuses Obama of complicity in shielding Bush war crimes from disclosure and accountability, and worse, details the numerous, radical Bush/Cheney powers embraced by Obama in order to accomplish this.  It begins this way:

The Obama administration has clung for so long to the Bush administration’s expansive claims of national security and executive power that it is in danger of turning President George W. Bush’s cover-up of abuses committed in the name of fighting terrorism into President Barack Obama’s cover-up.

We have had recent reminders of this dismaying retreat from Mr. Obama’s passionate campaign promises to make a break with Mr. Bush’s abuses of power, a shift that denies justice to the victims of wayward government policies and shields officials from accountability.

The numerous examples provided by the NYT are all well-known to readers here.  Contrary to the central strawman invariably raised by his defenders, none of the complaints is grounded in the objection that Obama "has failed to act quickly enough" to repudiate Bush/Cheney abuses.  Let's repeat that:  none of the criticisms of Obama from the NYT today -- or from civil libertarians generally -- is grounded in the complaint that he hasn't acted quickly enough.  The opposite is true:  the complaint is that he has actively and affirmatively embraced those very policies as his own -- the very policies which Democrats and liberals almost unanimously claimed for years they found so offensive and dangerous -- and he has vigorously defended them and repeatedly applied them in numerous circumstances. 

The NYT documents only a fraction of the examples where this is true:  Obama's embrace of both Bush's arguments and threats to coerce a British court to keep concealed details of how Binyam Mohamed was tortured ("an inappropriate threat that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton repeated"); Obama's ongoing assertions of the same radically broad "state secrets" privilege used by Bush/Cheney to block judicial review of presidential lawbreaking ("the Obama administration has repeated a disreputable Bush-era argument"); the fact that Obama "has aggressively pursued such immunity in numerous other cases beyond the ones involving Mr. Mohamed"; and Obama's "flip-flop last May [when he] decided to resist orders by two federal courts to release photographs of soldiers abusing prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq," a decision that just culminated in a successful White House effort, led by Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, to "create[] an exception to the Freedom of Information Act that gave Secretary of Defense Robert Gates authority to withhold the photos."

All of that is independent of the numerous other areas where Obama has actively embraced many of the most controversial Bush/Cheney "counter-Terrorism" policies (or, more accurately: policies that were controversial when it was Bush rather than Obama defending them):  indefinite detention schemes, military commissions, renditions, denial of habeas corpus rights to "War on Terror" prisoners, etc. etc.  Perhaps most incriminating of all is this sentence from the NYT Editors, after noting Obama's "justification" for doing all of this:

We do not take seriously the government’s claim that it is trying to protect intelligence or avoid harm to national security.

In other words -- according to one of the President's most supportive media outlets -- the Obama administration is advancing false and pretextual claims of "national security" in order to justify radical secrecy and immunity powers:  claims that should not even be "taken seriously."  Does that sounds familiar?

All of this vividly underscores a vital point.  There is simply no way that a person with even the most minimal levels of intellectual integrity could have objected to these actions during the Bush years yet defend them now that Obama is doing them, or even refrain from objecting just as loudly.  What would it say about a person who spent years warning of the dangers posed by these very policies, yet found ways to excuse them now that there's a new President who is affirming and further institutionalizing them?

The fact that Obama has done good things in other areas or "is not as bad as Bush" in this realm doesn't negate that fact in any way.  Those who were genuinely horrified by radical Bush/Cheney secrecy and immunity claims -- as opposed to those who pretended to care about those things because it was an effective Bush-bashing tool for partisan gain -- have no choice but to reach the conclusion which the NYT Editors today propounded:  "The Obama administration has clung for so long to the Bush administration’s expansive claims of national security and executive power that it is in danger of turning President George W. Bush’s cover-up of abuses committed in the name of fighting terrorism into President Barack Obama’s cover-up."

* * * * *

Quite related to the last point:  over the weekend, two of The Huffington Post's best reporters -- Sam Stein and Ryan Grim -- reported what has long been apparent (and echoed by other outlets such as TPM):  namely, that while Obama repeatedly claims in public to support a "public option" for health care reform, the Obama White House, in private, has been actively opposing attempts to include that provision in the final health care bill, a priority of very high importance to many of his progressive supporters. 

As a result, Obama-venerating readers of Daily Kos this morning have declared Huffington Post to be suspect, untrustworthy, and even "right-wing" in a top recommended diary.  A poll accompanying that dairy finds that 57% of readers believe that Huffington Post -- which just recently hired Dan Froomkin as its Washington Bureau Chief -- "is turning conservative."  In other words, Huffington Post reported on facts which reflect poorly on the leader and which contradict what they are eager to believe.  Anyone who does that must be discredited, impugned and declared to be the enemy.  That way, the unpleasant facts can be dismissed away by attacking those who point them out, and fantasies of the leader can be blissfully maintained.  Doesn't that also sound familiar?


UPDATE:  In yet another largely pro-Obama outlet -- The Nation -- Julian Sanchez sounds the same theme in the context of the Obama administration's efforts to block any reforms to the Patriot Act and FISA (h/t Andrew Sullivan):

We know the rules by now, the strange conventions and stilted Kabuki scripts that govern our cartoon facsimile of a national security debate. The Obama administration makes vague, reassuring noises about constraining executive power and protecting civil liberties, but then merrily adopts whatever appalling policy George W. Bush put in place. . . . We've watched the formula play out with Guantánamo Bay, torture prosecutions and the invocation of "state secrets." We appear to be on the verge of doing the same with national security surveillance.

Sanchez details how Obama blocked the very Patriot Act and FISA reforms he not only supported when he was a Senator, but also ones he promised he would undertake when attempting to placate supporters of his who were furious that he'd violated his campaign promise by supporting the Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping and telecom immunity FISA revisions.  As Sanchez also describes, and as I detailed here, all of that was accomplished by disseminating pure and deceitful fear-mongering surrounding the Zazi terrorist investigation.  At some point, these examples -- and those who point them out -- will pile up so high that it will be impossible for all but the blindest Obama loyalists to pretend they don't exist.

By Glenn Greenwald

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