Tuesday, November 11, 2008

So How Was The Honeymoon For You?

Interesting story in today's Wall Street Journal. Apparently all those evil Bush intelligence gathering methods - think torture, warrantless wire-tapping, secret prisons, etc. - don't seem so evil when you're the guy in the Oval Office.

Now, the Journal's story is pretty speculative, and mostly anonymously sourced. Its main evidence that Obama will stay the course comes down to the following:

1). He "is being advised largely by a group of intelligence professionals, including some who have supported Republicans, and centrist former officials in the Clinton administration."
2). He voted for FISA (which essentially legalizes warrantless wiretaps to the extent that legalizing them is constitutionally possible), and
3). Some of said anonymous advisers say he might.

Here's the salient bit:
[Obama] recently voted for a White House-backed law to expand eavesdropping powers for the National Security Agency. Mr. Obama said he opposed providing legal immunity to telecommunications companies that aided warrantless surveillance, but ultimately voted for the bill, which included an immunity provision.

The new president could take a similar approach to revising the rules for CIA interrogations, said one current government official familiar with the transition. Upon review, Mr. Obama may decide he wants to keep the road open in certain cases for the CIA to use techniques not approved by the military, but with much greater oversight.

Again, this is hardly rock-solid. It's coming essentially from a Bush source ("current government official"), and it has that all important "may" attached. This could turn out to be nothing.

Or this could turn out to be yet more proof that when the Executive Branch takes power, it doesn't give it back. Bush appropriated a truly outlandish set of powers, and these were the most despicable of the bunch. If Obama is going to clean up at all, you'd think torture would be a nice place to start. If he doesn't, it'll be a gross violation of whatever trust and hope America invested in him.

Unfortunately, Obama's vote for FISA makes this all too plausible. For those of you unfamiliar with the bill, it allows the NSA to eavesdrop on any call, assuming they have reason to believe you're talking to a foreign target. They don't have to explain the reason they believe this to anyone or document it or anything. We just take their word for it.

Honestly, had Barack Obama supported that in the primary season, I would not have voted for him. I would have stayed home on Feb. 5. In the general election, Obama was so obviously the superior candidate on so many levels that we had to forgive him FISA, but it remains a stunning betrayal. I've never fully bought into the guy since. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy he's president, and I'm twice as happy to be rid of Caribou Barbie. But I've never been able to shake off that little voice in the back of my head insisting, "He voted for FISA." It's not like warrantless wiretapping is a tremendously popular policy point. I'm pretty sure only the hard-corest, Kool-aid-drinkingest 9/11 Republicans think it's a good idea. So why did he vote for this? Was it a window into the dark side of the magic Change faerie?

Right now, we don't know. Certainly, he deserves the benefit of the doubt. He's already drawing up plans to close Gitmo, after all, which is pretty fucking awesome. There is every reason to hope Obama will be a good or even truly great president.

But I for one will be watching him like a hawk. We elected this guy to turn this country back into something worth a damn, and if he doesn't, we have every right to eviscerate him. I will be watching, Mr. Obama.

And for all I or anyone else knows, you'll be returning the favor.

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