When President Obama met with human rights activists in the White House preceding a speech on security issues last May at the National Archives, American Civil Liberties Union executive director Anthony Romero gushed to the new president, “you’re the only politician I’ve ever believed in.”
But Romero’s may have regrets today.
According to Peter Baker writing in The New York Times Magazine, attendees say Romero said, “ . . . I never thought I could identify with a political leader the way I identify with you.”
To Romero, the attacks of September 11, 2001, just days after he assumed the driver’s seat of the left-wing advocacy group, were a welcome boon for the ACLU. “I thought I’d have to explore new cutting-edge issues and new frontiers,” he told Time magazine in 2005. “But after 9/11, civil liberties were salient again.”
In the wake of 9/11, Romero has consistently opposed the most aggressive efforts of the U.S. government in fighting terrorism, from National Security Agency surveillance to CIA enhanced interrogation. But even now, with his hero as president, the ACLU is repeatedly accusing Barack Obama of trampling the Constitution the way it says President George W. Bush did.
On Jan. 5, for instance, as the Obama Administration scrambled to install enhanced detection machines in airports to scrutinize travelers from known terrorist hotbed nations after the botched al-Qaida Christmas Day bombing, Romero accused the Obama White House of racism. He said the ACLU is “deeply troubled by the administration’s decision to subject the citizens of 14 nations who are flying to the United States to intensified screening. Using national origin or religion as proxies for suspicion is nothing less than racial profiling” and is “unconstitutional,” according to Romero.
Even the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, the fulfillment of a key campaign promise to the Democratic Party’s liberal base, is frowned on by Romero because prisoners will still have special status after transfer to the United States. Last month, Romero complained, “The creation of a ‘Gitmo North’ in Illinois is hardly a meaningful step forward. Shutting down Guantánamo will be nothing more than a symbolic gesture if we continue its lawless policies onshore.”
He called it a decision by Obama that “contradicts everything the president has said about the need for America to return to leading with its values” and charged that Obama is “disregarding our Constitution and skirting the criminal justice system.”
The departure this month, apparently under pressure, of Greg Craig as Obama White House counsel, a trial lawyer who helped get would-be President Reagan assassin John Hinckley acquitted based on insanity, has solidified the ACLU’s new discomfiture with the president.
“He was the one voice for a constant application of the rule of law in the White House,” Romero told the Times.
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