[News] Political Repression in the Age of Obama

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Sat May 5 14:30:15 EDT 2012

Political Repression in the Age of Obama


Originally presented as a speech at CAIR-Chicago 
(Council of American-Islamic Relations) event 
“Guilty By Activism” on March 15, 2012

By Michael Deutsch, attorney at People’s Law Office

In understanding the present dangers to our civil 
liberties, and the right to organize and to 
support movements here and throughout the world, 
we must analyze how this period of repression differs from those in the past.

Throughout U.S. history there has been political 
repression and the denial of civil liberties. 
Beginning with the rise of the labor movement in 
the late 19th century and through every period of 
political activism challenging capital, white 
supremacy and imperialism – be it against the IWW 
(International Workers of the World), the 
Anarchist movement, the Communist Party, the 
Black Liberation movement, or the movements of 
international solidarity with Puerto Rican 
Independence, Central American liberation or 
Palestinian rights and the green movements of 
today– we have had spying, break-ins (black bag 
jobs), wiretapping (in the modern period), 
detention without trial, political frame-ups of 
activists and yes, even government assassinations.

In 1972, the Supreme Court rejected a government 
claim that the President had the authority to 
order warrant-less wiretapping to spy on domestic 
radicals. Faced with this ruling the FBI simply 
decided to carry-out a series of illegal 
break-ins of the homes of anti-war radicals and 
their families. It was later learned that between 
1972-1974 over 800 such break-ins occurred. 
Interestingly, one of the first victims of this 
secret policy was the Dallas based “Arab 
Education League” whose files were burglarized 
and armed with that information scores of 
Palestinians living in the U.S. were arrested and 
deported. When these illegal break-ins were 
discovered after J. Edgar Hoover’s death there 
was an out cry and several FBI supervisors were 
indicted and convicted even though their defense 
was that they were ordered to do so as part of 
protecting National Security. Later they were pardoned by Reagan.


What makes this period – the “War on Terrorism” 
and the policies of Bush/Obama – and I use Bush 
and Obama synonymously since Obama has continued 
the anti-constitutional policies of Bush, and in 
fact, even extended such policies, greatly 
escalating the drone assassination attacks, 
signing the NDAA (National Defense Authorization 
Act) allowing for indefinite preventive 
detention, maintaining Guantanamo, prosecuting 
whistle blowers and Arab/Muslim and other 
activists, extending state secrets to cover up 
torture, refusing to prosecute torture, 
sanctioning military tribunals, and secretly spying on Americans.

What makes this period different and infinitely 
more dangerous is that these policies of 
repression, which in the past were done secretly 
and when discovered were condemned as violations 
of our constitutional rights, are now being 
justified as legal as part of the authority of 
the executive to protect our national security.

So we have the obscene and to me terrifying 
specter of the U.S. Attorney General speaking at 
an American Law School (my Alma mater) and in 
straight face claiming that the President has the 
absolute power to order the killing of anyone, 
anywhere without judicial process. He argues the 
outrageous idea that due process need not involve 
the judiciary but can be carried out secretly 
solely by the executive branch. Further, 
indefinite “Preventive Detention” without trial 
is now claimed to be legal and within the 
executive power, as are secret break-ins and 
warantless electronic surveillance, (under the 
Patriot Act), and the cover-up of torture and 
other government crimes under the State Secrets Act.

The usurpation by the executive branch of the 
investigative and contempt power of the Federal 
Grand Jury to intern political activists who 
refuse to collaborate with political 
investigations, is an early example of how 
detention without trial or specific criminal 
charge was legalized under U.S. law. During the 
McCarthy period the Supreme Court held for the 
first time (5-4) that political activists could 
be stripped of their right to remain silent and 
forced to provide information about their 
political activities or go to jail without 
criminal charge or trial. Armed with this power, 
the federal government has used this “legal” 
internment power over the following 50 years to 
imprison hundreds of activists who have refused 
to become informants against their movements – 
all done with the sanction of the courts and the law.

Similarly, today we have the “material support 
law,” which allows the government to criminalize 
first amendment activity, speaking, writing, 
protesting, raising money (yes, despite the 
so-called right to raise money under Citizens 
United) if done in conjunction with or under the 
direction of a “FTO” (Foreign Terrorist 
Organization), as designated by the U.S. 
Secretary of State, with little ability to challenge such a designation.

So when in the past the Government had to find a 
criminal hook, fabricated or not, to prosecute 
and repress political activists, today they can 
simply prosecute and imprison activists based on 
their public, non-violent First Amendment 
actions. And of course, this law is used only 
against groups that oppose U.S. policy. Not those 
groups who provide financial support to the 
terrorist Israeli Defense Forces or to the Jewish 
settlers, who are funded by rich Americans and 
terrorize Palestinians on daily basis. Even some 
groups who are designated FTOs are immune from 
prosecution like the Iranian MEK which is 
supported by a host of establishment figures, who 
have been paid millions of dollars to give 
speeches in their behalf, including several past 
CIA directors, and Howard Dean, Thomas Ridge, 
Rudy Guiliani and former Penn. Governor Ed Rendell.


What we have now is institutionalized and 
legalized repression sanctioned by both parties – 
A wholesale Bi-Partisan attack on our fundamental 
constitutional rights. Not a peep against Obama’s 
policies from the Democrats, who were so quick to 
denounce the same policies when implemented by 
George Bush. Assassination is now legal, as is 
warrantless surveillance, break-ins, and the 
criminalization of First Amendment solidarity 
work. We need to challenge these insidious 
national security arguments, condemn all who make 
them, including Obama and Holder, and build an 
independent movement to regain our fundamental 
rights to organize and oppose U.S. policies

For more information about the work of People’s 
Law Office in defending civil liberties, visit 
Repression and Grand Juries.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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