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Keynote (ACLU MA Conference 2009)

Keynote given by Glenn Greenwald, Author and Columnist, Salon.com

Over the last 8 years we have seen the worst assault on civil liberties. ACLU has been fighting to restore those rights. Regards ACLU lawyers in high esteem since they chose that invocation over higher compensation in the private sector.

Hard time to write and to speak about civil liberties. Euphoria is still felt by many about Obama's election. That is cause for celebration but there many meaningful battles yet to be fought. A single election won't produce meaningful change unless we overcome certain impediments.

Obama is working to close Guantanamo but left open the possibility of creating a similar structure within US borders. Existing detainees would either be put on trial, released, deported, or retained and detained (kept without due process). Many impediments politically to get to a real change.

First impediment is that belief in the constitution now labels you as being a leftist ideologue. You are ridiculed for believing that a law or treaty must be abided by. Thought he was writing about issues with neutral point of view but labeled a liberal score-settler. Called a civil liberty extremist and it was meant as an insult. No way to look at constitution and not think of being extremist. Look at the wording. "No law", "Shall not", etc.

The second impediment is we are in a post partisan age. Hard being an ideologue. Worst is being a leftist ideologue. Obama is viewed as not being beholden to leftist side of party and is truly partisan. As such it is now hard to propose plans without coming off as an ideologue. Politically you must move to the center to make progress which dilutes the effectiveness.

Third impediment is the permanent Washington population that is really behind the change in policy over the last 8 years. President can't rule by fiat. This population has vested interest in not having investigations performed, as that would implicate them.

Fourth impediment is the consensus that we shouldn't prosecute top political leaders. Suggesting that would take away from new post partisan future and looking forward. Creates atmosphere of political immunity from prosecution. Without consequences politicians will continue to bend or break the laws. We can't be a nation of laws unless there are consequences for breaking the laws, we instead become a nation of men. Without prosecution the executive branch is reduced to being based on a character judgement, benevolence that he won't break the law.

Obama's civil liberties view is unclear. No single leader can affect change fighting against these impediments. Must need external citizen support or be forced to do so. A majority isn't needed, just a minority of highly motivated individuals that can pressure the president to enact change.

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