Noam Chomsky Slams Obama Civil Liberties Record

Robert Jonathan

Noam Chomsky is not a cheerleader for the Obama administration in what he describes as its surprising attack on civil liberties and the development of a surveillance state.

Chomsky, the influential MIT linguistics professor and prominent left-wing political activist, said in an interview that civil liberties violations under the Obama administration "go well beyond anything I would have anticipated, and they don't seem easy to explain."

Other prominent public figures on the left who would seem to be Obama's natural allies in most things have reached similar conclusions. For example, Cornel West, the Princeton University professor and civil rights activist, has declared that President Obama is a war criminal because of the administration's controversial drone policy. Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate and former third-party presidential candidate, has stated that the president should be held accountable for war crimes in connection with overseas military and foreign policy decisions.

Chomsky, among other things, doesn't like the fact that the Obama administration went to the Supreme Court in the Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project case in an attempt to prevent lawyers from providing any "material assistance" to terrorist organizations. Such assistance is prohibited by the Patriot Act, and high court upheld the the ban in the 2010 decision. According to Chomsky, " ... if, say, you meet with someone in a terrorist group and advise them to turn to nonviolent means, then that's material assistance to terrorism. I've met with people who are on the list and will continue to do so, and Obama wants to criminalize that, which is a plain attack on freedom of speech. I just don't understand why he's doing it."

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Obama signed into law, allows for the indefinite detention of persons -- including American citizens -- suspected by the government of being involved in terrorism. Chomsky is fighting that law in court, and explained that "The only protest that's being raised is in response to detention of American citizens, but I don't see why we should have the right to detain anyone without trial. The provision of the NDAA that allows for this should not be tolerated. It was banned almost eight centuries ago in the Magna Carta. It's the same with drone killings."

Chomsky also assailed the administration for inexplicably prosecuting six whistleblowers under the Espionage Act. He even claimed that when it comes to civil liberties, the Obama administration is just as bad as the Bush administration, which is a huge admission coming from someone on the left. "What it is is the same kind of commitment to expanding executive power that Cheney and Rumsfeld had. He kind of puts it in mellifluous terms and there's a little difference in his tone. It's not as crude and brutal as they were, but it's pretty hard to see much of a difference."

He added that civil liberties violations will get worse when local police start deploying drones on a routine basis.

Chomsky and those right of center have some common ground: "I personally never expected anything of Obama, and wrote about it before the 2008 primaries. I thought it was smoke and mirrors."

Do you agree with Noam Chomsky's critique of the Obama administration's free speech and civil liberties record?

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