What 'Instapundit' Gets Wrong About Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Civil Liberties

A conservative blogger's call for President Obama to resign because the anti-Islam filmmaker was questioned by police betrays a weird lack of perspective.

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I've been a constant critic of the Obama Administration's abysmal record on civil liberties. If President Obama put out a statement saying, "After reflecting on the ways I've betrayed the promises I made during the 2008 election, especially in the realm of upholding core Constitutional protections, I've decided to resign my office," I'd enthusiastically cheer his decision. Those causes are more important to me than any others. Obama has been disastrous for them.

Despite my contempt for Obama's record, which includes serious violations of domestic and international law, I could hardly take Glenn Reynolds' weekend post calling on him to resign. For me, it epitomizes the blinkered priorities of right-leaning bloggers in post-9/11 America.

The post was prompted by the FBI's decision to descend on the house of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the filmmaker responsible for the anti-Islam movie that has purportedly sparked riots in various Muslim majority countries. Nakoula's speech is protected by the First Amendment, but it's possible that he violated the terms of his probation in the course of making the movie. Law enforcement therefore had the legal prerogative to bring him in for questioning. I am on record in another item lamenting the signal the FBI sent by exercising that prerogative. It was a potentially chilling, foolish mistake.

And Reynolds and I have both associated ourselves with UCLA Eugene Volokh's thoughts about the subject

So what vexed me about Reynolds' post?

Let me put it this way. Since 9/11, two presidents have, between them, done these things without Reynolds calling on them to resign:

  • Established and executed a secret torture program.
  • Illegally spied on millions of innocent Americans without warrants.
  • Launched a war without Congressional approval and in violation of the War Powers Act. 
  • Extrajudicially assassinated American citizens without due process. 

I don't like that federal agents took this guy, on probation for bank fraud, in for voluntary questioning, but for goodness' sake, that's the abuse that has Reynolds superlatively upset? It isn't that I care to defend the FBI or Obama. I'm just incredulous: Reynolds is really more upset over this than torture, Orwellian spying, an affront to the separation of powers, and extrajudicial killing.

I'm still glad Reynolds is speaking up in defense of the filmmaker.

But the civil-libertarian cause is diminished when it appears as if it's opportunistically invoked as a cudgel against ideological opponents. Democrats seemed to do that, excoriating President Bush on issues like indefinite detention, only to fall silent or sign on when Obama adopted the same policies. This case has similarities and differences. On his blog, Reynolds frequently links to libertarians, and I don't doubt that he harbors within himself genuine civil-libertarian impulses.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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