Ending Torture and Not Much Else

by Conor Friedersdorf

This interview has a concise summation of what I regard as the most accurate line on President Obama and civil liberties:

A lot of people on the left were hoping that Barack Obama would wipe away everything George W. Bush had done to restrict civil liberties. Obviously, that hasn't happened. But what would you say is the best thing the Obama administration has done in this area, and the most glaring omission in its policies?

I'd say the single best thing the president has done in this arena is to renounce extraordinary/coercive interrogation. Ending torture is a big deal, period.

Having said that, the failure to impose accountability has invited more torture in the future by eroding the international legal prohibition and effectively declaring that it's OK to consider and repeat as a policy matter. While I'm disturbed by the continuing, and expanding, surveillance regime, I think torture demonstrates the best -- and worst -- of the administration's performance so far. 

That's certainly the worst case scenario. Should it turn out that torture never makes a comeback (and that future presidents don't abuse their power by assassinating innocent American citizens), President Obama's most glaring policy error will be increasing the surveillance state, some aspect of detainee policy, or continuing to wage the tragic, hopeless, enormously destructive war on drugs. And the worst of it is the unlikelihood that the Republicans will be better on any of these issues -- the libertarian voter's impulse is completely stymied here.