Glenn Greenwald on civil liberties and terrorism after Obama (highlights)
Glenn Greenwald’s full speech
Full question and answer portion
Speaking to a University of Wisconsin audience of more than 200 people Wednesday night, one journalist argued terrorism is a veil the United States government hides behind to successfully encroach on the civil liberties of its citizens.
Salon.com journalist Glenn Greenwald said the terms civil liberties and terrorism constitute a paradox in that people believe civil liberties are vague but in reality are absolutely clear, whereas terrorism is just the opposite.
“We all agree it’s this horrible menace…we don’t seem to have much difficulty figuring out who the terrorists are…the reality though is exactly the opposite,” he said. “I think it’s a term that lacks meaning at the point, or mechanism.”
He went on to detail a history of terrorism and how the United States considers people who hurt their country to be terrorists, while it does not consider itself a terrorist when it hurts others.
For example, U.S. officials immediately dubbed Nidal Hasan a terrorist after the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, Tex., while the U.S. itself has committed similar crimes without the knowledge of its general populace, Greenwald said.
One such instance was with then 15-year-old Omar Khadr who was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after he threw a grenade at an American soldier in Afghanistan when the U.S. first invaded the country.
Greenwald said while the U.S. locked up Khadr, labeling him as a terrorist, they went on to create their own bloodbath by bombing wedding parties and killing civilians.
The interesting part of U.S. officials’ use of the term terrorism is the fact it has no meaning, yet is used exhaustively to justify actions worldwide, Greenwald said.
“The term terrorism…is being used to…erode and degrade and ultimately demolish this term…that was really intended to be crystal clear, which is civil liberties,” he said.
While presidents throughout history have suspended civil liberties for what they believed to be the greater good, Greenwald said they did so in situations where citizens knew they would get them back.
He cited Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeus corpus during the Civil War, Franklin Delano Roosevelt interning Japanese-Americans in camps during World War II and Senator Joseph McCarthy’s hunt for Communists during the Cold War.
“As disgraceful and dangerous as those acts were, at least the pretext that was used had a fixed and understandable meaning,” Greenwald said.
Now, however, the government is done using Communism or WWII as a shield, Greenwald said. Instead, officials hide behind the term terrorism, and use it to justify imprisoning people without due process and assassinating citizens on a whim, among other things, he said.
Under President Barack Obama civil liberties continue to be threatened, Greenwald said, despite his promises while campaigning that he would restore the civil liberties suspended by former President George W. Bush.
Greenwald said gaining the office itself is to blame for Obama’s actions, in that once people gain office they do whatever they can to retain it.
UW senior Shawn Kuhn said he was surprised by how many of the more than 200 people in attendance were community members.
Fellow UW senior Mike Phillips said bringing speakers such as Greenwald to campus helps students look beyond party views.