Anthony Romero, director of the American Civil Liberties Union, had some fighting words for President Barack Obama during a speech to liberal activists in Washington on Wednesday.
Romero told the crowd at America’s Future Now that he was “disgusted with this president,” according to blogger Marcy Wheeler of Firedoglake, who was in attendance.
“I’m going to start provocatively … I’m disgusted with this president,” Romero said.
Politico‘s Josh Gerstein interviewed Romero following the speech and confirmed the quote. The ACLU chief emphasized he didn’t intend it as a personal attack.
“I’m not disgusted at President Obama personally,” Romero remarked. “It’s President Obama’s policies on civil liberties and national security issues I’m disgusted by. It’s not a personal attack.”
“There was a discussion this morning, and there has been generally in progressive circles, about expectations that have not been met,” he added. “I made the point that expectations were high because the president set expectations very high.”
Romero says he’s been disappointed about what he considers Obama’s slow progress on civil liberties issues, and a lack of accountability for violations.
“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 18 months [into Obama’s presidency, and], if not now, when? … Guantanamo is still not closed,” he told Gerstein. “Military commissions are still a mess. The administration still uses state secrets to shield themselves from litigation. There’s no prosecution for criminal acts of the Bush administration. Surveillance powers put in place under the Patriot Act have been renewed. If there has been change in the civil liberties context, I frankly don’t see it.”
“The unwillingness of the administration to stick by its guns and prosecute the Sept. 11 defendants in criminal court does not bode well for the broader civil liberties agenda,” he continued. “The fact they’ve not announced anything raises the specter of doubt that, in itself, is debilitating to the Justice Department and raises serious questions about the administration’s commitment to the rule of law. Their silence speaks volumes.”
According to Politico, the White House declined to comment.
Obama held a tete-a-tete with civil and human rights groups in the Oval Office in early 2009. Attendees of the meeting said that the president was critical of groups that had equated his administration with that of former President George W. Bush.
“It doesn’t help to equate me to Bush,” Obama reportedly said.
Saying the meeting was off the record, Romero — who was in attendance — said that Obama had shown a “remarkable command” of the issues, but was nonetheless discouraged.
“It is disappointing that he appears poised to continue with many of the Bush policies that have ended in failure,” Romero told Newsweek. “If he goes down that track, President Obama will find himself in the same legal morass that swallowed up George Bush.”
The ACLU has not minced words when criticizing the Administration before, but Romero’s comment Wednesday appears to be among the strongest rhetoric to date leveled against the Democratic president by the group’s director.
In April, Romero sent a strongly-worded letter to Obama, asking him to end an alleged program that allows ‘targeted killings’ of terror suspects outside of war zones using unmanned drones.
In the letter, the civil liberties group argued that the program — which, according to news reports, is now targeting at least one US citizen — is unlawful and unconstitutional, and could set a dangerous precedent leading to foreign governments killing people on US soil.
“The program that you have reportedly authorized appears to envision the use of lethal force not just on the battlefield in Iraq, Afghanistan, or even the Pakistani border regions, but anywhere in the world, including against individuals who may not constitute lawful targets,” Romero stated.
“The entire world is not a war zone, and wartime tactics that may be permitted on the battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be deployed anywhere in the world where a terrorism suspect happens to be located.”
With earlier reporting by Daniel Tencer.