- The Washington Times - Monday, April 29, 2013

Popular liberal thinker Noam Chomsky on Friday slammed President Obama for his inexplicable “attack” on civil liberties.

“I personally never expected anything of Obama and wrote about it before the 2008 primaries. I thought it was smoke and mirrors,” Mr. Chomsky said during an interview on AlterNet with blogger Mike Stivers. “The one thing that did surprise me is his attack on civil liberties. They go well beyond anything I would have anticipated, and they don’t seem easy to explain.”

Mr. Chomsky cited the Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project court case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a law that calls for up to 15 years in prison for those people convicted of providing “material support” to “foreign terrorist organizations.”

“That’s an Obama initiative, and it’s a very serious attack on civil liberties. He doesn’t gain anything from it — he doesn’t get any political mileage out of it. In fact, most people don’t even know about it,” Mr. Chomsky continued. “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.”

Turning to the National Defense Authorization Act, Mr. Chomsky began to focus on the detainment of anyone without a trial, American citizen or not.

“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,” he said. “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 the drone killings. There was some protest over the Anwar al-Awlaki killing because he was an American citizen. But what about someone who isn’t an American citizen? Do we have a right to murder them if the president feels like it?”

He continued to lament the “surveillance state” that’s being built and the “capacity to pick up electronic communication.”

“There’s essentially nothing left. And that will get worse with the new drone technologies that are being developed and given to local police forces. It’s an enormous expansion of executive power,” he said.

“What it is is the same kind of commitment to expanding executive power that [former Vice President Dick] Cheney and [former Secretary of Defense Donald H.] 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.”

Mr. Stivers asked the philosopher, who has a background in activism, if he foresees a potential movement in response to recent surveillance policies.

“There should be,” Mr. Chomsky replied. “Nobody could have predicted what happened in the ‘60s. In the ‘50s, things were totally dead. I lived through it, so I know. There was very little activism going on. Then, all of a sudden, things started to happen.”

He then cited a series of lunch counter sit-ins at a Greensboro, N.C., Woolworth’s store that eventually led to the chain’s reversing its policy of racial segregation.

“It could have ended there. Cops could have come and thrown the kids in jail, and it would have been over. But it grew into a huge popular movement. That could happen again,” Mr. Chomsky concluded.