Agence France-Presse

Obama vs. Bush on torture, surveillance and detention

A demonstrator dressed as a Guantanamo Bay prisoner receives mock punishment from another dressed as US military personnel during a "No War on Iran" protest in Los Angeles, California, on February 4, 2012.

As President Barack Obama kicked off his re-election campaign last week, his administration focused on the president's foreign policy and national security achievements, something that the Washington Post's David Ignatius said almost nobody would have been able to predict four years ago.

With troops withdrawing from both Iraq and Afghanistan, ProPublica created a timeline of national security issues, to compare the policies of Obama and former President George W. Bush.

The timeline looked especially at issues that dealt with torture, surveillance and detention, including controversial measures such as CIA black sites, wiretapping, the use of enhanced interrogation and the facility at Guantanamo Bay.

Two controversial policies which began under Bush were immediately stopped when Obama took office in 2008, the timeline showed.

When Obama was inaugurated, he closed the CIA black sites and banned enhanced interrogation methods which could potentially include practices such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other actions causing extreme physical stress.

Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, has defended the use of waterboarding in his book "Hard Measures." The BBC reported on Wednesday that the tapes showing the waterboarding of terrorism suspect Abu Zubaydah, which were destroyed in 2007 at Rodriguez's order, showed him vomiting and screaming.

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Besides these two practices, according to the ProPublica timeline, the Obama administration continued many policies instated during Bush's administration.

In 2012, targeted killings and drone strikes were both justified and expanded, respectively, according to the timeline. White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan officially acknowledged the use of drone strikes against suspected terrorists on April 30, 2012, after Obama had hinted at drone strikes earlier in the year.

Brennan said, "The United States conducts targeted strikes against specific Al Qaeda terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones," according to MSNBC.

Obama reversed his decision to close Guantanamo Bay, the hugely controversial detention and interrogation facility in Cuba, after signing an executive order on January 21, 2009 which ordered it closed within a year. ProPublica reported that he formalized the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists on March 7, 2011.

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The use of military commissions to try suspected terrorists was also codified when Obama signed a bill on December 31, 2011. On March 5, Attorney General Eric Holder defended the use of military commissions, saying that the commissions offered the same protections as the federal courts, including the presumption of innocence and the right to counsel, with the key difference that "evidentiary rules reflect the realities of the battlefield and of conducting investigations in a war zone," according to the Department of Justice.

When Obama signed the renewal of the Patriot Act, which activists have criticized for infringing on civil rights, on May 27, 2011, he continued policies of search, surveillance and intelligence collection that were started under the Bush administration after 9/11, the ProPublica timeline noted.

According to a Wired magazine report from March 21, warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency has continued.

While speaking on broader topics of foreign policy and sanctions against Iran, Stephen Hadley, a former international security adviser for Bush, told Fox News, "You know, there is a little best kept secret in Washington is that every administration that comes in on foreign policy does not write on a blank sheet of paper, that there is actually a lot of continuity in policy in foreign policy between administrations. That is not a bad thing. That's a good thing. And I think the administration ought to be gracious about it, acknowledge it, and stop bashing the former president, especially since the former president has made it very clear he is not to criticize the Obama administration."

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