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Inside Story Americas

Obama's choice: Continuity over change?

We ask how the nomination of James Comey as FBI director will impact civil liberties and US foreign policy.

Last Modified: 22 Jun 2013 13:05
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US President Barack Obama has named James Comey as the new director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) but his nomination is controversial, given his history at the justice department under former President George W Bush.

Comey’s nomination represents a choice for continuity over change by the Obama administration doubling down on its pattern of extending the Bush administration’s abuses on the constitution.

Shahid Buttar, the executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee

It also comes at a time when questions are being asked about the FBI and the Obama administration's respect for civil liberties.

Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane reporting from Washington says: "Comey ... was one of the lawyers during Bush's presidency that signed off on 13 different interrogation techniques including sleep deprivation and water boarding .... Comey is likely to be asked about that but Democrats do like him ... he is expected to be confirmed despite the torture controversy." 

Comey has previous experience in government and in the private sector. He was the second-highest ranking official in the US department of justice during George W Bush's presidency. He left that post in 2005 and went to Lockheed Martin, the US defense department's largest defence contractor, to be their general counsel.

He left the company in 2010 and went on to serve as a board member at HSBC and a lecturer on national security law at Columbia University's Law School.

Now his appointment comes as the FBI is being criticised for several recent incidents.

President Obama has ordered a review of the agency's investigations of government leaks to journalists - including the secret gathering of Associated Press phone records.

There are questions about whether the FBI failed to heed warnings from Russian authorities about a suspect in April's bombings at the Boston marathon.

And while an FBI agent was questioning Ibragim Todashev in Florida about the bombings, he shot and killed the 27-year-old. There are contradictory accounts about basic facts in that incident, including whether Todashev was armed.

The agency has also been criticised for its use of surveillance drones in the US, including earlier this year during a hostage standoff in Alabama.

Why did Obama nominate a former Bush official? How will the nomination of James Comey as FBI director impact civil liberties? And what will Comey bring to a bureau now under scrutiny over its practices?

To discuss this and more on Inside Story Americas, Kimberly Halkett is joined by guests: David Sirota, a columnist with Salon.com; Simon Rosenberg, the president of the New Democratic Network think-tank; and Shahid Buttar, the executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

"I think as a political move it's pretty smart. I do think though that to hold this nomination up as proof that the Obama administration is taking civil liberties seriously is an oxymoron. It's actually, I would agree it's the opposite."

- David Sirota, a columnist with Salon.com

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