The Washington Post Wakes Up to Civil Liberties
Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at 12:41 pm
Carrie Johnson in The Washington Post today picks up on a problem we’ve been writing about at TWI for months now: when it comes to information about crimes committed by the previous administration, President Obama isn’t following through on his big commitments to “open government.”
“Civil liberties advocates are accusing the Obama administration of forsaking campaign rhetoric and adopting the same expansive arguments that his predecessor used to cloak some of the most sensitive intelligence-gathering programs of the Bush White House,” Johnson wrote.
While The Post has mentioned some of these issues in previous stories, it hasn’t given the Obama administration’s surprising position on “state secrets” nearly the sort of sustained attention that it deserves. The Obama administration’s use of secrecy privileges to protect the previous administration’s lawbreaking has been going on for months, as I’ve been writing about here, and other legal bloggers, such as Glenn Greenwald at Salon, have been extensively reporting on as well.
Most recently, in the al-Haramain case, in which an Islamic charity sued the government for wiretapping the group and its lawyers without a warrant, the Obama administration told a federal district court that it simply did not have the authority to do what the court ordered (turn over critical documents that would allow the suit to go forward) and hence, it was not going to comply. What’s more, the new, open, free information-loving administration basically threatened to send in the federal marshals to seize from the judge’s files the offending “secret” documents at issue in the case, if he planned to turn them over to al-Haramain’s lawyers. It didn’t matter that the organization’s lawyers had already seen them, and knew exactly what they revealed: that the Bush administration had been secretly wiretapping the Islamic charity and its attorneys, without a warrant, in violation of federal law.
This was the second major Obama Justice Department showdown over the “state secrets” privilege (explained here). The first, which TWI was first to write about, was in the case of Binyam Mohamed and other torture victims suing Jeppesen Dataplan, the Boeing subsidiary that assisted the CIA in transporting the men to be tortured. Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the men have pressed their claims against the company in part to avoid the broad range of immunities government officials usually claim — only to be thwarted by the Bush administration’s assertion that the “state secrets” privilege requires its dismissal. Incredibly – even to the judges, it seemed — the Obama administration has continued to maintain that position.
In response, last month, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (Penn.) introduced a bill that would require judges to look at the classified evidence when the government makes the state secrets claim, rather than blindly accept the government’s claims about the sensitivity of the materials.
Now that the mainstream media is finally taking a serious look at this — as I’ve noted before, some in the press seem to have been willfully avoiding some of these troubling Obama administration positions — that legislation might have a chance.
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