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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

American Civil Liberties Union: This is not change

Title comes from an interesting piece in the New York Times, where it seems the Barack Oama administration is upholding some of the arguments first implemented by the Bush administration regarding state secrets, which has the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney a little peeved.

“This is not change,” he said in a statement. “This is definitely more of the same. Candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets, but President Obama’s Justice Department has disappointingly reneged on that important civil liberties issue. If this is a harbinger of things to come, it will be a long and arduous road to give us back an America we can be proud of again.”

From the article it is evident that the stance from the Obama administration, surprised not only the ACLU, but the judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, as well.

In a closely watched case involving rendition and torture, a lawyer for the Obama administration seemed to surprise a panel of federal appeals judges on Monday by pressing ahead with an argument for preserving state secrets originally developed by the Bush administration.

In the case, Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian native, and four other detainees filed suit against a subsidiary of Boeing for arranging flights for the Bush administration’s “extraordinary rendition” program, in which terrorism suspects were secretly taken to other countries, where they say they were tortured. The Bush administration argued that the case should be dismissed because even discussing it in court could threaten national security and relations with other nations.

During the campaign, Mr. Obama harshly criticized the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees, and he has broken with that administration on questions like whether to keep open the prison camp at Guant├ínamo Bay, Cuba. But a government lawyer, Douglas N. Letter, made the same state-secrets argument on Monday, startling several judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Is there anything material that has happened” that might have caused the Justice Department to shift its views, asked Judge Mary M. Schroeder, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter, coyly referring to the recent election.

“No, your honor,” Mr. Letter replied.

Judge Schroeder asked, “The change in administration has no bearing?”

Once more, he said, “No, Your Honor.” The position he was taking in court on behalf of the government had been “thoroughly vetted with the appropriate officials within the new administration,” and “these are the authorized positions,” he said.

The full ACLU release on this issue can be found here, and text below:

The Justice Department today repeated Bush administration claims of "state secrets" in a lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan for its role in the extraordinary rendition program. Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen was brought on behalf of five men who were kidnapped and secretly transferred to U.S.-run prisons or foreign intelligence agencies overseas where they were interrogated under torture. The Bush administration intervened in the case, inappropriately asserting the "state secrets" privilege and claiming the case would undermine national security. Oral arguments were presented today in the American Civil Liberties Union's appeal of the dismissal, and the Obama administration opted not to change the government position in the case, instead reasserting that the entire subject matter of the case is a state secret.

The following can be attributed to Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU:

"Eric Holder's Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government. This is not change. This is definitely more of the same. Candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets, but President Obama's Justice Department has disappointingly reneged on that important civil liberties issue. If this is a harbinger of things to come, it will be a long and arduous road to give us back an America we can be proud of again."

The following can be attributed to Ben Wizner, a staff attorney with the ACLU, who argued the case for the plaintiffs:

"We are shocked and deeply disappointed that the Justice Department has chosen to continue the Bush administration's practice of dodging judicial scrutiny of extraordinary rendition and torture. This was an opportunity for the new administration to act on its condemnation of torture and rendition, but instead it has chosen to stay the course. Now we must hope that the court will assert its independence by rejecting the government's false claims of state secrets and allowing the victims of torture and rendition their day in court."


The far left is up in arms over this already, as evidenced by a sampling, shown below.

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:

So Obama is adopting the same expansive interpretation of the privilege as the Bush/Cheney administration, and using it in order to cover up American involvement in torture and rendition programs that have been in the public record already for years and can hardly even be said to be secrets, let alone state secrets that are vital to U.S. national security. This is decidedly not change we can believe in

The far left hack and sock puppet, Glenn Greenwald over at Salon:

Title: "Obama fails his first test on civil liberties and accountability -- resoundingly and disgracefully."

Yesterday, enthusiastic Obama supporter Andrew Sullivan wrote about this case: "Tomorrow in a federal court hearing in San Francisco, we'll find out if the Obama administration intends to keep the evidence as secret as the Bush administration did." As I wrote after interviewing Wizner two weeks ago: "This is the first real test of the authenticity of Obama's commitment to reverse the abuses of executive power over the last eight years." Today, the Obama administration failed that test -- resoundingly and disgracefully:

More rhetoric from Greenwald:

What makes this particularly appalling and inexcusable is that Senate Democrats had long vehemently opposed the use of the "state secrets" privilege in exactly the way that the Bush administration used it in this case, even sponsoring legislation to limits its use and scope. Yet here is Obama, the very first chance he gets, invoking exactly this doctrine in its most expansive and abusive form to prevent torture victims even from having their day in court, on the ground that national security will be jeopardized if courts examine the Bush administration's rendition and torture programs............

That is a longer piece, so go read it if you want, but moving along to other reactions now.

Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish:

The Obama administration will continue the cover-up of the alleged torture of the British resident. The argument is that revealing the extent of the man's torture and abuse would reveal state secrets. No shit. This is a depressing sign that the Obama administration will protect the Bush-Cheney torture regime from the light of day. And with each decision to cover for their predecessors, the Obamaites become retroactively complicit in them.

Hilzoy, Washington Monthly:

So, Obama administration: you screwed this one up in a major, major way. Stop it. Stop it now. Work your hearts out to get the State Secrets Protection Act reintroduced in Congress and passed into law. Try to do right by people like the plaintiffs in this case. Don't just say: it would be a problem for us to let people we shipped off to be tortured have their day in court. Try to make it right.

You have it in your power to make me proud of my government again. But this is really, really, really not a very good start.

Big Tent Democrat at Talk Left:

Holder and the Obama Administration are BSing us on this issue.

Hullabaloo is depressed:

This is really disappointing. And it makes me wonder if I was punk'd after all.

Why the heck is President Obama protecting torturers? Perhaps someone in the White House Press Corpse will ask him, or perhaps a citizen will ask at a Recovery Bill rally.


My problem is that we saw in the Appeals Court yesterday that the Obama administration is going to keep on using the Bush administration's blanket "state secrets" defense to stop any evidence from ever coming out.

So Obama's words look like they're just lawyer-speak. Translated they become: "We'll investigate if there's any real evidence - and we'll be making sure there isn't any."

Crooks and Liars:

You can forget the notion that those who ordered torture and those who wrote legal opinions for them will ever see the inside of a US court on those charges. If Holden is continuing to invoke state secrets in cases such as today, no prosecution of Bush administration criminals will ever get to the satge of even hearing evidence. Thus, the Obama administration collectively become accessories to the Bush administration's crimes. In my opinion, any cabinet member who had an ounce of spine and an ounce of belief in the rule of law for all would resign over this travesty of justice. Watch for an utter lack of that.

Those are a sampling of the far far left liberal bloggers, you know, the people that actively fought to get Barack Obama elected.

NEWSFLASH for the far left.... you got what you asked for, you believed all the change hype and you were told it was all crap, so quit acting all offended and surprised.

Obamas most ardent supporters, three weeks into his presidency, are now turning on him like he is the enemy..... now THAT is change I can believe in!!!!!!!!!!!!

Keep up with the constantly updated reactions from the left and the right over this issue at Memeorandum.