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The Obama Dystopia May 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
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Andrew Hughes

www.opednews.com, May 25, 2009

After 8 years of the Bush-Cheney nightmare during which we saw the wanton destruction of Afghanistan and Iraq, the cynical  negation of centuries of Law designed to protect the most basic human rights and a foreign policy worthy of Genghis Khan, there came along the “Great Black Hope” in the persona of Barack Obama. The collective world consciousness turned uncritically to what was presented as a new era for peace, change and trust in Government.

Never before had one witnessed such an accomplished use of manipulation, propaganda, deceptive imagery and public relations wizardry to sell the public a man who was to take the baton from Bush and run with it in the race to destroy the economy, the rights of the people and help birth a nation totally controlled by those who have always lurked in the shadows of power. “Change” was promised and was delivered in the form of a deepening of the already Dystopic  nightmare.

Promises were broken with no apology, the same creative legalese that infested the Bush administration, in the form of John Yoo and Alberto Gonzalez, was again used to deny justice to the inmates of Guantanamo, It was used to justify more torture, more destruction of the Constitution and more illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens.

The President that extended the hand of peace to the Muslim world has murdered hundreds of Pakistani men, women and children. The President who promised accountability in Government has filled his staff with lobbyists, banksters and warmongers. His Attorney General refuses to prosecute some of the worst war crimes committed in modern history and continues to give legal cover to criminals who tortured with impunity.

The country has been further bankrupted by the continuing theft of taxpayer money as the Wall St. campaign donors receive their quid pro quo. Obama has stood by idly as Bernancke states that the private Federal Reserve is not answerable to either Congress or the American public. The U.S. taxpayer is now on the hook for $14.3 Trillion and rising. Foreclosures and unemployment are mounting with no meaningful efforts by the administration to alleviate the symptoms, never mind the cause. The new image of America is one of tent cities, lengthening soup kitchen lines, sherrifs evicting countless thousands of young and old from their homes, once prosperous towns descending in to an eerie stillness and an increasingly disillusioned populace.

The “War on terrorism” has mutated in to a control grid for an increasingly aware population. The foundation for this had already been put in place by Bush with the Patriot Act, Patriot Act 2, Military commissions act and numerous executive orders that strangled what was left of Posse Comitatus and the Constitution.

Homeland Security now defines “Terrorists” as those who believe in the Constitution, the first, second and fourth amendments. Returning veterans are being targeted for a denial of their second amendment rights. A  “Terrorist Watchlist” of more than a million and rapidly growing, is being used as the basis for denying citizens the rights to travel and to work.

Obama is now mulling over the idea of indefinite detention without trial for U.S. citizens. This, from a teacher of the Constitution ! Bills are in congress to criminalize free speech on the Internet via the Cyberbullying Act which will make hurting somebody’s feelings a felony. Just as the Patriot Act morphed in to a mechanism to subdue the U.S. population, the Cyberbullying Act will be subverted to criminalize political free speech and any criticism of the Government.

“Cyberterrorism” is being used as a pretext to bring government regulation to the the last stronghold of unbiased information. Washington has realized that it’s getting harder to get away with their Fascist agenda and are moving to control the field. The populace are beginning to realize just what kind of “Change” Obama intended to deliver.

There has been growing resistance on a state level with several invoking their 9th and 10th Amendment rights in a valiant attempt to stop the Federal Vampire from draining the last drops of blood, the last vestiges of Freedom and Hope.

This is the Dystopic Nightmare that America finds itself in today and each day brings new assaults on Freedom and Sanity. The framework for total control of the citizenry, the economy and the media is being built upon in a relentless aggrandization of Govermental power. Obama sits atop his new Empire still smiling that sickeningly disingenuous smile surrounded by his seasoned courtiers who have worked for decades to hijack America and steer it towards this New World Order. 

 http://meltdown101.livejournal.com

An Irishman born in Dublin in 1959 now living in France for the last 8 years. I write on Economics and Politics.

If Obama Cedes Ground on Torture to Cheney, We’ll All Pay a Heavy Price May 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, Torture.
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Published on Monday, May 25, 2009 by The Guardian/UK

By acknowledging recent crimes while refusing to pursue the criminals, the president has made his position untenable

by Gary Younge

‘Every government ­assumes deeds and ­misdeeds of the past,” writes Hannah Arendt in Eichmann and the Holocaust. “It means hardly more, generally speaking, than that every generation, by virtue of being born into a historical continuum, is burdened by the sins of the fathers as it is blessed with the deeds of the ancestors.”

For Barack Obama this cuts both ways. Talented as he is, he looks much more so when compared with the man who preceded him. Just by showing up and stringing a few coherent sentences together, he embodies an improvement. To earn acclaim in these early months, he hasn’t had to do anything good. He merely had to announce that he would stop doing things that were bad.

On the other hand, he has inherited the scarred landscape of his predecessor’s tenure. Bush’s wars, banks, car companies, secret prisons and untried prisoners are now his. As the candidate he may have promised change, but as the president he must also simulate some sense of continuity. Soaring ­rhetoric, however hopeful about the future, cannot erase the past, which has a habit of remaining with us.

Herein lies the tension in Obama’s deeply flawed attempts to come to terms with America’s recent disgraceful record of torture and detainment. As a candidate he was consistent on two points. First, he was opposed to torture and would close Guantánamo Bay. “I believe that we must reject torture ­without equivocation because it does not make us safe, it results in unreliable intelligence, it puts our troops at risk, and it contradicts core American ­values.” Second, he had no desire to prosecute those who have been guilty of human rights abuses. “I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of the Republicans as a partisan witch-hunt, because I think we’ve got too many problems to solve.”

In short, by acknowledging the crimes while refusing to pursue the criminals he has promised to rectify America’s grim recent history without ever ­reckoning with it.

Events over the past few weeks have shown just how ethically and politically untenable this situation really is. His first term looks as though it may be ­consumed by these issues anyway – and not on his terms. Having released the torture memos, Obama then reversed his position on releasing photographs that accompanied them on the grounds that to do so would endanger US troops. Having opposed trying Guantánamo prisoners under military commissions, he now supports it. His decision to close Guantánamo has been delivered a huge blow by the Senate, which voted 90-6 to deny the funds necessary to do so. Now he has proposed that suspects who cannot be tried in a federal court because evidence against them was obtained under torture could be held in “prolonged detention” in the US ­without trial.

In essence, he would transfer the legal architecture of Guantánamo to the mainland, as though the problem were one of geography rather than principle. So much for core American values.

On one level we should not be surprised. Obama was elected by Americans to represent American interests – which, in turn, are informed by American political realities. And the reality is that, with a few notable exceptions, the Democrats have consistently failed to provide an unswerving, principled opposition to torture whenever they have had the power to do so, for fear of being branded unpatriotic. Like their spinelessness over the Iraq war, this complicity in the name of pragmatism ultimately makes them more vulnerable to political attack, rather than less.

The speaker of the US House of ­Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, knows this only too well. When asked why she took impeachment off the table before the 2006 elections, she said: “What about these other people who voted for that war with no evidence … Are they going to be voting with us to impeach the president? Where are these ­Democrats going to be? Are they going to be voting for us to impeach a ­president who took us to war on ­information that they had also?”

This makes the recent fiasco over her confused accounts of whether and when the CIA mislead her on ­waterboarding seem all the more ­disingenuous. Allegations of torture from various sources were prevalent by that stage, and she chose not to believe them. Her silence made her complicit, leaving her territory on the moral high ground foreclosed.

This should leave us in no doubt as to where the ultimate responsibility lies. “Where all are guilty, no one is,” wrote Arendt. “Confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing.”

This is precisely how those who have now left the Bush administration have played it. “The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our legal obligations under the convention against torture,” Condoleezza Rice said recently. “So by definition, if it was authorised by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the convention against torture.”

But in the absence of moral leadership the national conversation has morphed seamlessly from human rights to national security, where the issue of torture and detention is debated not on the grounds of morality but efficacy.

With the former vice-president Dick Cheney leading the charge, the right has managed to mount a spirited defence of torture in which America’s rights as the potential, abstract victim of terrorism supersede detainees’ rights as actual victims of torture.

In the heady days following 9/11, argues Cheney, observing constitutional niceties and international conventions was a luxury they could not afford. Waterboarding, he said just last week, “prevented the violent deaths of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people”. Cheney insists that by closing Guantánamo and putting a halt to torture Obama is making the country less safe.

These arguments are not difficult to counter. There is not one shred of evidence any intelligence obtained as a result of torture has been used to prevent further attacks. The best intelligence the Bush administration ever had was a month before 9/11, when it rec­eived a memo entitled “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the US” from the FBI, warning of “patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings”. No torture was involved; no action was taken.

Conventions are devised precisely to set boundaries in moments of crisis – in periods of relative harmony there is not much need to refer to them. The Geneva convention, in particular, was devised to establish the rules of engagement during times of war. If the very fact of being at war is reason enough to discard it, then it has no meaning.

And finally, if showing the world what America has done would inflame anti-American sentiment then maybe America shouldn’t do it in the first place.

The Obama administration’s desire to concentrate on the future is understandable. But the past has a legacy and the present has consequences. By ceding the principle to Cheney now we will all pay for it later.
© 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited

Gary Younge is a Guardian columnist and feature writer based in the US

Spain’s Judges Cross Borders in Rights Cases May 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Spain, Torture.
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High-Ranking US Officials Among Targets of Inquiries

by Craig Whitlock

MADRID — Spanish judges are boldly declaring their authority to prosecute high-ranking government officials in the United States, China and Israel, among other places, delighting human rights activists but enraging officials in the countries they target and triggering a political backlash in a nation uncomfortable acting as the world’s conscience.

Judges at Spain’s National Court, acting on complaints filed by human rights groups, are pursuing 16 international investigations into suspected cases of torture, genocide and crimes against humanity, according to prosecutors. Among them are two probes of Bush administration officials for allegedly approving the use of torture on terrorism suspects, including prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The judges have opened the cases by invoking a legal principle known as universal jurisdiction, which under Spanish law gives them the right to investigate serious human rights crimes anywhere in the world, even if there is no Spanish connection.

International-law advocates have cheered the developments and called the judges heroes for daring to hold the world’s superpowers accountable. But the proliferation of investigations has also prompted a backlash in Spain, where legislators and even some law enforcement officials have criticized the powerful judges for overreaching, as well as souring diplomatic relations with allies.

“How can a Spanish judge with limited resources determine what really happened in Tiananmen or Tibet, or in massacres in Guatemala or God knows where else?” said Gustavo de Arístegui, a legislator and foreign-policy spokesman for the opposition Popular Party. “We have our own problems and our own bad guys to take care of.”

On Tuesday, the lower house of the Spanish parliament easily passed a resolution calling for a new law that would limit judges to pursuing cases with ties to Spanish citizens or a link to Spanish territory. Cases could be brought only if the targeted country failed to take action on its own.

The vote was prompted, in part, by two National Court judges who decided separately last month to investigate Bush administration officials on allegations that they encouraged a policy of torture. The judges have moved forward despite the opposition of Spanish Attorney General Cándido Conde-Pumpido, who said the cases risked turning the National Court into “a plaything” for politically motivated prosecutions.

Another judge announced Thursday that he would charge three U.S. soldiers with crimes against humanity, holding them accountable for the April 2003 deaths of a Spanish television cameraman and a Ukrainian journalist. The men were killed when a U.S. tank crew shelled their Baghdad hotel. Judge Santiago Pedraz said he would pursue the case even though a National Court panel, as well as a U.S. Army investigation, recommended that no action be taken against the soldiers.

The controversy over universal jurisdiction has left the government of Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in a bind. Many members of his Socialist Party have supported the judges in the past. But the probes are causing diplomatic headaches for Zapatero, who has sought to improve his standing in Washington after years of frosty relations with the Bush White House.

Israel and China have complained strenuously about the investigations of their countries, making clear that Spain will pay a political price if they continue. Spanish judges have opened two probes into Israeli military airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, dating to 2002. They are also conducting two investigations into alleged abuses committed by Chinese officials in Tibet, and a third regarding repression of the Falun Gong movement.

Julio Villarubia, a Socialist member of parliament, said it was unclear exactly how or when the Spanish government would amend its universal-jurisdiction law. But he said limits are necessary.

“We have not adopted the resolution because of pressures by the U.S., China, and Israel, though that pressure is known; the disagreements are there,” he said.

It is unclear whether changes to the law would apply retroactively to pending cases. In interviews, a Justice Ministry official said they would not, but a senior prosecutor in the National Court suggested otherwise.

Regardless, most of the probes underway do have at least a tangential Spanish connection. The Guantanamo cases, for example, are partly based on testimony by a Spanish citizen who spent three years at the U.S. naval prison in Cuba.

A Global PortfolioSpain’s embrace of universal jurisdiction dates back more than a decade. In 1996, a crusading judge on the National Court, Baltasar Garzón, opened a criminal investigation into human rights abuses in Chile and Argentina.

When Chile’s aging dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, traveled to London for medical treatment in 1998, Garzón issued a warrant for his arrest. British officials complied and held him under house arrest. But they later allowed Pinochet to return to Chile, citing his ill health as a reason for not extraditing him to Spain.

Garzón had asserted jurisdiction because some of the victims of the Chilean dictatorship were Spanish citizens. But that legal condition was pronounced unnecessary in 2005, when Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled that judges can pursue grave human rights crimes anywhere, even if there is no Spanish connection.

Since then, rights groups have made a beeline for Madrid, where they have enlisted local lawyers to file complaints with the National Court. Spanish judges are obligated to examine each case and investigate whether it meets certain thresholds.

Under Spain’s legal system, judges such as Garzón serve as investigating magistrates and hold enormous power. They oversee police work, collect evidence and can compel witnesses to testify. If they conclude that charges are warranted, they hand the case to another judge for trial.

The National Court judges originally concentrated on countries with colonial ties to Spain, such as Guatemala, Argentina and El Salvador. But the judges have recently branched out to other places, such as Rwanda, Morocco, China and Israel.

Alan Cantos, president of the Tibet Support Committee, a Spanish advocacy group that requested the probes, said he is worried the Spanish government will succumb to outside political pressure.

“When powerful countries start getting touched, there is a backlash,” he said. “You mix U.S., Israeli and Chinese propaganda and complaints, and all of a sudden, the Spanish government starts shaking at the knees. Quite frankly, I find it pathetic.”

The Spanish universal-jurisdiction investigations have resulted in a single conviction. Adolfo Scilingo, a former Argentine naval captain, was found guilty of crimes against humanity in 2005 for pushing 30 drugged and bound prisoners out of government airplanes in the 1970s. He was sentenced to more than 1,000 years in prison by a Spanish court.

Carlos Slepoy, a Spanish-Argentine lawyer who helped pursue Scilingo, said the universal-jurisdiction cases have valuable secondary effects. Officials targeted by Spanish judges need to be careful about where they travel; Spanish arrest warrants are generally enforced throughout Europe but also sometimes in Mexico and other countries.

“Any country should be able to bring these cases, as long as they are democracies that belong to the United Nations,” Slepoy said.

‘An Inflation of Cases’Critics say the cases are influenced by politics. They note that the National Court has been quick to accept complaints about human rights abuses in Israel and the United States but has ignored problems in Syria, North Korea and Cuba.

“These guys are not proper judges from a professional point of view,” said Florentino Portero, a contemporary history professor at Madrid’s National Open University. “They are following a trend from the left wing of the Spanish political arena.”

Spanish prosecutors have also expressed concern. They recommended that the National Court not pursue many of the 16 pending cases but were overruled by judges, who have the final say.

Javier Zaragoza, chief prosecutor at the National Court, said universal-jurisdiction cases are legitimate in principle. But he said Spain should not try to intervene in the affairs of democratic countries that are equipped to police themselves.

Even some human rights advocates said the explosion of cases has made them uneasy.

Gregorio Dionis, president of Equipo Nizkor, a Brussels-based group that has urged the National Court to prosecute accused former Nazi death camp guards living in the United States, said it has become too easy to have a complaint acted upon.

“There’s been an inflation of cases filed under universal jurisdiction,” he said. “Not all of them have been well grounded from a legal point of view.”

Other advocates, however, point out that Israel and the United States have embraced the principle of universal jurisdiction when it suits them.

In 1960, Israeli agents kidnapped Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and tried him in Israel; he was convicted and executed.

More recently, the U.S. Department of Justice has supported efforts to have Spain pursue investigations against two alleged Nazi concentration camp guards living in the United States. The Justice Department lacks the jurisdiction to prosecute the men for crimes committed decades ago in Europe but would like to deport them to Spain to stand trial there.

Special correspondent Cristina Mateo-Yanguas contributed to this report.

Administration Opposes Plame Appeal May 21, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice.
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by Ben Conery

The Obama administration Wednesday took the side of top Bush administration officials – including most-vocal recent critic, former Vice President Dick Cheney – in the ongoing fight over the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court not to hear an appeal of a lawsuit brought by Mrs. Plame and her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, against several top Bush administration officials. The department’s move continued the Bush administration’s policy to fight the suit, which has already been dismissed by two lower courts.

“The decision of the court of appeals is correct and does not conflict with any decision of this Court or any other court of appeals,” said the brief filed by Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Assistant Attorney General Tony West, and Justice Department attorneys Mark B. Stern and Charles W. Scarborough. “Further review is unwarranted.”

The Justice Department filing agreed with the lower courts that none of the Wilsons’ several legal arguments gave an appropriate basis for such a lawsuit.

The Supreme Court has not acted on the Wilsons’ request that it hear the case.

The Wilsons filed suit in 2006 against top Bush administration officials who they say violated their constitutional rights by publicly disclosing that Mrs. Wilson was an undercover CIA operative. The lawsuit names Mr. Cheney, former White House senior adviser Karl Rove, former Chief of Staff to the Vice President I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr. and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage.

“We are deeply disappointed that the Obama administration has failed to recognize the grievous harm top Bush White House officials inflicted on Joe and Valerie Wilson,” said Melanie Sloan, one of the couple’s attorneys and the executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “The government’s position cannot be reconciled with President Obama’s oft-stated commitment to once again make government officials accountable for their actions.”

The White House referred questions about the case to the Justice Department, which declined to comment.

The case follows a classic Washington scandal that has come to be known as “Plamegate.”

Fallout from the controversy led to the conviction of Libby on charges of lying to a grand jury investigating the leak of Mrs. Plame’s identity, though he was not charged with the actual leak. President George W. Bush commuted Libby’s 2 1/2-year prison sentence, without his having spent a day behind bars, after the sensational trial that peeked into the sometimes cozy and questionable relationship of Washington journalists and their politician sources.

The scandal had its roots in the 2003 State of the Union address, in which Mr. Bush said Saddam Hussein has recently tried to buy uranium in Africa. Mr. Wilson became a vocal and public critic of this claim, which the Wilsons say led the Bush administration to leak that information to columnist Robert Novak as an act of revenge. Mr. Armitage was later revealed to be the leaker.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

Obama’s Latest Effort to Conceal Evidence of Bush Era Crimes May 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Torture.
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by Glenn Greenwald

It’s difficult to react much to Obama’s complete reversal today of his own prior decision to release photographs depicting extreme detainee abuse by the United States.  He’s left no doubt that this is what he does:  ever since he was inaugurated, Obama has taken one extreme step after the next to keep concealed both the details and the evidence of Bush’s crimes, including rendition, torture and warrantless eavesdropping.  The ACLU’s Amrit Singh — who litigated the thus-far-successful FOIA lawsuit to compel disclosure of these photographs — is exactly right:

The reversal is another indication of a continuance of the Bush administration policies under the Obama administration.  President Obama’s promise of accountability is meaningless, this is inconsistent with his promise of transparency, it violates the government’s commitment to the court. People need to examine these abusive photographs, but also the government officials need to be held accountable.

Andrew Sullivan, one of Obama’s earliest and most enthusiastic supporters, wrote of today’s photograph-concealment decision and yesterday’s story of Obama’s pressuring Britain to conceal evidence of Binyam Mohamed’s torture:

Slowly but surely, Obama is owning the cover-up of his predecessors’ war crimes. But covering up war crimes, refusing to prosecute them, promoting those associated with them, and suppressing evidence of them are themselves violations of Geneva and the UN Convention. So Cheney begins to successfully coopt his successor. . .

From extending and deepening the war in Afghanistan, to suppressing evidence of rampant and widespread abuse and torture of prisoners under Bush, to thuggishly threatening the British with intelligence cut-off if they reveal the brutal torture inflicted on Binyam Mohamed, Obama now has new cheer-leaders: Bill Kristol, Michael Goldfarb and Max Boot. . . .

Those of us who held out hope that the Obama administration would not be actively covering up the brutal torture of a Gitmo prisoner who was subject to abuse in several countries must now concede the obvious. They’re covering it up – in such a crude and obvious fashion that it is actually a crime in Britain.

John Aravosis said Obama’s logic was “a bit Bushian.”  Steve Hynd observes that “Obama Trades Our Principles For Cheneyism.”  TPM decalres:  “Obama falls back on Bushisms.”  Dan Froomkin writes:  “Obama Joins the Cover-Up.”  I’ll just note a few points for now about Obama’s efforts to keep these photographs concealed:

(1) Think about what Obama’s rationale would justify.  Obama’s claim — that release of the photographs “would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger” — means we should conceal or even outright lie about all the bad things we do that might reflect poorly on us.  For instance, if an Obama bombing raid slaughters civilians in Afghanistan (as has happened several times already), then, by this reasoning, we ought to lie about what happened and conceal the evidence depicting what was done — as the Bush administration did — because release of such evidence would “would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”  Indeed, evidence of our killing civilians in Afghanistan inflames anti-American sentiment far more than these photographs would.  Isn’t it better to hide the evidence showing the bad things we do?

Apparently, the proper reaction to heinous acts by our political leaders is not to hold them accountable but, instead, to hide evidence of what they did.  That’s the warped mentality Obama is endorsing today, and has been endorsing since January 20.

(2) How can anyone who supports what Obama is doing here complain about the CIA’s destruction of their torture videos?  The torture videos, like the torture photos, would, if released, generate anti-American sentiment and make us look bad.  By Obama’s reasoning, didn’t the CIA do exactly the right thing by destroying them?

(3) This is just another manifestation of the generalized Beltway religion that we should suppress and ignore the heinous acts our government committed and to which we acquiesced, because if we just agree to forget about all of it, then we can blissfully pretend that it never happened and avoid doing anything about it.

(4) Obama’s claim that he has to hide this evidence to protect our soldiers is the sort of crass, self-serving exploitation of “The Troops” which was the rancid hallmark of Bush/Cheney rhetoric.  Everyone knows what the real effect of these photographs would be:  they would highlight just how brutal and criminal was our treatment of detainees in our custody, and further underscore how amoral and lawless are Obama’s calls that we Look To the Future, Not the Past.  Manifestly, that is why they’re being suppressed.

(5) For all of you defend-Obama-at-all-cost cheerleaders who are about to descend into my comment section and other online venues to explain how Obama did the right thing because of National Security, I have this question:  if you actually want to argue that concealing these photographs is the right thing to do, then you must have been criticizing Obama when, two weeks ago, he announced that he would release them.  Otherwise, it’s pretty clear that you don’t have any actual beliefs other than:  “I support what Obama does because it’s Obama who does it.”   So for those arguing today that concealing these photographs is the right thing to do:  were you criticizing Obama two weeks ago for announcing he would release these photographs?

Also, the OLC torture memos released several weeks ago surely increased anti-American sentiment.  Indeed, those on the Right who objected to the release of those memos cited exactly that argument.  How can anyone cheer on Obama’s decision today to conceal these photographs while also cheering on his decision to release the OLC memos?  Those who have any intellectual coherence would have to oppose both or support both.   Those two decisions only have one fact in common: Obama made them.  Thus, the only way to cheer on both decisions is to be guided by the modified Nixonian mantra: what Obama does is right because Obama does it.

Also, during the Bush years, were you — along with Bill Kristol and National Review — attacking the ACLU and Congressional Democrats for demanding that the Bush administration stop concealing evidence of its torture, on the ground that disclosure of such evidence would harm America’s national security?  Were you defending Bush then for doing what Obama is doing now?

(6) If these photographs don’t shed any new light on what our Government did — if all they do is replicate what we already know from the Abu Ghraib photographs — then how can it possibly be the case that they will do any damage?  To argue that they will harm how we are perceived is, necessarily, to acknowledge that they reveal new information that is not already widely known.

(7) We are supposed to have what is called Open Government in the United States.  The actions of our government — and the evidence documenting it — is presumptively available to the public.  Only an authoritarian would argue that evidence of government actions should be kept secret in the absence of a compelling reason to release it.  

The presumption is the opposite:  documents in the government’s possession relating to what it does is presumptively public in the absence of compelling reasons to keep it concealed.  That the documents reflect poorly on the government is not such a reason to keep them concealed.  If it were, then it would always be preferable to have political leaders cover-up their crimes on the ground that disclosing them would reflect poorly on the U.S. and spur anti-American sentiment.  Open government is necessary precisely because only transparency deters political leaders from doing heinous acts in the first place.

 

UPDATE:  Here (.pdf) is the letter the DOJ sent to the court this afternoon, advising the judge that they changed their minds “at the highest levels of Government” and would not, as previously promised, release the photographs, but instead would attempt to appeal the Second Circuit’s decision compelling their release to the Roberts Supreme Court.

 

UPDATE II:  In comments, Paul Daniel Ash addresses the Obama supporters who are defending Obama’s decision to keep these photographs concealed on the ground that “no good would come” from disclosure:

I’m pretty jaded, but even I’m outraged and saddened by the number of voices being raised in this comment thread supporting the decision to conceal these photos.

“No good will come?” Would we even have had an Abu Ghraib scandal without the pictures of bloody prisoners and men cowering in front of dogs? “No good?” Is there or is there not an active debate in this country about whether or not torture is acceptable? “No good?” Did a United States Senator not say just today, in the Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, that torture techniques have been used for the past five centuries because “apparently they work?” 

“No good will come?”

Indeed, it’s pretty hard to believe that the people who are arguing that “no good will come” from release of these photos either (a) lived through the impact of the Abu Ghraib photos and/or (b) are living through the “torture debate” we are now having. 

Photographs convey the reality of things in a way that mere words cannot.  They prevent people who want to deny what was done the ability to do so.  They force citizens to face what their country did and what they are now justifying and advocating.  They impede the ability of political leaders to use euphemisms to obscure the truth.  They show in graphic detail what the effects are of sanctioning torture policies.  They prove that this was about more than “dunking three terrorists into water.”  They highlight the fact that no decent person believes that this should all just be forgotten and its victims told that they have no right to have accountability.  That’s precisely why the photographs are being suppressed:  because of how much good they would do.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.

Obama Broken Promises? I’ve Lost Count May 13, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture.
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Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is seeking to block the release of hundreds of photos showing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan being abused, reversing his position after military commanders warned that the images could stoke anti-American sentiment and endanger U.S. troops.

The pictures show mistreatment of detainees at locations beyond the infamous U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Word of Mr. Obama’s decision on Wednesday came after top military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan expressed fears that publicizing the pictures could put their troops in danger. When the Abu Ghraib photos emerged in 2004 of grinning U.S. soldiers posing with detainees, some naked, some being held on leashes, they caused a huge anti-American backlash around the globe, particularly in the Muslim world.

Mr. Obama decided he did not feel comfortable with the photos release, and was concerned it would inflame tensions in Iraq and Afghanistan, put U.S. soldiers at higher risk and make the U.S. mission in those two wars more difficult, according to White House officials.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that the President was concerned that the photos’ release would pose a national security threat, an argument the administration has not made yet in the courts.

“The President does not believe that the strongest case regarding the release of these photos was presented to the court and that was a case based on his concern about what the release would do to our national security,” Mr. Gibbs said.

Mr. Gibbs said that the main argument previously was a privacy one.

The move represented a sharp reversal from Mr. Obama’s repeated pledges for open government, and in particular from his promise to be forthcoming with information that courts have ruled should be publicly available.

As such, it was sure to invite criticism from the more liberal segments of the Democratic Party that want a full accounting — and even redress — for what they see as the misdeeds of previous years under former president George W. Bush.

If the US Does It, It’s Not Torture May 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Media, Torture.
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The NYT’s Definition of Blinding American Exceptionalism

by Glenn Greenwald

There’s been a major editorial breach at The New York Times today, in this obituary of an American fighter pilot who was captured by the Chinese:

Harold E. Fischer Jr., an American Flier Tortured in a Chinese Prison, Dies at 83. . . .

From April 1953 through May 1955, Colonel Fischer – then an Air Force captain – was held at a prison outside Mukden, Manchuria. For most of that time, he was kept in a dark, damp cell with no bed and no opening except a slot in the door through which a bowl of food could be pushed. Much of the time he was handcuffed. Hour after hour, a high-frequency whistle pierced the air.

After a short mock trial in Beijing on May 24, 1955, Captain Fischer and the other pilots – Lt. Col. Edwin L. Heller, First Lt. Lyle W. Cameron and First Lt. Roland W. Parks – were found guilty of violating Chinese territory by flying across the border while on missions over North Korea. Under duress, Captain Fischer had falsely confessed to participating in germ warfare.

So that’s torture now?  To use the prevailing American mindset:  a room that doesn’t meet the standards of a Hilton and some whistling in the background is torture?  My neighbor whistles all the time; does that mean he’s torturing me?  It’s not as though Fischer had his eyes poked out by hot irons or was placed in a coffin-like box with bugs or was handcuffed to the ceiling.

Also, using the editorial standards of America’s journalistic institutions — as explained recently by the NYT Public Editor — shouldn’t this be called “torture” rather than torture — or “harsh tactics some critics decry as torture”?  Why are the much less brutal methods used by the Chinese on Fischer called torture by the NYT, whereas much harsher methods used by Americans do not merit that term?  Here we find what is clearly the single most predominant fact shaping our political and media discourse:  everything is different, and better, when we do it.  In fact, it is that exact mentality that was and continues to be the primary justification for our torture regime and so much else that we do.

Along those same lines, I learned from reading The New York Times this week (via The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson) that Iraq is suffering a very serious problem.  Tragically, that country is struggling with what the Times calls a “culture of impunity.” What this means is that politically connected Iraqis who clearly broke the law are nonetheless not being prosecuted because of their political influence!  Even worse, protests the NYT, there have been “cases dismissed in the past few years as a result of a government amnesty and a law dating to 1971 that allows ministers to grant immunity to subordinates accused of corruption.”  And the best part?  This:  “The United States is pressing the Iraqi government to repeal that law.”  

Thankfully, we’re teaching the Iraqis what it means to be a “nation of laws.”  We Americans know how terrible it is to have a system where the politically powerful are permitted to break the law and not be held accountable.  A country which does things like that can fall into such a state of moral depravity that they would actually allow people to do things like this and get away with it.  Who could imagine living in a place like that?

* * * * *

One related point:  I’m truly amazed to watch the eruption of “controversy” today over the fact that Nancy Pelosi was briefed in 2002 on various aspects of the CIA’s interrogation program, as though (a) this is some sort of new revelation and (b) it has any bearing on whether there should be investigations and prosecutions into Bush crimes.  As many of us have long pointed out, the extent to which Democratic leaders in Congress were complicit in Bush lawbreaking — including torture — is a major issue that needs resolution, and is almost certainly a key reason why there have been no investigations thus far.  There are real disputes still about what these Democrats were and were not told — how complete the briefings were, the extent to which they obfuscated rather than illuminated what the CIA was doing — though they were obviously told enough to have warranted further action on their part, to say the least.

But what’s the point of all of this?  Secretly telling Nancy Pelosi that you’re committing crimes doesn’t mean that you have the right to do so.  And the profound failures of the other institutions that are supposed to check executive lawbreaking during the Bush era — principally Congress and the “opposition party” — is a vital issue that demands serious examination.  This dispute over what Pelosi (and Jay Rockefeller and others) knew highlights, rather than negates, the need for a meaningful investigation into what took place.

UPDATE:  Andrew Sullivan has related thoughts about this obituary.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.

Looking Forward to What, Mr. President? April 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About Justice, About War, Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Pakistan, Torture, War.
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Roger Hollander, www.rogerhollander.com, April 24, 2009

 

O.K.  Let’s for a moment entertain the president’s thesis.  The problems facing the country are enormous.  No one can deny that.  Are they that critical, however, so as to justify ignoring the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes and violations of the United States Constitution of the gravest nature?

 

Since this is hypothetical I am willing for the moment to grant the president his argument: to wit, the need for the government to attend to critical matters is so vital that at the very least investigations and prosecutions of the Bush era crimes have to be put off.  In other words, as the president has put it, we need to look forward not backwards.

 

(There are those supporters of the president’s position who allege that those who are screaming for investigation and prosecutions are extreme leftists, partisan, out for revenge, etc.  There arguments are too facile and prima facie ridiculous to merit a response.  All I am granting here for the sake of argument is the hypothesis that it is in the country’s interest to attend to matters other than the Bush era crimes.)

 

What then, are we “looking forward” to?

 

In foreign policy the president has made a promise about withdrawal from Iraq that is so full of loopholes and caveats that any serious analysis cannot but conclude that the generals will have there way and the U.S. military presence, supported by an army of mercenaries, dozens of military bases, combat troops operating under a different name, and the largest embassy in the history of the world, will be extended indefinitely.  The president has gone ahead with a major escalation of the futile aggression in Afghanistan along with an escalation of the bombarding border areas of Pakistan with unmanned drone missiles.  His generals have assured him that the value of the “military gains” will outweigh the recruiting boon to al qaeda and the Taliban (who as we speak are marching towards Kabul) that results from the massive killing of civilians (the ghost of light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel-troops-home-for-Christmas General Westmoreland lives on)  .  With respect to the Middle East, so far President Obama has followed the Bush agenda to a tee, with uncritical support of Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip.  Whether he has the guts to stare down Netanyahu with respect to the latter’s threats to attack Iran remains to be seen.

 

On the home front looms the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the catalyst of which was the sub-prime mortgage scandal and the massive Ponzi schemes that the banks (banksters) and finance industry have run with toxic illegal loans and the unregulated derivatives market.  The president has put in charge of dealing with the crisis the very team (Geithner, Summers, Rubin) that created it and is throwing taxpayers monies down the same Black Hole created by George Bush, known as the Toxic Assets Relief Program (TARP), the premise of which is that bad debts equal money.  The “relief” goes to the Wall Street mafia while the nations’ mortgage defaults and employment goes through the ceiling.

 

In one of the country’s other most critical issues, that of health care reform, a major plank in the president’s campaign platform, the president apparently has reneged on his previous support for a single-payer national program (similar in theory and practice to Medicare), which he now tells us is “off the table.”  This can be considered as nothing less than sacrificing the national interest by caving in to the bloated blood-sucking private health care industry.

 

Well, Mr. President, I have gone along with you in agreeing on the seriousness of the problems facing our nation; but if what you have shown us about how you intend to deal with them is your justification for putting aside taking steps to achieve JUSTICE (and restore a semblance of respect for the rule of law) for the most heinous of war crimes and constitutional violations, then you have failed miserably to make your case.

 

You can count me out, and despite the psychotic-like ranting and ravings of the radical right (to which you have not stood up) and a mainstream media that has its collective head in the sand, I believe that I am part of a rapidly growing soon to be majority.

 

Someone, Mr. President, perhaps it was you, once quoted FDR telling those who were crying for radical reform to “make me do it.”  Well, Mr. President, do it.

An Emerging Progressive Consensus on Obama’s Executive Power and Secrecy Abuses April 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Torture.
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by Glenn Greenwald

“with each decision to cover for their predecessors, the Obamaites become retroactively complicit in them.”

In the last week alone, the Obama DOJ (a) attempted to shield Bush’s illegal spying programs from judicial review by (yet again) invoking the very “state secrets” argument that Democrats spent years condemning and by inventing a brand new “sovereign immunity” claim that not even the Bush administration espoused, and (b) argued that individuals abducted outside of Afghanistan by the U.S. and then “rendered” to and imprisoned in Bagram have no rights of any kind — not even to have a hearing to contest the accusations against them — even if they are not Afghans and were captured far away from any “battlefield.”  These were merely the latest — and among the most disturbing — in a string of episodes in which the Obama administration has explicitly claimed to possess the very presidential powers that Bush critics spent years condemning as radical, lawless and authoritarian.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for honest Obama supporters to dismiss away or even minimize these criticisms and, especially, to malign the motives of critics.  After all, the Obama DOJ’s embrace of many (though by no means all) of the most radical and extremist Bush/Cheney positions — and the contradictions between Obama’s campaign claims and his actions as President — are now so glaring and severe that the harshest denunciations of Obama’s actions are coming from those who, during the Bush years, were held up by liberals and by Obama supporters as the most trustworthy and praiseworthy authorities on these matters.  

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) — which, to the cheers of liberals everywhere, was one of the nation’s most stalwart defenders against the Bush assault on core civil liberties — declared last week:  “In Warrantless Wiretapping Case, Obama DOJ’s New Arguments Are Worse Than Bush’s.”  On Tuesday night, Keith Olbermann began his show by announcing:  

President Obama‘s Justice Department now is not just defending Bush officials from lawsuits surrounding National Security Agency domestic spying, but seeking to expand the government’s authority by making it immune from any legal challenge regarding wiretapping — ever.

Olbermann went on to add that “the Obama administration is just flat-out dead wrong about this” and then contrasted Obama’s campaign statements on transparency with his conduct as President and concluded:  “That was then, this is now.”  Law Professor Jonathan Turley — who, as a regular on Olbermann’s show during the Bush years, was one of the single most-cited and praised sources by the netroots on matters of executive authority — said that Bush officials should wave a “Mission Accomplished” banner because they “have Barack Obama adopting the same extremist arguments and, in fact, exceeding the extremist arguments made by President Bush.”

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall’s TalkingPointsMemo surveyed a panel of experts last week — including one from Center for American Progress, headed by Obama transition chief John Podesta — to ask and answer these questions about Obama’s argument in the illegal surveillance cases:

Does it represent a continuation of the Bushies’ obsession with putting secrecy and executive power above basic constitutional rights? Is it a sweeping power grab by the executive branch, that sets set a broad and dangerous precedent for future cases by asserting that the government has the right to get lawsuits dismissed merely by claiming that state secrets are at stake, without giving judges any discretion whatsoever?

In a word, yes.

Sen. Russ Feingold — probably the single most praised liberal politician of the last eight years — declared himself “troubled” by the Obama administration’s conduct on secrecy and illegal surveillance and said he would seek to enact legislation to limit Obama’s powers as soon as possible.  Nancy Pelosi vowed Congressional action to limit the Obama DOJ’s position, proclaiming:  “we can never have a repetition of what was done under the Bush administration or a continuation of that.”  

When asked about investigations of Bush crimes, Pelosi also said “we have a little bit of difference of opinion between the White House and the Congress” because the White House “wants to go forward” (Beltway code for allowing Bush crimes to go uninvestigated and unpunished) whereas Congressional Democrats “believe that we have to take a look at what happened[, since] there may be criminal activity.”  And early Obama booster Andrew Sullivan warned: “with each decision to cover for their predecessors, the Obamaites become retroactively complicit in them.”

The Obama DOJ’s conduct with regard to detainee rights at Bagram is provoking even harsher criticism among the favorite sources of progressives.  The New York Times Editorial Board — a leading establishment voice opposing Bush radicalism — today condemned what it called “The Next Guantanamo” and lambasted Obama for advancing “extravagant claims of executive power and perpetuat[ing] the detention policies of the Bush administration.”  Charlie Savage, who won a Pulitzer Prize at The Boston Globe for exposing Bush’s use of signing statements to break the law, in February described the Obama DOJ’s position as “embracing a key argument of former President Bush’s legal team” and as “a blow to human rights lawyers who have challenged the Bush administration’s policy of indefinitely detaining ‘enemy combatants’ without trials.”  

Last night, Digby lamented that “it’s clear that the Holder DOJ is going to keep at least some of the legal pillars of the Bush GWOT regime in place” and that “it’s profoundly disappointing that the administration is actually seizing more executive power in the case of the states’ secrets argument and perpetuating a lawless prison regime outside our borders.”  The American Prospect‘s Adam Serwer complained this morning that “what the Obama administration is essentially arguing is that it has the authority to detain terror suspects indefinitely without trial and without charges” and that Obama’s position “stands in stark contrast to statements Obama made during the campaign.”

International law professor Kevin Jon Heller of Opinio Juris said that “the Obama administration’s stance on Bagram is deplorable” and that Obama was trying to “create a legal black hole” in Afghanistan identical to what Obama vehemently condemned at Guantanamo.  The ACLU’s Jonathan Hafetz warned that the Obama position was creating “the new Guantanamo” and, if they prevail, “the Obama administration will continue to be free to create a prison outside the law.”  Liberal law professor Darren Hutchinson said of Obama’s Bagram position:  “This is the same argument that the Bush administration made” and, because of it, “Bagram could become the functional equivalent of Guantanamo Bay.”  And on Thursday, former DOJ official Bruce Fein — one of the most eloquent (and widely-cited-by-liberals) authorities on the Bush assault on the Constitution — extensively detailed what he called “an emerging pattern of mightily expansive claims of executive authority by the new administration” as part and parcel of “President Barack Obama’s claim to czarlike powers in a perpetual global war against international terrorism.”

Perhaps most significantly, Digby last night documented that Marty Lederman — a hero to the netroots when he used his blog and authority as a former OLC official to mercilessly critique the Bush approach to executive power and is now Obama’s number 3 OLC official — emphatically condemned (last year) the Bush policy of denying rights to Bagram detainees:  exactly the policy which the Obama DOJ is now defending.  Digby wrote (emphasis added):

I continue to wonder where Marty Lederman is in all this since he went to the Justice department. There is nobody who was more critical of these same policies during the Bush years and for whom I have more respect. But I wonder if he is using his thorough analyses of the Bush policies to end them?

In the wake of the Boumadiene decision [Lederman] wrote:

As I noted below, the two most important questions the Court did not answer are:

(i) Would habeas rights extend to alien detainees held in foreign locations other than GTMO (such as Bagram)?

and

(ii) What is the substantive standard for who may be indefinitely detained?

The Court was not, however, completely silent on these questions; it provided hints about how they might be resolved. . . .

So, as for the first question: Would habeas rights extend to alien detainees held in foreign locations other than GTMO? That is to say, can the military avoid the impact of Boumediene simply by detaining or transferring all alleged alien enemy combatants to a different facility, such as at Bagram?

Short answer: No. . . .

Most importantly, the Court strongly implies that if, as in this case, the government chooses a foreign detention facility for the very purpose of avoiding judicial review (or perhaps even if the military retains a prisoner at a battlefield locale for the same reason), the Court will not look kindly upon such efforts. As I noted below, I believe the single most important sentence in the opinion might be this one: “The test for determining the scope of [the Suspension Clause] must not be subject to manipulation by those whose power it is designed to restrain.”  The political branches will not be permitted “to govern without legal constraint” or to “have the power to switch the Constitution on or off at will” . . . .

During the Bush years Lederman’s position couldn’t have been clearer that detainees such as those who applied for habeas corpus at Bagram clearly were, should be subject to the writ. Read his posts in this fascinating exchange if you doubt me. He even suggested that the Bagram prisoners, who he admits have been held in the absolute worst of conditions, should be sent to Guantanamo where at least they’d have some rights. It’s very difficult to believe that he would endorse this appeal.

Though Lederman acknowledged practical difficulties that might prevent full habeas hearings for Bagram detainees, he clearly stated that the crux of the Boumediene ruling applies to Bagram as it applies to Guantanamo — the exact opposite of the claim the Obama DOJ is now pressing.

Even for the hardest-core Obama loyalists, it’s rather difficult to attribute these increasingly harsh condemnations of Obama’s civil liberties, secrecy and executive power abuses to bad motives or ignorance when they’re coming from the likes of Russ Feingold, TalkingPointsMemo, the Center for American Progress, Nancy Pelosi, EFF, the ACLU, The New York Times Editorial Board, Keith Olbermann, Jonathan Turley, The American Prospect, Bruce Fein, Digby, along with some of the most enthusiastic Obama supporters and a bevvy of liberal law professors and international law experts — those who were most venerated by progressives during the Bush era on questions of the Constitution and executive power. 

 * * * * *

That the Obama DOJ has repeatedly embraced the very legal theories responsible for much of the intense progressive rage towards the Bush/Cheney regime is now beyond dispute.  The question of motive — of why Obama is doing this — is far less clear.  Motives in general are notoriously difficult to discern.  It’s often hard to know one’s own motives, let alone those of others, and one can only speculate about the reasons for Obama’s actions.

There is, as Pelosi said this week, clearly a strong aversion — one might say “desperation” — on the part of the Obama White House to avoid anything that could increase the pressure to commence investigations and prosecutions of Bush crimes.  As Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick succinctly put it:  “by keeping the worst of the Bush administration’s secrets hidden, the Obama Justice Department can defer awkward questions about prosecuting the wrongdoers.” 

Preserving the President’s general ability to block lawsuits alleging illegal conduct on the part of the President obviously enables Obama to invoke that power whenever there are allegations that he is breaking the law.  The power to abduct people and put them in cages indefinitely without having to answer to anyone about what you’re doing — the power Obama is claiming he possesses in the Bagram case — is obviously a potent authority that a typical President fighting a “war” would instinctively want to wield.  And Howard Fineman was likely correct when he told Olbermann on Tuesday night that Obama is petrified of alienating the permanent intelligence and military establishments in Washington which might be alarmed by any attempt to abandon these vast powers, particularly where reversing course could raise the likelihood of prosecutions.

Ultimately, though, motives don’t matter.  Simply put, there is no excuse, justification or mitigation for advocating blatantly unconstitutional and tyrannical powers or claiming that secrecy shields the President from the rule of law.  Nor is the faith-based belief that Obama is a Good Person who therefore deserves trust even remotely rational or relevant.  As Professor Turley put it on Countdown:  “It doesn‘t matter if you are a good person doing bad things. You are doing bad things.”  These secrecy and detention powers are among the most dangerous and tyrannical powers a President can seize, and Obama’s attempt to cling to them is deplorable no matter his “motives.”

It’s certainly true that Democrats and liberals, in general, overwhelmingly approve of the job Obama is doing.  That makes perfect sense.  It is inconceivable that many progressives would say otherwise three months into the tenure of a new Democratic President.  The country is still celebrating the fact that George Bush and Dick Cheney are no longer in power.  And there are many important areas in which, from a progressive perspective, Obama’s preliminary actions are encouraging:  budget policy, changes in tone and even mindset in some spheres of America’s foreign policy, reversals of Bush’s most controversial domestic policies, some excellent presidential appointments.  By themselves, Obama’s future judicial nominees can justify efforts to elect him.  To condemn Obama’s executive power and secrecy abuses is not to posit that Obama is the general equivalent of Bush or that his victory over McCain/Palin was irrelevant.

It’s also possible Obama may (or may not) take actions in the future — releasing the last OLC torture memos, granting full due process rights to Guantanamo detainees, offering habeas hearings to abducted-and-rendered Bagram prisoners — that could substantially improve his record in the areas of accountability, transparency and adherence to Constitutional guarantees.  If he does those things, credit will be warranted — but only if and when he does them.  And thus far, he has not.  In most instances, he has done the opposite.

Whatever else one might say, the rule of law, the Constitution, and core civil liberties are the centerpiece of a healthy and well-functioning government, and nothing justifies an assault on those safeguards.  That was the argument most progressives made throughout the Bush presidency, and the more Obama continues on the Bush/Cheney path in this area, the more solid the progressive consensus against his actions becomes.  

UPDATE:  On Friday, I suggested to Greg Sargent on Twitter that the White House should be forced to say whether Obama supports passage of the State Secrets Act — legislation which would significantly limit Obama’s power to invoke “secrecy” as a means of blocking judicial review of presidential actions and which (during the Bush years) was supported by leading Senate Democrats, including Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, as a response to Bush’s use of the same doctrine.  The Act was re-introduced in February of this year by Russ Feingold, Arlen Specter, John Conyers and others as a response to Obama’s abusive invocation of the privilege in the rendition/Jeppesen case. 

Sargent reports today that he posed the question and the White House simply refuses to say whether Obama supports or opposes the legislation.  As Sargent notes, the Act “represented the consensus view of the Democratic Party a year ago” and this question thus “sets up an unappetizing political prospect: The President would be opposing the corrective that is favored by prominent Senate Dems and once enjoyed the support of his Vice President and Secretary of State.”

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.

Obama, the ICRC Report and Ongoing Suppression April 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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by Glenn Greenwald

Following up on the latest extremist Cheney/Addington/Yoo arguments advanced by the Obama DOJ in order to shield Bush lawbreaking from disclosure and judicial review — an episode I wrote about in detail yesterday, here — it’s worthwhile to underscore the implications of Barack Obama’s conduct.  When Obama sought to placate his angry supporters after he voted for the Bush/Cheney FISA-telecom immunity bill last June (after vowing the prior December to support a filibuster of any such legislation), this is what he said (h/t notavailable):

[The FISA bill] also firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future. It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses.

So candidate Obama unambiguously vowed to his supporters that he would work to ensure “full accountability” for “past offenses” in surveillance lawbreaking.  President Obama, however, has now become the prime impediment to precisely that accountability, repeatedly engaging in extraordinary legal maneuvers to ensure that “past offenses” — both in the surveillance and torture/rendition realm — remain secret and forever immunized from judicial review.  Put another way, Obama has repeatedly done the exact opposite of what he vowed he would do:  rather than “seek full accountability for past offenses,” he has been working feverishly to block such accountability, by embracing the same radical Bush/Cheney views and rhetoric regarding presidential secrecy powers that caused so much controversy and anger for the last several years. 

And note the pure deceit on the part of Senate Democrats who justified telecom immunity by continuously assuring the public that the Bush officials who ordered the illegal surveillance (as opposed to the telecoms who broke the law by enabling it) would still be subject to legal accountability.  It was obvious at the time (as was often pointed out) that they were outright lying when they said this — because all sorts of legal instruments had been invoked (such as “state secrets” and “standing” arguments) to protect those government officials from that accountability (legal instruments Democrats knowingly left in place), and now it is Barack Obama who is leading the way in ensuring that the assurances given by Senate Democrats — don’t worry that we immunized the phone companies because Bush officials, who were the truly guilty parties in the illegal spying, will still be subject to legal accountability — never materialize.

On a very related note:  last night, The New York Review of Books published the full report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (.pdf), which documented in detail the brutal torture to which the 14 “high-value” detainees whom we disappeared into our CIA “black sites” were subjected and demanded “that the US authorities investigate all allegations of ill-treatment and take steps to punish the perpetrators, where appropriate.”  As Scott Horton notes, the ICRC does not call for investigations and prosecutions easily, but rather, “only where the evidence of criminal conduct is manifest.”   Yet Obama’s handpicked CIA Director, Leon Panetta, continues to demand that there be no investigations of any kind, let alone prosecutions.  As a CIA spokesperson told the New York Times yesterday in response to the ICRC report:  

Mr. Panetta “has stated repeatedly that no one who took actions based on legal guidance from the Department of Justice at the time should be investigated, let alone punished.”  The C.I.A.’s interrogation methods were declared legal by the Justice Department under President George W. Bush.

Accompanying the ICRC report was an article by Mark Danner, the superb journalist who obtained the ICRC Report and disclosed it.  In his article, Danner describes the grave dangers from preserving ongoing secrecy surrouding Bush/Cheney crimes (h/t bystander; emphasis added):

Barack Obama may well assert that “the facts don’t bear [Cheney] out,” but as long as the “details of it” cannot be revealed “without violating classification,” as long as secrecy can be wielded as the dark and potent weapon it remains, Cheney’s politics of torture will remain a powerful if half-submerged counter-story, waiting for the next attack to spark it into vibrant life.

As Danner explains, it is simply impossible for Obama to “turn the page” on (let alone reverse) the dark Bush/Cheney era of war crimes while he simultaneously turns himself into the prime agent suppressing the facts surrounding those crimes and vigorously shielding the criminals from all investigation and accountability.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.

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