Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Olbermann and Turley Dismantle Obama Administration's Secrecy/Immunity Claims

In Tuesday's post I wrote about the Obama Administrations decision to invoke government secrecy in defending the Bush administration's wiretapping program - namely against a lawsuit filed by AT&T customers who claim federal agents illegally intercepted their phone calls and gained access to their records.

As I also noted, this latest betrayal is one of many on issues related to civil liberties, constitutional protections and the reining in of executive power abuses.

Obama very specifically and articulately promised to harken in a new era of government transparency and accountability, end the Bush DOJ's radical theories of executive power, and reform the PATRIOT Act.

Instead, we have seen Obama's own DOJ now argue that under the PATRIOT Act the government shall be entirely unaccountable for surveilling Americans in violation of its own laws.

And, we should remember other recent Administration positions, including: the attempt to block a judicial ruling on Bush's illegal eavesdropping program; maintaining Bush's position on 'Extraordinary Rendition' lawsuits; refusal to disclose a whole slew of Bush-era documents which it has long vowed it would disclose; filing papers that appeared to defy a judge's order to allow lawyers for an Islamic organization to see a classified surveillance document at the heart of the case; and so on and so forth.

It appears - and for good reason obviously - the free ride for Obama on these issues is over.

Watch Keith Olbermann and Jonathan Turley's blistering condemnation of Obama's latest betrayal on wiretapping and his interpretation of the States Secrets privilege last night on Countdown.

Tim Jones of the Electronic Frontier Foundation didn't hold back on the Administration either, writing:

Friday evening, in a motion to dismiss Jewel v. NSA, EFF's litigation against the National Security Agency for the warrantless wiretapping of countless Americans, the Obama Administration's made two deeply troubling arguments.

First, they argued, exactly as the Bush Administration did on countless occasions, that the state secrets privilege requires the court to dismiss the issue out of hand. They argue that simply allowing the case to continue "would cause exceptionally grave harm to national security." As in the past, this is a blatant ploy to dismiss the litigation without allowing the courts to consider the evidence.

It's an especially disappointing argument to hear from the Obama Administration. As a candidate, Senator Obama lamented that the Bush Administration "invoked a legal tool known as the 'state secrets' privilege more than any other previous administration to get cases thrown out of civil court." He was right then, and we're dismayed that he and his team seem to have forgotten.

Sad as that is, it's the Department Of Justice's second argument that is the most pernicious. The DOJ claims that the U.S. Government is completely immune from litigation for illegal spying — that the Government can never be sued for surveillance that violates federal privacy statutes. This is a radical assertion that is utterly unprecedented. No one — not the White House, not the Justice Department, not any member of Congress, and not the Bush Administration — has ever interpreted the law this way.

The question is now is whether enough pressure can be put on this Administration in the coming months and years to rethink their current ant-privacy and anti-constitutional positions. If not, it appears the precedent set by the Bush Administration on some of these core issues - particularly regarding the Unitary Executive - could be here to stay.

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