Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Can you hear me now? Part one

This was going to be one post, but it kept growing so I split it into two parts, one with the short bits and the other with the long bit. So here, a summary of some recent events.

On April 10, the Obama administration said it was going to appeal a district court ruling that said some - not even all, but some - military prisoners in Afghanistan had the right to challenge their detention in court.
The decision signaled that the administration was not backing down in its effort to maintain the power to imprison terrorism suspects for extended periods without judicial oversight.
The prisoners in question had not been "captured on the battlefield" in Afghanistan but had been shipped there from other places. Is the plan to "close Gitmo, expand Bagram?"

On May 12, the Washington Times confirmed what had been reported in February: The Obama crowd has threatened to withhold intelligence information from the British government if it reveals information about the torture of a former Guantánamo detainee, now free in the UK.
A court filing from the British Foreign Office released recently includes a letter from the U.S. government, identified as the "Obama administration's communication." Other information identifying the U.S. agency and author of the letter appears to have been redacted.

The letter says:

"If it is determined that [her majesty's government] is unable to protect information we provide to it, even if that inability is caused by your judicial system, we will necessarily have to review with the greatest care the sensitivity of information we can provide in the future."
In other words, shut up if you know what's good for you.

(Link via Glenn Greenwald. Sidebar: If you want an insight into some dark recesses of our society, read the comments on the article.)

On May 13, the administration did a 180o flip-flop and announced it was going to appeal an order to release more photos from Abu Ghraib. The argument was that the release would "inflame anti-American sentiment" - as if it was the photos rather than the actions they depict that angered people - but "add nothing new" - as if it was up to the White House to unilaterally decide what adds to the historical record.

It's worthy of note who praised Obama's abrupt about-face: John Boehner and Lindsey Graham, the latter of who opined that "He's realized the difference between being a candidate and being commander in chief." That is, the boy is learning his place. (And yes, the word was chosen deliberately.)

Graham said that even if the Obama administration ultimately loses in court and the photos are released, "it's good for the troops to know their commander in chief went to bat for them." But - I started to say "stunningly," but I should realize by now that this is only to be expected - the Obamabots are claiming that losing is the intention, that Obama wants to lose, a result which will get the photos out while not getting the right wing pissed at him about it. It's all part of his continuing political brilliance, they say.

Um, yeah, right. What if he wins? What if it becomes established as a legal principle that "it'll make us look bad" is a valid basis for withholding information on "national security" grounds? What if it becomes established that the president has the authority to conceal information because he or she decides it "adds nothing" to the issue? What then?

Finally, on May 23, Judge Vaughn Walker of US District Court in San Francisco threatened the Obama administration with severe sanctions, including issuing a summary judgment against it, if it didn't stop stonewalling and obey the court's order to turn over to the plaintiffs a document showing they were the targets of illegal surveillance.

The case is Al-Haramain v. Obama, originally Al-Haramain v. Bush. Al-Haramain is a Muslim charity. In the original suit, the government accidentally released to the plaintiffs a document showing that it had spied on the group's lawyers: The papers even contained transcripts of telephone conversations. The government took the document back and ever since has insisted that the attorneys who saw it should not be allowed to use their memories of it to pursue the case.

That is, there is a document that proves - beyond question - that the government illegally spied on the group. The government knows about it, the court knows about it, the plaintiffs' lawyers know about it, they've all seen it, they all know what's in it - but the position of the Obama administration is that everyone involved should go around acting and talking as if it didn't exist. Kind of like a reverse Tinker Bell deal: "I don't believe, I don't believe...."

I wrote about Obama's endorsement of the "state secrets privilege" in this case, but Judge Walker, having rejected the claim, itself an unusual event, is getting fed up. There is to be a "show cause" hearing on June 3, when the Obama crowd will have to explain why it should not be sanctioned. That should prove interesting.

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