Saturday, July 11, 2009

I'll keep saying it

Last month, the Obama administration "fully embraced the Bush administration's shameful effort to immunize torturers and their enablers from any legal consequences for their actions," in the words of Ben Wizner, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project.

In April, a panel the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had reversed a District Court decision that threw out an ACLU-filed suit against a Boeing subsidiary for its role in Bushco's illegal "extraordinary rendition" program. The District Court acted after the Bush gang intervened to invoke the bogus "state secrets" privilege but the Appeals Court ruled that the privilege must be invoked about particular evidence, not the entire suit.

The Obama crowd has responded by filing for a rehearing before the full court, asking the panel's decision be overturned and the Bush cabal's position on "state secrets" be upheld.

This happened just about the same time that Obama promised to “use every legal and administrative remedy” to keep additional torture photographs hidden from the public.

Also last month, Congress passed a $106 billion war supplemental appropriation which also included some funds for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But that latter cash came with some restrictions, some good, some bad - the former assuming that anything done through those bastions of "the hell with the people, pay the banks first" thinking can be good.
Obama, in a statement made as he signed the bill, said that he would ignore the conditions.

They would "interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations by directing the Executive to take certain positions in negotiations or discussions with international organizations and foreign governments, or by requiring consultation with the Congress prior to such negotiations or discussions," Obama said in the signing statement.
On Thursday, the House slapped him upside the head, voting 429-2 to deny funding for any agreement that doesn't meet the conditions set out in the supplemental.

But the point here is the signing statement itself. Signing statements were traditionally used by presidents to explain how they would interpret certain sections of a law. Sometimes it was as simple as laying out the administration's understanding of what would be a "reasonable" effort in some direction; sometimes it was more complex. But it was really only during the Shrub regime that it became commonplace for a president to simply declare that certain parts of a law did not apply to him and that he could, on his own authority and without recourse to the courts, declare himself free to ignore them. And here was Barack Obama doing exactly the same thing.

Well, it's another month, and the beat goes on.
The Obama administration said Tuesday it could continue to imprison non-U.S. citizens indefinitely even if they have been acquitted of terrorism charges by a U.S. military commission.

Jeh Johnson, the Defense Department's chief lawyer, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that releasing a detainee who has been tried and found not guilty was a policy decision that officials would make based on their estimate of whether the prisoner posed a future threat.

Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration argues that the legal basis for indefinite detention of aliens it considers dangerous is separate from war-crimes prosecutions. Officials say that the laws of war allow indefinite detention to prevent aliens from committing warlike acts in future, while prosecution by military commission aims to punish them for war crimes committed in the past.
Which instead of justifying the policy actually illustrates just how extreme it is. "We can hold anyone we want forever and nobody can do squat about it - not because of what they've done, not because of what they were planning, not even because of what we think they were planning, but because of what we think they might plan in the future. We don't need proof, we don't even need evidence and we sure as hell don't have to show anybody any. Because we are all-seeing, we are all-knowing, and our judgments are not to be questioned by such trifles as laws or courts or constitutions."
Rep. Jerrold Nadler ... questioned the administration's plan to allot prisoners to federal courts, military commissions or indefinite detention.

"What bothers me is that they seem to be saying, 'Some people we have good enough evidence against, so we'll give them a fair trial. Some people the evidence is not so good, so we'll give them a less fair trial. We'll give them just enough due process to ensure a conviction because we know they're guilty. That's not a fair trial, that's a show trial," Mr. Nadler said.
Seems to me I just said that somewhere.

Also this week, the Obama crowd
threatened to veto the funding bill for US intelligence agencies because the House included a provision that would increase the number of members who receive briefings on highly secretive covert operations
from the so-called "Gang of 8" - the chairs and ranking minority members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, the Speaker and Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, and the majority and minority leaders of the Senate - to include all members of the Intelligence Committees. It would also allow Congress, not the president, to restrict the briefings in extraordinary circumstances.
The Obama administration, like all previous administrations of the modern era, believe that the president, and only the president, has the power to determine what constitutes national security information and, even more vitally, what safeguards ought to be in place to protect the information.
There's that key, recurring phrase: "only the president."

Finally, TPMMuckraker makes an interesting observation about Karl Rove's recent testimony to the House Judiciary Committee. He had been cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to testify before the committee on the grounds of "executive privilege," which the Shrub gang claimed applied not only to White House policy staff but to all White House staff, including former staff, and continued to apply even after the administration left office. That is, they claimed in essence that no one at the White House, no one at all, now or in the past, could be made to appear before Congress without the president's express permission. More bluntly, the executive branch was not subject to Congressional oversight except to the degree it chose to allow it.

A district court ruled against Rove, but the matter was on appeal when an agreement was reached among the committee, the White House, and Bush lawyers.
The [Bush] White House's foot-dragging may have inflicted some measure of political damage. But in terms of the legal repercussions, by coming to a deal while the case was still pending in an appeals court, the Bushies have largely succeeded in one of their goals: ensuring that no clear precedent has been established limiting the president's power to claim executive privilege in such cases. And the Obama White House's role in helping to secure the deal for Rove's testimony suggests that's an outcome they wanted too.
That is, the Obama gang wants to be able to make similar spurious claims of "executive privilege" whenever it wants to avoid facing Congress.

In each case, over and over again, regular as clockwork, the Obama administration has adopted and run with Bush administration policies that concentrate power in the president and give the office extreme, even dictatorial, powers to conceal information, ignore laws, arrest without proof, imprison without charge, and govern without oversight as soon as the magic words "foreign policy" or "national security" are invoked. And over and over again I have argued precisely that: that Obama was adopting Bush policies.

At what point are some people going to give it up? At what point are people going to stop saying "they haven't had time to re-evaluate" or "the case came up too fast" or "give them time?" At what point are people going to stop using the excuse of being "focused on health care" or "focused on the economy?" When are people give up the fantasy that this is either the result of a settling-in period or a hidden brilliant political strategy that we are just too inferior to comprehend?

Obama has his 20-percenters, just like Bush did: that certain portion that will believe and support him no matter what he does, as first became clear when what should have been a clear red flag - his craven flip-flop on FISA last year - provoked instead a flood of excuses. But for the rest, when are you going to face the fact that all this is not some kind of temporary aberration, not a pile of exceptions, that in the areas of presidential power and national security, this is Barack Obama? This is who he is, what he thinks, what he wants, what he intends?

Seriously, what more will it take?

Footnote: So Obama claims he has the authority to ignore a law if it "interferes" with his "constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations." So why does he also claim that he can't issue an order suspending enforcement of Don't Ask, Don't Tell on the grounds that the policy arises from an act of Congress - even though no one appears to dispute his "constitutional authority" as CIC to issue such an order?

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