Thursday, April 09, 2009

I told you so

Updated Dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit! I told you so! I did, I did, I did! You know I did! And more than once!

The day after the election, I told you so:
I strongly suspect that in a while a lot of people are going to be very disappointed in Barack Obama. ...

I believe that those who insist that on matters such as FISA he will be different as president than he was as a senator are just kidding themselves. In fact, I suspect that the reason he flip-flopped on FISA is that he started contemplating having those powers himself.
And now it seems even those sort of powers are not enough.

Jewel v. NSA is a suit filed last fall by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on behalf of five customers of AT&T (acting on behalf of all AT&T customers) challenging as illegal and unconstitutional the program of dragnet communications surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency. With the EFF's agreement, the initial government response was delayed until April. Now it has come and it's a doozy.
In a motion filed on Friday, April 3rd, the Obama Dept. of Justice (DOJ) demanded that the entire lawsuit be dismissed based on both the Bush administration's claim that a "state secrets" privilege bars any lawsuits against the executive branch for illegal spying, as well as a novel "sovereign immunity" claim that the Patriot Act bars any lawsuits of any kind for illegal government surveillance, unless there was "willful disclosure" of the illegally intercepted communications.
That latter argument is a stunner, an entirely new argument that goes clearly beyond any CYA claim advanced by the Shrub gang. While they had claimed "sovereign immunity" against suits under FISA, even they never insisted that the administration had such immunity against suits about illegal surveillance under any law.

But that is exactly what the Obama DOJ is now claiming. They are saying that if the government illegally spies on you, illegally intercepts any or all of your personal communications, even if the the government knows its spying is illegal, even if you know the government illegally spied on you, even if everyone knows the government illegally spied on you, even if you can undeniably prove the government illegally spied on you, there's not a single goddam thing you can do about it unless the government "willfully disclosed" the information it illegally gathered.

In a statement, the EFF called the argument "deeply troubling," "pernicious," "radical," and "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. ...

Essentially, the Obama Adminstration has claimed that the government cannot be held accountable for illegal surveillance under any federal statutes.

Again, the gulf between Candidate Obama and President Obama is striking. As a candidate, Obama ran promising a new era of government transparency and accountability, an end to the Bush DOJ's radical theories of executive power, and reform of the PATRIOT Act. But, this week, Obama's own Department Of Justice has argued that, under the PATRIOT Act, the government shall be entirely unaccountable for surveilling Americans in violation of its own laws.
That sentiment was echoed by Prof. Jonathan Turley, who called the Obama team's claim "breathtaking" and said it represented
yet another break with its campaign promise to fight to restore civil liberties and privacy.... It appears the “yes we can” means “yes we can do most anything that we want” when it comes to unlawful programs.
(Prof. Turley notes that this is not the first time Obama's DOJ has gone beyond Bush's: In February, it threatened to unilaterally "withdraw" a document from a court case when it lost a ruling related to it, something of which Turley said he'd never heard.)

Glenn Greenwald, who said in his commentary on the filing that it's "hard to overstate how extremist [it] is," makes two significant points. One is that this is the initial government response to this suit. That is, this is not the Obama administration just carrying over a Bush administration argument (not that that would be an excuse), flying on autopilot as it were, this is the Obama administration's own, considered, position. There is no hiding behind the Bushites here.

The other point is one he just brushes by, but is very important to understand: You are, he said, "barred from suing [government agencies] unless they 'willfully disclose' to the public what they have learned." To the public. That's the phrase to note.

Because under the Obama administration's position, the information gathered can be kept and it can be disclosed. Depending on exact circumstances, it can be disclosed to other government agencies. It can be disclosed to law enforcement agencies. It might even be disclosed to foreign governments. But as long as it is still called "secret," as long as it has not been officially released to the general public, it has not been "willfully disclosed." And you still have no recourse. In fact, even if the information was deliberately leaked, you likely would have no recourse against anyone but the actual leaker - assuming that by some miracle you could identify them.

That's why Keith Olbermann's description of it as being like someone stealing your money but that's okay as long as they don't spend it, is not right: It's more like someone stealing your money but that's okay as long as they don't tell you what they spent it on.

It's been said by several observers that no president wants to surrender any of the power of the office. It's also been said that power corrupts. Barack Obama gives every sign of proving both adages correct.

And dammit, I told you so.

Updated to note that Dday at Hullabaloo has some additional stuff about a growing anger over Obama's use of secrecy and national security claims to conceal information about Executive Branch criminality. I also found interesting how in comments several people strove mightily to argue that everything is fine, trust in Obama; one even suggested that this is a strategy, that Obama is deliberately abusing assertions of presidential power to force Congress to pass limiting legislation, while another labeled the opposition "simple-minded" and employed the hoary "we don't have all the facts" dodge.

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