Civil Libertarians, Obama and Ideological Whiplash

The Obama administration is going to give civil libertarians ideological whiplash if this keeps up, Government opts for secrecy in wiretap suit

The Obama administration is again invoking government secrecy in defending the Bush administration’s wiretapping program, this time against a lawsuit by AT&T customers who claim federal agents illegally intercepted their phone calls and gained access to their records.

Disclosure of the information sought by the customers, “which concerns how the United States seeks to detect and prevent terrorist attacks, would cause exceptionally grave harm to national security,” Justice Department lawyers said in papers filed Friday in San Francisco.

Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a lawyer for the customers, said Monday the filing was disappointing in light of the Obama presidential campaign’s “unceasing criticism of Bush-era secrecy and promise for more transparency.”

In a 2006 lawsuit, the AT&T plaintiffs accused the company of allowing the National Security Agency to intercept calls and e-mails and inspect records of millions of customers without warrants or evidence of wrongdoing.

Somewhat predictable since his proclamation while still a Senator that he would ” “To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies.(according to a campaign spokesman at the time)”, but voted for immunity. On the other hand the Obama administration wants to appoint Harold Koh as Legal Adviser to the Department of State, who testified against former AG Alberto Gonzales and argued that Bush did not have the right detain innocent Haitian refugees at a prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Koh is currently Dean of Yale Law School and has a stellar human rights record. The only thing holding up Koh’s appointment  is a campaign of smears by the Right and some obstructionists tactics by Congressional Republicans. Speaking of Bush, Obama could always use the old recess appointments trick to appoint people that were so wacky they couldn’t get by with a Republican majority. Koh isn’t the only rule of law progressive leaning appointte being blocked: Office of Legal Counsel Nominee Still Awaiting Vote

Dawn Johnsen, nominated to be assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel, may have to wait at least another three weeks for a vote in the Senate.

[  ]…Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), citing Johnsen’s criticisms of Bush national security policies, accused her of lacking “the seriousness and necessary resolve” to fight terrorism, and other Republicans have targeted her work as legal director for NARAL Pro-Choice America from 1988 to 1993. Democrats say her record is being distorted and that she’s more than qualified for the job, having worked there in the 1990s and co-written a widely circulated paper in 2004 outlining principles for the office to follow.

Scott Horton thinks that Republicans are using a little black-mail against Koh and Johnsen, tying their confirmation to assurances by Obama and AG Holder that they will not release anymore Bush era torture memos. Jack Balkin thinks its all about the details,

The real resistance, it appears, is to the public disclosure of an official government document approving specific techniques that amount to torture. This degree of specificity and the government’s request for approval of specific techniques does not appear in the original torture memos already released to the public.

There are obviously two different Constitutional issues involved, but its bewildering that Obama and Company can see clearly how wrong the torture regime was, yet is so ready to dismiss the idea that electronic surveillance was and is covered by FISA law in addition to the extra leeway provided by the Patriot Acts spy first get a warrant later provisions. If Obama thinks FISA, in its current form, is inadequate, that is why we have a legislative branch of government.

The idea put forth by Republicans and Obama advisor John O. Brennan that releasing the torture memos will somehow compromise secrecy of agency techniques and embarrass other nations is absurd. The world already knows and those nations, as Horton notes, should be embarrassed. Trying to hide the memos and related materials (video) based on non-existent Constitutional grounds is also embarrassing. Report Outlines Medical Workers’ Role in Torture

Medical personnel were deeply involved in the abusive interrogation of terrorist suspects held overseas by the Central Intelligence Agency, including torture, and their participation was a “gross breach of medical ethics,” a long-secret report by the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded.

[   ]…Another critic of medical involvement in harsh interrogation, Dr. Steven H. Miles, a physician at the Center for Bioethics of the University of Minnesota, said he had counted about 70 cases worldwide after World War II in which physicians were punished for participating in torture or related crimes. Most were in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, he said. None have been in the United States.

Senate Republicans and Brennan can show how very serious they are and pretend this new Red Cross report doesn’t exists and the world will not hear about it. Its obviously a game, rational people just are not getting the pay off or fun factor.

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