October 15, 2009
From David Swanson’s post today at TomDispatch:
When many feared that Bush might pardon his subordinates for crimes he had himself authorized, the consensus among members of Congress and scholars was that he could, in fact, do such a thing. In some ways what both Bush and Obama have actually done is worse. With a big assist from Congress in the form of bills like the Military Commissions Act and the FISA Amendments Act, they have worked to grant immunity for crimes without even naming the criminals or revealing what they have done. Obama’s Department of Justice is now arguing, appealing, or re-appealing in various court cases to keep secret the abuses of government officials and corporations involved in torture and warrantless spying. Recently, the Justice Department even argued that, when it comes to denying information to a court or the public, telecommunication corporations must be considered a part of the executive branch of the federal government, and earlier this year the administration threatened the British government with an end to intelligence sharing if it revealed evidence of torture.
President Obama announced that he will only claim the right to hide information from a court on the grounds that important “state secrets” are involved after careful review by lawyers at the Department of Justice. This may be an improvement over the Bush years — not exactly a hard standard to reach — but notably, this decision still cedes not an ounce of power to any branch other than the executive, even as Obama’s lawyers make radical “state secrets” claims in attempts to block entire court cases, rather than over particular pieces of information. While this president is ceding modest amounts of territory claimed by the previous one, he is ceding nothing when it comes to presidential power itself.
. . . Bush claimed for the presidency the power to detain people without charge or legal process — and then used it. Obama stood in front of the U.S. Constitution in the National Archives in Washington and asserted the same power, in violation of the right of habeas corpus found in that torn and tattered document. Director of Central Intelligence Leon Panetta and presidential advisor David Axelrod have similarly made clear that the president still claims the power to engage in “harsh interrogation techniques” but chooses not to use it. Torture in this way has been transformed from a crime into a policy choice, with the intended message apparently being that we can stop torture temporarily by choosing to elect Democrats.
For the rest of the article, please see TomDispatch.com.