FEBRUARY 10, 2009
Breaking a crucial campaign promise of offering Americans unprecedented government transparency, Barack Obama’s Justice Department has defended a Bush Administration secrecy rule in federal court.
Government lawyers actually invoked the same controversial “state secrets privilege” used by George W. Bush to argue that a lawsuit brought on behalf of five terrorism suspects should not proceed because disclosing the evidence would harm national security.
Throughout his presidential campaign Obama harshly criticized the measure he now defends and vowed to reverse it. In fact, his infamous “Plan to Change Washington” specifically addressed Bush’s states secret privilege as a legal tool to get cases thrown out of civil court.
Argued before the San Francisco-based United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, this case involves a lawsuit against a subsidiary of Boeing for arranging the flights of five detainees to countries where they were supposedly tortured as part of a CIA program. The Bush Administration for years argued that the case should be dismissed because discussing it in court could, not only threaten national security, but also compromise relations with other countries.
The new administration’s surprising defense of the secrecy measure startled several of the judges on the notoriously liberal court, including Chief Justice Mary Schroeder (a Jimmy Carter appointee) who actually challenged the government attorney by asking, “The change in the administration has no bearing?”
The move outraged Obama’s biggest and most powerful supporters, including an influential civil rights group—the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)—that publicly chastised the president and his famous change rhetoric. The group’s president accused Obama of “more of the same” and pointed out that his administration “shouldn’t be complicit in hiding the abuses of its predecessors.”
The ACLU also sent a strongly worded letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urgently requesting her to clarify the administration’s position on the matter and reminding her that concealing the information seems completely at odds with both the anti-torture and transparency executive orders signed by the president.
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