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March 19, 2010
From the Desk of Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton:
Judicial Watch Sues HHS to Obtain Documents Related to President Obama’s Secret Healthcare Meetings
Today we sit on the precipice of a complete and total disaster. The President and liberals in Congress are dangerously close to passing Obamacare, which is just another way of saying they are moving forward aggressively with their hostile government takeover of our nation’s health care system. And yet, at this key moment, the American people are largely in the dark about what government takeover of health care will mean to them and to the country and how this horrible deal is being forced through. As Nancy Pelosi said, the plan is to pass the bill and then find out what is in it.
That’s why we’re fighting so hard in court right now to uncover documents related to the secret, closed door meetings on health care that the President held with Vice President Biden, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sebelius, Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid and union officials. Press reports have documented at least two private healthcare meetings involving the President between January 1 and January 15, 2010. What happened in these closed negotiations? What promises were made? That’s what we intend to find out.
Of course health care reform wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Obama promised during the campaign that there would be no back-door deals, no partisan power plays, and no secrecy.
During a Democratic primary debate on January 31, 2008, then-presidential candidate Obama said the following on the issue of health care reform: “That’s what I will do in bringing all parties together, not negotiating behind closed doors, but bringing all parties together, and broadcasting those negotiations on C-SPAN so that the American people can see what the choices are.”
So much for that. Here’s a squib from our lawsuit, filed on March 17, 2010:
At an August 21, 2008 town hall meeting in Chester Virginia, presidential candidate Barack Obama promised the nation that, to achieve health care reform, “I’m going to have all the negotiations around a big table. We’ll have doctors and nurses and hospital administrators. Insurance companies, drug companies — they’ll get a seat at the table, they just won’t be able to buy every chair. But what we will do is, we’ll have the negotiations televised on C-Span, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies. And so, that approach, I think is what is going to allow people to stay involved in this process.”
In a startling breach of his campaign promise, between January 1, 2010, and January 15, 2010, President Obama, Vice President Biden, Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius, and White House Office of Health Reform Director DeParle met behind closed doors with various groups to reach accord on health care reform before a final vote occurred in the U.S. House of Representatives. One group of individuals was senior officials of major unions. A second group consisted of Senate Majority Leader Reid and House Speaker Pelosi and other members of Congress.
Because President Obama and Secretary Sebelius held closed door negotiations at the White House, the public was denied the transparency President Obama had promised as a candidate.
We filed our original Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on January 15, 2010. HHS acknowledged receipt of the request on January 19, 2010. On January 21, 2010, and March 12, 2010, HHS indicated that two offices within the agency found no responsive requests. However, the Immediate Office of the Secretary and the Office of the Secretary Scheduling Office have thus far failed to respond. Of course, these just happen to be the two offices within HHS most likely to keep the requested records.
First President Obama breaks his promise on making healthcare negotiations public. Now his administration is stonewalling the release of records from his secret healthcare meetings. This administration surely wants nothing coming at it now that would interfere with its legislative designs on our health care. It is shameful that the Obama administration would violate FOIA law to help ensure passage of Obamacare. But rest assured we intend to hold Obama to his word on transparency.
Because the stakes are so high, I will repeat what I told you last week. Please take the time right now to call your congressmen and let them know what you think about Obamacare. The number to call is 202-224-3121. This will get you to the Capitol Hill Switchboard. (You can look up specific House members here). And it won’t hurt to call your Senators, too. Tell your family, friends, and anyone else you can think of to call. If you can’t get through, or your representative simply refuses to answer the phone, keep on calling. I can tell you that your elected representatives are very much aware of the volume of calls, whether or not they’re bothering to answer the phones. The House vote is scheduled for Sunday, March 21.
Slaughter Rule Unconstitutional
I know many of you are concerned about the corrupt process liberals in Congress have been using to push through the government health care legislation. The latest outrage is the plan by the House Democratic leadership to use the so-called Slaughter Rule to “deem” the Senate health care bill passed without an actual up-or-down vote. Below is a statement that I issued just today for Judicial Watch on the “deem and pass” trick:
A constitutional crisis is upon us. The Democratic leadership’s plan to use the “Slaughter Rule” to pass the Senate health care bill without an explicit “yea or nay” vote by the House is an absolute violation of the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 7).
Indeed, the Supreme Court has held that “(1) a bill containing its exact text was approved by a majority of the Members of the House of Representatives; (2) the Senate approved precisely the same text; and (3) that text was signed into law by the President. The Constitution explicitly requires that each of those three steps be taken before a bill may ‘become a law.’” Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417, 448 (1998)
Simply put, the House can’t pretend to vote on a bill and expect that the result will pass constitutional muster. No House member can keep true to his oath of office to “support and defend the Constitution” and approve the use of the Slaughter Rule to avoid a direct vote on the Senate health care bill.
And the U.S. Constitution would also seem to require that President Obama veto any resulting “bill” sent to him for signature, as the document that results from any House action under the Slaughter Rule is a constitutional nullity.
But concerned Americans should not assume that the courts will uphold the Constitution and throw any government health care takeover because of the Slaughter Rule. The best defense against the Slaughter Rule’s usurpation of the Constitution is to stop it legislatively this weekend.
Judicial Watch Obtains Top Secret Memo Detailing Closed Congressional Hearing on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques
For quite a while now, Judicial Watch has been trying to piece together the evidence regarding what members of Congress (Nancy Pelosi in particular) knew about the use of enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) and when they knew it. It hasn’t been easy. The Obama administration, which is ideologically hostile to the use of these techniques, has been stonewalling the release of documents that would shed light on the whole story.
Still, as always, we persist. Recently our determination paid off when we obtained a memo from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) marked “Top Secret” that includes a detailed report of a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) closed hearing regarding the subject of enhanced interrogation techniques.
The CIA produced the document pursuant to a previous court order in Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the CIA. The court order stipulates that documents pertaining to congressional briefings for Speaker Pelosi and other members of Congress on “enhanced interrogation techniques” must be provided to Judicial Watch by April 15th.
Here are a few key excerpts from the Memorandum, dated July 14, 2004:
- Summary of testimony by DOD Official, Lt. Gen. William Boykin: “At this point, General Boykin read a prepared statement to the Committee in which he asserted that interrogation is a critically valuable tool, and, citing observations made by service personnel at Ft. Bragg, said that the most [imp]ortant factor in the capture of Saddam Hussein was interrogation.”
- Summary of testimony by member of the CTC (Counterterrorism Center), name redacted: “…Even today long term detainees like Khalid Shayk Muhammed and Zubaydah are providing good information because their histories go back a long way and often a tidbit they provide, while not initially operationally significant, ends up being the piece that completes the puzzle; DC/CTC closed by noting that he was personally persuaded that detainee reporting has saved lives.”
- Rep. Jane Harman: “What do you think of the value of enhanced techniques?” John Pistole, Witness for the FBI: “In my view the benefits are huge and the costs are insignificant. Very few detainees don’t provide us with good information….”
- Rep. Ruppersberger: “Are there procedures that we have stopped that should be resumed?” Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, the Army G-2, [now Director of the National Security Agency (NSA)]: “Yes. Diet and sleep management. Those, plus segregation which is still employed, are key…”
- General Alexander also testified that field commanders wanted more “97E’s” (interrogators), “even to the point of trading off some of their combat troops.”
- Saddam Hussein was not subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques, but “friendly discussions with an eye to future public prosecution.”
The document also recounts an allegation by Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) that the CIA had not been giving the committee “full and candid testimony on the detainee issue.” Testimony also suggests that interrogators at Fort Bragg believed that “unobtrusive forms of interrogation are the best.”
Now we know why the Obama administration has been fighting tooth and nail to keep these documents secret. They put the lie to the Obama administration’s claim that EITs are not necessary in the intelligence war on terrorism. Members of Congress, meanwhile, continue to play ignorant, claiming intelligence officials did not fully brief them on the use of EITs. Not true, according to the evidence we’ve collected.
You may recall that in February, Judicial Watch released a separate batch of documents, previously marked “Top Secret,” indicating that between 2001 and 2007, the CIA briefed at least 68 members of Congress on the CIA interrogation program, including so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The documents include the dates of all congressional briefings and, in some cases, the members of Congress in attendance and the specific subjects discussed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who previously denied she was briefed by the CIA on the use of these techniques, is specifically referenced in a briefing that took place on April 24, 2002, regarding the “ongoing interrogations of Abu Zubaydah.”
So this much is clear. Intelligence officials repeatedly informed members of Congress that enhanced interrogation techniques are effective and save lives.
Until next week…
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