Mickey Edwards on the Constitution and the Presidency, a reprise

[Original post date – 1/12/08] This post is republished because Edwards, one of the old fashioned trustworthy Conservatives, still might have something to say that bolsters the need for governing within the Constitution.

An outstanding program was presented by former U.S. Representative Mickey Edwards, (R-OK), January 7, 2008, at The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars and broadcast on C-SPAN. Edwards’ lecture focused on the U.S.Constitution and the current presidential races.

Mickey Edwards is a Constitutional scholar and journalist who wrote a yet to be released book, “Reclaiming Conservatism: How a Great American Political Movement Got Lost–And How It Can Find Its Way Back.” Currently a Vice President at the Aspen Institute and on the faculty at Princeton, Edwards served as a Republican U.S. Representative from Oklahoma from 977-1993. He was on the Appropriations Committee and in the Republican leadership.

I took four pages of notes during the broadcast which I am presenting here in essay form, as I have in the past with congressional hearings. I paraphrase Edwards when I did not get exact quotes. I have also developed a number of links that relate to the material Edwards presented that lend standing to his points. And I have rearranged his points for flow and clarity. I have tried for as much accuracy as I can, because he presented important material in a brilliant manner. He begins with this:

“American Exceptionalism” is illustrated in our constitution. It really began 11 years after America declared its independence in 1776. No other country had tried this before. The Constitution is designed to prevent dictatorship. Henry V was a dictator.

Edwards quoted the journalist Dana Milbank on the idea of “head of government vs. head of state. Our president is the head of state, but not the head of government. Our president heads only one of the three co-equal branches of government. The Kenneth Branagh movie, Henry V had an episode illustrating why the founding fathers decided that the United States would not be a monarchy: In the film, a friend of the King’s stole something during a battle. This was against a royal decree and punishable by execution, which was carried out. In this system the King and the elites decide; the people have no say. All the decisions come through kingly decree.

This is the way our founding fathers did it: We said the people would be in charge of their own destiny through their representatives. In the American system the people decide whether to go to war; they make spending and taxing decisions through their elected representatives. The Bush presidency is absolutely unprecedented. He declares he is “the decider, the chooser.” With Presidential signing statements Bush says, “I have the right to determine whether the law is binding on me. Regarding torture, for example, I will determine whether the law is binding on me or not.”

Bush made 1100 signing statements, more than all the former presidents combined. Edwards testified in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the presidential use of signing statements to circumvent the law. Edwards served on an American Bar Association Task Force (that included a lot of Republicans) studying this question. It found that such signing statements violate the constitution: Article One, Section Seven says the president can do one of two things with a law passed by Congress. He can sign it into law or not sign it (a veto). It takes two-thirds of both houses of Congress to overturn a veto. The President does not have a constitutional option to sign something into law and then ignore it.

Unitary Executive Theory means that Bush does not feel bound to follow the law. The president claims that officials work for the president, and are not bound to obey Congress. The General Accounting Office took a look at what happened to the 2006 Appropriations bill. It found that fully 1/3 of Congressional directives had been ignored by executive agencies. Bush said I can decide. He decided they did not need to go to court to conduct surveillances, and that some people were not entitled to habeas corpus protections.

Regarding presidential executive orders – Edwards feels that, “These are perfectly fine when confined to the executive branch. Things like secrecy and privacy are justified as long as they do not intrude into the judicial or legislative branches, or on the people.

Regarding executive privilege – It is OK. But there are limits to it. For example, Harriet Myers was subpoenaed to come before a congressional hearing and testify about certain communications within the Justice Department. She ignored the subpoena, citing executive privilege. However, the President was never involved in the communication under question. The claim was made that executive privilege extends to everyone in the executive branch – all who are working under the president – not just to communications between the president and his subordinates.

The rule of law and the Judicial Branch – What happens when the President will not obey the law and Congress tries to go to court to make the President follow the law? What is our recourse? The problem is that the courts make access so difficult. The issue is that the Supreme Court and the other Federal courts have Constitutional rules of “standing,” entitlement to bring suit in that court to settle “cases and controversies.” When Edwards was in Congress he and a number of other legislators wanted to sue President Carter in “Edwards v. Carter.” They lost because the courts said they did not have standing. They had not been personally injured. We do not know whether we have been wire-tapped, for instance.
And the courts have twice not upheld the line-item veto for a president.

The President has no power not to implement any of the laws. He has no power to violate any law that he has signed. In the Jackson Supreme Court decision, it said that when Congress speaks on an issue, presidential power is then at its lowest ebb. The three branches are equal.

So, if going to court is not practical, what can a Congress, that does not have “standing,” do to force a President to follow the law? Edwards’ suggestion is that Congress use the power of the purse.It would go something like this: Congress could say, “We will cut $25 million out of the office of the Secretary of the Interior. Or we will not fund the office budgets of three such departments. And we will begin to issue a number of subpoenas, and hold a number of hearings.”

Congress has enormous powers that they do not use effectively. Edwards declared that “this Congress valued loyalty more than the Constitution. The powers of Congress are an obligation imposed on the members of Congress to fulfill. It is their responsibility to exercise it under the Constitution.”

How did we get where we are today? Edwards said, “We have lost track of what our system is and why it is different than what went before.” We have forgotten that the President is not the head of government. The Constitution was designed to keep the power in the hands of the people, through their elected representatives. For example look at Congressional earmarks. Congress is to decide on spending, as opposed to letting the Executive branch decide, OMB, for example.

We are too ignorant of our system of government. Students have not been taught, and the press does not point out such things.

What about Iraq? The war was justified under false claims. It was called a” preemptive” war. But that is when we go to war because someone is presenting an active threat to the U.S. It was actually a”preventive” war. That is when we go to war against someone who may become a threat. Edwards said that as he has traveled in the Middle East, he learned that there is almost universal anger at the U.S. for the invasion of Iraq. The leaders were opposed to us going in; but now these same leaders are against our arbitrarily leaving prematurely.

The 2008 presidential election — Regarding the current criticism of Barack Obama’s “vision over specifics:” Edwards says, “Hooray for him.”

Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe was the one who discovered how widespread the Bush use of presidential signing statements is [and won the Pulitzer for it]. In his recent article he asked all the current presidential candidates what they would do regarding signing statements.

People need to ask the current candidates this question: “Where do you understand the limits of your powers to be?”

Some will say that the current threats mean that “We need a strong leader.” Professor Richard Neustadt says that such strength is embodied in a power to persuade, the power to stir the people.

Today is actually not an unprecedented threat for the U.S. In 1776 if Britain and France had combined forces against America we could have easily been defeated. In the face of even that possibility, the founding fathers decided we would not have a monarch. The other point is that in a time of unprecedented threat, isn’t there a risk in having only one person be the decider? We need more heads than just one. What if that one is of sub-par intelligence?

The U.S. needs to defend itself, of course. And we may even need to curtail liberties for a short time. But that is a decision to be made by the representatives of the people. We said yes back in the ‘70’s, but that such surveillance can only be done if the executive branch goes before a court to get the authority.

When asked who among the current candidates would be the strongest, Edwards first said, “none of the above.” He also said, however, that we will have plenty of opportunity to evaluate people over time. He then added that he would take a lot of heat for saying it, but would have to chose Hillary Clinton. Edwards likened some candidates to Henry V, including Rudy Giuliani “and perhaps McCain.”

He said that “reaching across the political aisle would be essential,” naming Obama, McCain or Huckabee as the strongest in that area. Edwards continued saying that the next president just cannot insist on going it alone. He or she will have to build support.The President can have a big influence of members of Congress. The President should meet regularly with the leadership of Congress before coming out with any program. Edwards said the Bush tried only to reach out to his Republican base, and that he actually does not know who that is. He also pointed out that “he has no problem trying to get Middle East leaders such as Olmert and Abbas to shake hands, but would not think of doing the same with Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner.”

Mickey Edwards found out to reach across the political aisle to me, a Progressive Democrat. Don’t we wish there were more like him?

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Blogs: My general purpose/southwest focus blog is at Southwest Progressive. My creative website is at Making Good Mondays. And Carol Gee – Online Universe is the all-in-one home page for all my websites. See also Behind the Links.


What is behind all this hide and seek?

Waterboarding techniques were not what made 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad confess. He had already started to talk before the “enhanced interrogation” started. And actually at one point, Dick Cheney ‘fessesd up’ that rapport, not torture, got intelligence. Following the most recent revelations about Cheney’s larger role in the Bush administration’s s0-called “war on terror, he is no longer “fessing up” to anything. He is again hiding at an undisclosed location. His daughter, Liz seems to now be his official spokesperson.

Well before Cheney stopped talking this question for Cheney occurred to a blogger: “How come no attacks after the torture stopped?” Here is another question: Why did the CIA hide Dick Cheney’s role in briefing Congress? As it turns out, former Vice President Cheney’s campaign to make sure that interrogations could continue as before, to keep lawmakers in line on torture, started midway in the Bush administration .

So, as we are now finding out, the Vice President, not the President, was apparently in the lead of the administration’s efforts to run secret operations that were more often than not, outside of the rule of law. For example the May 10, 2005 Justice Department opinions on combined torture techniques were retrospective, designed to give legal cover to something that has already happened. The effect of a related NYT story that misrepresents James Comey’s e-mails, claiming that he approved torture, amounted to a pre-emptive strike on the OPR Report that will come out at some point.

The Geneva Convention failed to assure that U.S. detainees received humane treatment. At an international conference in Italy a few weeks ago, Georgetown lawyers from the Center on National Security and the Law were planning to urge a new Geneva Convention for terrorism. Common article 3, they feel is too vague to guide the government of how to protect the security of the United States while also upholding our basic values about justice. UN Special Rapporteur, Philip Alston, last month called for for transparency and accountability as he presented his report on U.S. policies that have led to unlawful deaths and other abuses.

The case of tortured U.S. citizen, Naji Hamdan tested the Obama Administration on human rights. Did they stand silent, as the man who was himself tortured, went on trial in the UAE? With this and far too many other examples, the Obama administration finds itself “between a rock and a hard place.” Rightly focusing on the economy, reforming health care, and tackling other issues is still front and center. Over and over again, to “put this behind us,” the President or the Justice Department took the same legal position as the former administration. When it comes to how to come under the rule of law both in fact and in spirit they failed to step up and do the right thing immediately. Opting for secrecy, turning a blind eye, and assigning a low priority to accountability, are no longer working however.

Dragged kicking and screaming, Congress and the administration are being forced little by little to look back, in spite to their most commendable and forward looking policy changes and needed reforms. In some kind of magical way, the current Senate focus on confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court reminds us all once again that we are a nation of laws, not men. . . or (thank goodness) women. We will get back into balance with time, and because of how our founders set up the system. We must believe this.

[Post date – July 15, 2009]

My all-in-one Home Page of websites where I post regularly: Carol Gee – Online Universe

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The Big Tug of War —

News items about national security are emerging more rapidly in recent weeks. Despite the stated preference for “not looking back,” the stories have emerged that lead to a buildup of momentum. According to The New York Times, former Vice President Cheney is linked to the concealment of a highly classified CIA program, until it was recently revealed to Congress by CIA Director Leon Panetta. To quote:

Intelligence and Congressional officials have said the unidentified program did not involve the C.I.A. interrogation program and did not involve domestic intelligence activities. They have said the program was started by the counterterrorism center at the C.I.A. shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but never became fully operational, involving planning and some training that took place off and on from 2001 until this year.

President Obama is increasingly under pressure to change his mind about investigating the Bush administration’s security programs, despite the political risks. Sunday talk shows saw leading Democrats demanding to find out how a highly classified counter terrorism program was kept secret from the Congressional leadership on the orders of Vice President Dick Cheney. The New York Times published a subsequent news analysis that lays out where the investigative push is, and from whom. To quote:

. . . Mr. Obama said this weekend that he had asked his staff members to review the mass killing of prisoners in Afghanistan by local forces allied with the United States as it toppled the Taliban regime there.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is also close to assigning a prosecutor to look into whether prisoners in the campaign against terrorism were tortured, officials disclosed on Saturday.

And after a report from five inspectors general about the National Security Agency’s domestic eavesdropping said on Friday that there had been a number of undisclosed surveillance programs during the Bush years, Democrats sought more information.

. . . That makes four fronts on which the intelligence apparatus is under siege. It is just the kind of distraction from Mr. Obama’s domestic priorities — repairing the economy, revamping the health care system, and addressing the long-term problems of energy and climate — that the White House wanted to avoid.

Revelations about the CIA and torture, deliberate deception of Congressional Intelligence committees, and emerging Inspectors General reports seem to heading towards formal investigations that the Obama administration, including the Attorney General, and Congress may not be able to resist. Glenn Greenwald’s post yesterday provides one of the best overviews of the current climate, along with what others who stay on top of these issues are saying. It seems that this tug of war is far from over. The weight of the law will somehow have its way, if we remain vigilant and have a bit of luck along the way.

[Post date – July 13, 2009]

See also Behind the Links, for further info on this subject.

Blogs: My general purpose/southwest focus blog is at Southwest Progressive. My creative website is at Making Good Mondays. And Carol Gee – Online Universe is the all-in-one home page for all my websites.

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Taking advantage of an opening

President Obama continues to have opportunities to come down on the correct side of the big Constitutional questions.

Three federal judges appointed by former President George W. Bush opposed President Obama on his policies regarding detainees suspected of terrorism. Virtually unchanged from the Bush administration, claims of broad executive authority were dismissed by the judges, who said that “the executive branch was overstepping its authority and claiming more powers than the law allowed,” to quote a recent Politico.com article. The decisions 1) ruled that some prisoners captured outside of Afghanistan and held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan were entitled to challenge their detention; 2) refused to dismiss the Jose Padilla lawsuit against John Yoo; and 3) dismissed claims that Syrian detainee al-Janko could be held at Guantanamo, even when the government knew he had been tortured by al-Qaeda. The administration is still fighting the Bagram and Padilla rulings.

Still in contention in court is the ACLU lawsuit to get the CIA Inspector General’s report to be made public. It now looks as if it will not be released until the deadline of August 31, according to emptywheel, who has mixed feelings about such a delay.

Legally, one of the President’s biggest dilemmas, he is now admitting, is whether to go ahead with imprisoning the most dangerous terror suspects indefinitely without trial. A mid-June poll showed that an overwhelming majority opposes preventive detention without charges. President Obama told the AP’s Jennifer Loven in an interview last Thursday that he is uneasy about his own indefinite detention proposal. To quote:

. . . Obama said he has strong reservations about detaining people without bringing them to trial — a legal quagmire that dogged former President George W. Bush.

“It gives me huge pause,” Obama said . . . “And that’s why we’re going to proceed very carefully on this front. And it may turn out that after looking at all the dimensions of this that I don’t feel comfortable with the proposals that surface on how to deal with this issue.”

. . .”How we deal with those situations is going to be one of the biggest challenges of my administration,” Obama said.

If he goes ahead with indefinite detentions, Obama said he would ask Congress to approve it by law — and not do it himself through an executive order, as some administration officials have privately suggested.

It is still not too late for President Obama and the Department of Justice to get on the right side in these questions. June 26 was the anniversary of the Convention Against Torture and it is time for the administration to do everything it can to keep what happened in the Bush administration from ever happening again. And it is essential that those who broke the law be held accountable, so that we can prevent torture from happening again. The ACLU has been bringing unmet FOIA requests to court since 2003. Emptywheel at Firedoglake posted a powerfully ironic piece on that day titled “Ending Torture: Wrong Agency Mr. President.” I commend it to your reading. Marcy Wheeler concludes, “George Bush’s promises to prosecute all acts of torture were horribly empty words. But Obama’s solution to look outward, to the Department of State rather than the Department of Justice, is even emptier.”

[Post date – July 6, 2009]

See also Behind the Links, for further info on this subject.

Blogs: My general purpose/southwest focus blog is at Southwest Progressive. My creative website is at Making Good Mondays. And Carol Gee – Online Universe is the all-in-one home page for all my websites.

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What to do, what to do . . . about Guantanamo?

Closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility will be one of the most difficult challenges of the Obama administration. His own staff has been divided on how to do it. FBI Director Robert Mueller worries about detainees in U.S. prisons. Michele Flournoy, number three at the Pentagon, maintains that the U.S. must set the right example before our allies will accept detainees for repatriation. Rendition has been another matter, entirely, in the past when the Bush administration implemented the practice of rendering U.S. prisoners overseas to other countries where they were interrogated under torture.

How other law abiding countries handle suspected violent extremists offers a contrasting picture of how it is managed by the United States. The legal fallout over this has sent cases to court (in particular the Jeppesen/ACLU case). The Obama DOJ has asked a federal appeals court to block the case, claiming “state secrets” necessitate throwing out the case, taking up the claim of the previous administration. On June 22, federal judge Richard Leon ordered Abd al Rahim Abdul Rassak, a Syrian held by the U.S. for years, released because he was a victim of torture by al-Qaida. He “emphatically rejected the government’s claims against Rassak. . . adding that U.S. officials are taking a position that defies common sense.”

How will the U.S. continue to handle violent extremists? Earlier this month Glenn Greenwald analyzed the current practices of many countries, contrasting them with the administration’s probable call for indefinite detention by the U.S. He concluded that, “numerous other countries are, with their actions, adhering to the values and principles which we, with words, righteously claim to embody.” Now the White House has drafted an executive order reasserting presidential authority to incarcerate suspects indefinitely, bypassing Congress, according to the Washington Post‘s Peter Finn and ProPublica‘s Dafna Linzer. To quote the lead,

Such an order would embrace claims by former President George W. Bush that certain people can be detained without trial for long periods under the laws of war. Obama advisers are concerned that bypassing Congress could place the president on weaker footing before the courts and anger key supporters, the officials said.

After months of internal debate over how to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, White House officials are growing increasingly worried that reaching quick agreement with Congress on a new detention system may prove impossible. Several officials said there is concern in the White House that the administration may not be able to close the facility by the president’s January 2010 deadline.

Is Bush precedent Obama precedent? Zachary Roth at TPM Muckraker had this chilling conclusion to the news of the draft memo: “If the last eight years have taught us anything, it’s that executive abuses, left to continue unchecked for many years, have a tendency to congeal into precedent.” It need not be that way. The Constitution has been a powerful bulwark with plenty of capacity to sustain the rule of law, particularly with a president whose specialty has been Constitutional law.

[Post date – June 28, 2009]

See also Behind the Links, for further info on this subject.

Blogs: My general purpose/southwest focus blog is at Southwest Progressive. My creative website is at Making Good Mondays. And Carol Gee – Online Universe is the all-in-one home page for all my websites.

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This and that about harsh interrogation – an issue that will not go away.

Psychologists in the military were deeply involved with programs that utilized harsh interrogation techniques. And they did it with the the full support of the American Psychological Association (APA). The professional organization of psychologists supported the government’s illegal interrogation program. They were in advisory roles, they assisted with implementation and even initiated torture programs that are still being highly criticized, the more we find out. Calls for independent investigation have not diminished. Other prefessionals, such as doctors, psychiatrists and social workers withdrew their support of the government’s policies.,”American Psychological Association Sees No Evil,” is from ACLU Blog of Rights (6/16/09). To quote from the piece:

The role that psychologists played in the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation policies is slowly being made public.

. . . Meanwhile many, perhaps most, members of the APA were unaware of the policies that were being carried out in their name. I shall briefly describe how the APA aided and abetted the U.S. government in Guantánamo Bay and the CIA black sites, and the steps that a number of psychologists are taking to end this unholy alliance.

. . . [Author] Ghislaine Boulanger,Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst and the author of Wounded by Reality: Understanding and Treating Adult Onset Trauma.In 2006, in reaction to the American Psychological Association’s cooperation with the Bush administration’s interrogation practices of detainees at Guantánamo Bay and CIA black sites, Dr. Boulanger withheld her APA membership dues and began a listserv for like-minded psychologists. She is a founding member of Psychologists for an Ethical APA.

Accountability for torture is the new ACLU website that consolidates everything about the U.S. torture programs in one comprehensive location. Glenn Greenwald raved about it (on 6/11/09):

The ACLU today launched a major new campaign to impose accountability for torture and related Bush-era crimes. The campaign — Accountability for Torture — is devoted principally to a restoration of the rule of law and the appointment by the DOJ of a Special Prosecutor. The website to coordinate these efforts is here, and that site is also now probably the single best resource for all documents and other information relating to torture and accountability efforts. The ACLU has clearly led the way in battling for disclosure of Bush-era war crimes secrets
— so much of what we know is due to their litigation efforts and those of other civil liberties groups (rather than, say, the efforts of the “watchdog” media or the “oversight” Congress). But what has been missing up until now is a coordinated, centralized effort to galvanize public demands for accountability, and this project is intended to provide that.

At the American Civil Liberties Union’s new “Accountability for Torture” action center, Executive Director Anthony Romerero suggests that interested people “help submit evidence and demand accountability” of Attorney General Eric Holder. (Democrats.com also offers a petition to Congress and A.G. Holder, that you can sign). To quote further from ACLU,

At this comprehensive and resource-filled new site, you can also view videos that make a powerful case for accountability…see profiles of the main architects of the Bush torture program…and use a search engine to examine the mountains of evidence the ACLU has obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation.

The harsh interrogation techniques using torture started long before the Office of Legal Counsel gave advice and counsel or rules to those carrying out the interrogationsl. Salon.com’s outstanding writer, Glenn Greenwald says what the new Jim Comey torture emails actually reveal, is different than what Bush administration spokesmen claim. To quote :

[regarding] how these DOJ torture memos were actually produced. The key excerpts tell the story as clearly as can be. Comey was vehemently opposed to a draft memo written by Acting OLC Chief Steven Bradbury — ultimately dated May 10, 2005 (.pdf) — that legally authorized the simultaneous, combined use of numerous “enhanced interrogation techniques” on detainees. This “combined techniques” memo was crucial because these were the tactics that had already been used on detainees, and — after the prior OLC memos authorizing those tactics were withdrawn — the White House was desperate for legal approval for what they had already done and what they wanted to do in the future.

Congressman Robert Wexler (D-Fla) is a fierce fighter for accountability regarding the Bush torture programs. He supports “an investigation into the Bush administration policies” and he has “introduced legislation that would establish a special select House Committee to reexamine our national security after a full investigation. . .” Representative Wexler reminds us that recently General David Petraeus supported President Obama’s stance against torture. And General Ricardo Sanchez, “called for a truth commission to investigate the abuses and torture” while he was serving in Iraq, according to Wexler.

Jeff Stein, who writes Spy Talk for The Congressional Quarterly, recently made a very interesting behind the scenes report about the torture photographs that the White House does not want to reveal. His post, “Is the White House calling Tony Taguba a liar?,” gives General Anthony Taguba, who officially investigated Abu Ghraib, credit for reportedly hinting at the fact that the torture photographs now in question existed. His very revealing post came as a result of an interview with Taguba as they were attending an off the record conference on torture recently in Florence, Italy. Stein described the meeting: “for three days last week, about 40 scholars, lawyers, government officials and journalists, mostly from the United States, gathered in Florence to talk about torture, among other urgent topics of the post-9/11 era.”

References from Tom Head who writes on Civil Liberties for About.com: Torture and Trust, Is Torture Ever Justified?, and, Jane Mayer and the New Literature of U.S. Human Rights

Approval of Obama policies is at times a mixed bag.

Are public opinion polls the only measure of reality? Citing recent polls that “make clear that there are rising concerns about his policies,” Congressional Quarterly (6/18/09) declares the honeymoon is over and that “It’s on Obama’s watch now.” The concerns seem to center around spending resulting in big deficits, his interventions with car makers, and closing Guantanamo. Even though these are often the favorite Republican talking points, the story said that “voters view the Republican party unfavorably by a 2-t0-1 margin.” The excellent article thoroughly explores the latest polling data from two big recent polls.

It will truly President Obama’s watch only when the key members of his administration have been nominated and confirmed by the Senate. Senators are still holding up several nominations, including that of the very crucial head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnsen.

The Department of Homeland Security is also still without an intelligence chief. Jeff Stein, in his (6/5/09) blog Spy Talk, reported that nominee Phil Mudd’s name is being withdrawn by the White House. Stein concluded, “Mudd was going to be questioned sharply by the Senate Government Affairs and Homeland Security Committee on his relationship to the CIA’s counterterrorism policies and pre-war intelligence on Iraq, committee sources said.” Stein wrote previously that “the writing was on the wall,” before Mudd withdrew his name from consideration. It seems that Mudd is carrying too much baggage from his service in the Bush administration, according to Yahoo! News (6/5/09).

President Obama’s release of the original OLC torture memos is what made all these important Bush administration revelations possible. We all hailed the decision as the correct one. It would seem that the President now, however, is rethinking a number of his commitments to open government and true transparency. Public opinion has not yet been measured on these questions.

Is the Obama administration currently trying to operate in an open and transparent way? There is recent news that the White House is continuing to insist on keeping secret who visits the White House. MSNBC and a nonpartisan watchdog group (CREW) made requests for visitor logs and were denied by the Secret Service, who is subject to the FOIA laws. This is a continuation of the policy of the Bush administration, who claimed in court cases that the records are “presidential,” not Secret Service. Federal judges have ruled several times against the administrations’ OLC filings and each time the OLC appeals. The current administration has said the the policy is currently under review. This was explained in the MSNBC article with a short transcript of Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ comments when questioned by reporters at a regular briefing.

In a related matter, Steven Aftergood covered President Obama’s executive order to review the national security classification policy in Secrecy News (6/1/09). Over classification of government documents has been a growing problem for decades. But there are certainly very good reasons to classify information that relates to national security sources and methods. It is hard to say whether the CIA photos of detainee abuse fall into that category. I tend to think they do present a potential danger to troop safety, by providing incendiary arguments that terror networks can use for recruitment. But there are also very good arguments on the opposite side.

That same day Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com posted convincingly against “Obama’s support for the new Graham-Lieberman secrecy law,” called “The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009.” The law would allow the government to suppress the remaining detainee abuse photos that President Obama originally intended to release. Greenwald asks,

What kind of a country passes a law that has no purpose other than to empower its leader to suppress evidence of the torture it inflicted on people?

. . . Is there really anyone who wants to argue that defiance of a federal court’s order and enacting a new law authorizing suppression of torture evidence — the disclosure of which is compelled both by courts and FOIA — are remotely consistent with anything Obama said he would do, or remotely consistent with what a healthy democratic government would do?”

The mixed bag of approval of, or dissaproval for, President Obama’s policies will inevitable follow these same trends. That is normal and natural as the Bush administration’s influence fades, and as our President governs, rather than campaigns. My list of disappointments grows as the Justice Department appears to take on Bush’s Constitutional assaults as their own in court case after court case. The trend seems to be that of never giving back an ounce of the unitary executive power grabbed by Mr. Bush and his cronies. The same stance is not becoming to AG Holder and to President Obama, fine men who should know better.

[Post date – June 19, 2009]

My all-in-one Home Page of websites where I post regularly: Carol Gee – Online Universe

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