S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

It is a puzzlement . . .


Today's post attempts to assesses the level of President Obama's apparent commitment to transparency, accountability for Bush administration officials who may have committed crimes, and adhering to the rule of law. At this point the real truth is still puzzling. Many of us agree that Salon's Glenn Greenwald is absolutely the best on the subject. And today (2/22/09) he does not disappoint with this searing essay, "Binyam Mohamed, war crimes investigations, and American exceptionalism." To quote:

It cannot be emphasized enough that those who are arguing against criminal investigations for Bush officials are -- whether consciously or implicitly -- arguing that the U.S., alone in the world, is exempt from the laws and principles which we've been advocating and imposing on other countries for decades. There is simply no way to argue that our leaders should be immunized from criminal investigations for torture and other war crimes without believing that (a) the U.S. is and should be immune from the principles we've long demanded other nations obey and (b) we are free to ignore our treaty obligations any time it suits us.

Open to examination -- ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization also has an excellent overview of these issues: "Obama Pauses on Changes to Terror Policies," by Christopher Weaver, 2/18/09, and an earlier article on the missing memos on 2/12/09. Still open are policies like extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention, state secrets, CIA interrogation techniques, secret legal memos. The article concludes,

With some human rights advocates charging that Obama is risking a "Bush redux," current administration officials emphasized to the Times that the policies are still under review and that dramatic changes need to be balanced with national security interests.

"The president is very sympathetic to those who want to find out what happened," Gregory Craig, the top White House lawyer told the Times, referring to a court case the former administration buried. "But he is also mindful as president of the United States not to do anything that would undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency."

Torture memos and legal ethics -- Mcjoan at Daily Kos describes the potential disclosure and sanction process as "Inching toward the truth," with the potential of big trouble for former lawyers in the Bush administration. The matter of the Office of Public Responsibility report is now under review by Attorney General Eric Holder. And the Senate Judiciary Committee is primed to investigate, and a lot of infromation is emerging already. A Michael Isikoff story in Newsweek is cited.

Karl Rove's testimony -- House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich) has subpoenaed Rove to appear for a Feb. 23 deposition on the politicization of the Bush Justice Department, according to CQ Politics (2/13/09). Politico reports that a federal appeals court has yet to agree to give the president until March 4 to decide whether to fight a judge's ruling that Bush could not use executive privilege to shield his aids from testifying before Congress. Negotiations continue.

Breaking from secrecy -- Reuters explores how far the new administration has been willing to go in ongoing civil liberties cases related to torture and rendition. The ACLU "sees troubling signs in the Obama administration," The Center for Constitutional Rights, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Steven Aftergood's "FAS Project on American Secrecy worry that "it has not been a clean break" with Bush practices. The new administration has often concurred with Bush moves in a number of court cases regarding "state secrets." People interviewed were still hopeful that this would not be a permanent trend.

"Intelligence policy: A New Perspective or Familiar Approach?" is the (2/16/09) Congressional Quarterly Politics headline. The new administration has twice invoked the state secrets privilege, talked about rendition of detainees, favored retroactive immunity for telecomunication companies who illegally spied on Americans, use of contractors to do intelligence, and holding terror suspects without trial. Spokespersons quoted in the piece emphasized that it is still very early in the administration to see how issues will finally be settled. Much is under review. And Legislators are already introducing bills that could force the Executive to follow certain practices. Senator Russ Feingold, for example, has introduced "The OLC Reporting Act," which would require the Attorney General to report to Congress when the Department of Justice issues a legal opinion that the executive branch is not bound by a statute.

CIA Oversight -- Jeff Stein, who writes Spy Talk at Congressional Quarterly, features the story of a "former CIA officer who describes retribution for whistle blowing." CIA censors, the Publication Review Board, are looking at Greenstein's forthcoming book with an arbitrary and heavy hand. To quote:

Ilana Sara Greenstein, a highly praised CIA operations officer for six years until quitting in disgust in 2008, says she was punished for complaining about gross mismanagement in the agency's Baghdad station, which CIA censors are still trying to suppress.

. . . she grew increasingly disenchanted with the spy agency, first during training, then a stint at headquarters, and then in Baghdad, where she alleges that discipline was lax, alcoholism common, debauchery rampant, and successful operations rare. . . Greenstein believes CIA censors singled her out for harsh treatment because "Iraq is the country in which the CIA has most glaringly failed."

. . .Greenstein, who also has a law degree from the University of Virginia, argues that authority for appointing the head of the PRB be taken away from the CIA and given to the President. One reason is that the targets of criticism themselves get to censor books and articles about them.

Official accountability -- More impatient types have called for Attorney General Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to look into wrong-doing. Others favor a nonpartisan commission. To quote from (2/18/09) Spy Talk,

a group of prominent American law enforcement, military, diplomatic, judicial and religious figures is urging President Obamato study the detention, treatment and transfer of terrorist suspects.

. . . The statement's signers include former FBI director Judge William Sessions, retired Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib affair, and Thomas Pickering, the career senior diplomat and former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.

Other signers included Juan E. Méndez, President of the International Center for Transitional Justice and Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ. In addition, 18 leading human rights organizations endorsed the statement.

Assessing the level of President Obama's commitment is very difficult. We are on thin ice when it comes to being able to ascertain another's motivations. It will be much easier to discover what is really going on as new policies are revealed. And it is my sincere belief that the greatest thing we can do as activists to to hold the Obama administration to high standards when it comes to transparency, accountability for Bush administration officials who may have committed crimes, and adhering to the rule of law. We can do no less. And we will actually be helping in the long run.

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

(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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