Mums the Word from the White House on State Secrets Act
by Roger Strother*
Apr 14, 2009
To my dismay the White House has repeatedly stonewalled regarding its position on the State Secrets Privilege Protection Act targeted at limiting the executive branch’s use of privilege. In the past two weeks the White House has refused comment to Marc Armbinder of The Atlantic and Greg Sargent of TPM.
Other transparency advocates have been worried about this issue for a while, but I, along with others, had tried to hold out hope that the administration had properly assessed the evidence in the two extraordinary rendition cases in which it claimed the privilege.
However, the administration has now invoked the privilege not once, not twice, but three times. Rather than acting in a way that would maximize government accountability, the administration seems more concerned with preserving executive branch power claims by seeking to maintain judicial deference when defining national security interests.
Judicial review, however, is a key part of our system of checks and balances. The administration’s arguments are a blatant slippery slope toward enabling the executive branch to conceal other violations of statutes and the Constitution. Sensitive materials should not be disclosed to the public but that has nothing to do with an in camera judicial review of evidence which the new legislation would require.
In 2008, the same legislation was introduced in Congress and yet Obama did not sign on as a co-sponsor providing a bad omen for things to come. Still, my newfound disappointment may be premature as there remains the opportunity for dissent among his inner circle to reconsider their current stance. Both Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton were co-sponsors of the original bill. Further, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), a key campaign supporter, is a co-sponsor of the current version.
Not only is the use of the state secrets privilege an issue of executive branch transparency but the Obama administration is being unduly opaque about its own positioning concerning the relevant congressional legislation.
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