Monday, February 9, 2009
Obama stance on government secrecy seems painfully familiar
Maybe it's just not realistic to expect the new Obama administration to already have its act together on rewriting the Bush administration's dangerously overreaching policies on government secrecy. Then again, it's also not realistic to think that today's hearing before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco came as a surprise to anyone in the administration. Whatever the situation, the Obama administration took a widely discredited Bush administration position and argued to a three-judge panel that a lawsuit by five victims of CIA kidnapping and torture should be dismissed because it could compromise government secrets. "Judges shouldn't play with fire," Justice Department attorney Douglas Letter told the panel considering the appeal, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. "You will see that this case cannot be litigated." The five victims are appealing the dismissal of their suit against Jeppesen Dataplan of San Jose, the Boeing Corp. subsidiary that arranged extraordinary rendition flights for the CIA. The five claim they were flown to secret prisons in other countries and tortured. ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, who represents the five plaintiffs, argued that the rendition program, under which the United States could capture suspects in other countries and take them into custody, was not secret at all, the Chronicle said. Wizner said Sweden has awarded $450,000 in damages to one of the plaintiffs who was taken to Egypt and is still being held. "The notion that you have to close your eyes and ears to what the whole world knows is absurd," Wizner told the appellate court. After the hearing, the ACLU accused Obama of "reneging" on his promise to end the abuse of the state secrets privilege, the Chronicle said. A Justice Department spokesman said new Attorney General Eric Holder has ordered a review of government claims of secrecy. Hopefully, the new Obama administration is not going to get into the habit of saying one thing and doing the opposite.