Obama administration’s sickening abuse of secrecy challenged yet again
By End the Lie
Late last year I reported on how the Department of Justice refused to reveal the legal justification for the United States’ highly secretive drone-based targeted killing program in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the New York Times.
After that failed attempt, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has stepped up to the plate in an effort to get the Obama administration to actually live up to their promises of transparency.
However, the government continues to nonsensically claim that the program is indeed so incredibly secret that they cannot even confirm or deny the existence of the program itself.
Even more illogical is that Obama himself comes out boasting about the program whenever it is politically beneficial for him to do so.
The same goes for officials from the administration who perpetually remain behind the cover of anonymity in speaking of the program while still attempting to justify it and in doing so confirming its existence.
In a typically spot-on article published today by Green Greenwald, writing for Salon, he outlines just how ludicrous this contradictory practice really is.
In the article, he even lays out what I see as Obama making the case for himself to be arrested for the same crimes as Bradley Manning.
Since Obama claimed that Bradley Manning was guilty and that he too could be arrested for releasing classified information, while Obama himself released classified information on the drone program, it only makes sense that Obama should call for himself to be arrested.
But, of course, this will never happen and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney essentially claimed that Obama can do whatever he wants when confronted with this issue.
This represents the greater problem which Greenwald highlights in his article: they claim secrecy to cover up their actions from legal scrutiny, while publicly boasting about the supposedly secret program whenever it is beneficial to do so.
This way they can continue to scare the world into subservience, strike fear into the hearts of innocent people across the Middle East and the world, keep killing people with no oversight whatsoever all while never having to answer to anyone, while still being able to boast about the “success” of their efforts.
All of this can be done without any legal challenges by leveraging the supposed secrecy of the program when needed, allowing all of this to occur in plain sight while not actually having to prove that they can legally do such a thing.
To help make sense of this approach, I think of it as somewhat like if someone was holding a gun to your back and whispered into your ear, “Hand over your wallet or I’ll shoot.”
You then think, “This feels like a gun, this guy sounds serious, and I just saw him shoot someone, but I can’t see it with my own eyes. I guess I’ll just take his word for it.”
A police officer then approaches you both and asks your attackers, “Excuse me, are you holding a gun to that man’s back and robbing him?”
The attacker replies, “I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the gun.”
A passer-by says, “I’m an anonymous individual who has witnessed this man shoot people with that gun before. I know he has it and I know he uses it.”
The police officer then says, “Oh well, so long as you can’t confirm or deny the existence of the weapon, I’m not going to try to investigate it or hold you to account for your actions. I’ll just choose to ignore the statements of that anonymous individual who confirmed the existence of the weapon since he is anonymous and I couldn’t care less.”
The police officer then walks away to leave you to be shot in the back.
Of course this is an over-simplified and crude way to get the point across, but I think it can help those who are confused by this attempt to understand just how little sense it really makes.
If we actually had a distinctly separate judicial branch which could hold the executive branch to account for their actions, they would never so brazenly contradict themselves by openly talking about a program then when challenged choose to slide back behind the veil of secrecy and claim that they cannot confirm or deny that the program even exists.
Thankfully, there are some organizations willing to stand up to the police officer, the mugger, and the anonymous witness in our hypothetical situation, which in this case are the so-called justice system, the executive branch and the CIA, and the many anonymous officials from throughout the government, respectively.
On top of the New York Times’ efforts which I previously reported on, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department, the Defense Department and the CIA, all of which are agencies of the Obama administration.
They are suing them over their persistent refusal to disclose any and all information pertaining to the assassination of American citizens.
Back in October of last year, the ACLU filed a FOIA request for the most basic (and thus uncompromising) information about the CIA’s targeted killing of three American citizens in Yemen without charge or trial.
These individuals were Anwar al-Awlaki (who some call “the CIA lackey” due to his close ties to Western intelligence evidenced by his dining at the Pentagon), Samir Khan and al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, all of which were killed by drone attacks.
All the ACLU’s FOIA request was attempting to do was find the administration’s justification for the murders on both a legal and factual basis.
Unsurprisingly, the Department of Justice and CIA both refused to give any information and even refused to confirm that the pertinent documents existed at all.
The response, which the ACLU characterized as “saying the targeted killing program is so secret that they can’t even acknowledge that it exists,” prompted the most recent lawsuit seeking both the legal and factual basis for these particular executions.
In the case of the New York Times’ suit filed in December, they seemed to just be going after the legal justification for the killings and not the factual information the agencies used to conclude that the killing was warranted in the first place.
As Greenwald rightly points out, this highlights the almost unbelievable fact that a group like the ACLU has been forced to go as far as suing the American government in order to find out what reasons they use to justify murdering Americans.
It shows just how far gone down the road of tyranny this demented government has traveled.
Greenwald makes this point painfully clear in a passage which is best read in its entirety:
“It’s extraordinary enough that the Obama administration is secretly targeting citizens for execution-by-CIA; that they refuse even to account for what they are doing — even to the point of refusing to disclose their legal reasoning as to why they think the President possesses this power — is just mind-boggling. Truly: what more tyrannical power is there than for a government to target its own citizens for death — in total secrecy and with no checks — and then insist on the right to do so without even having to explain its legal and factual rationale for what it is doing? Could you even imagine what the U.S. Government and its media supporters would be saying about any other non-client-state country that asserted and exercised this power?”
He then goes on to show how the Obama administration constantly boasts in public about the program which they claim in legal documents is so secret it cannot even be acknowledged.
Some apt examples are when Obama announced al-Awlaki’s death at a White House press conference (thus confirming the targeted killing program carried out by drones) along with his appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” in which he did the same.
Then there was United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta who recently stated on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that “the president of the United States has to sign off [on the targeted killings] and he should.”
He thus confirmed not only that the program exists but the president has a direct role in it, something which other anonymous officials tried to steer clear from when previously discussing the highly secretive National Security Council’s death panels.
Other examples include the many times anonymous officials have spoken to journalists, always trying to maintain the legitimacy of the program (which is laughable in and of itself) while still being able to claim that it is secret and cannot be challenged in court.
Since the Department of Justice maintains that the program is so secretive it cannot even confirm that it exists without exposing a state secret, they effectively keep it out of the realm of legal scrutiny entirely, while still nonsensically allowing people like Obama and Panetta to confirm its existence in public.
The ACLU discussed this thoroughly nonsensical approach in writing,
“The government’s self-serving attitude toward transparency and disclosure is unacceptable. Officials cannot be allowed to release bits of information about the targeted killing program when they think it will bolster their position, but refuse even to confirm the existence of a targeted killing program when organizations like the ACLU or journalists file FOIA requests in the service of real transparency and accountability.”
While the Obama administration is not one to be lauded for consistency and straightforwardness on any account, this situation is an especially egregious example of just how inconsistent and secretive the government can be.
Hopefully the ACLU will be able to make some progress with this lawsuit, but I seriously doubt anything will happen given the fact that the courts have become a tool of the executive and the entire system of checks and balances has been all but openly eradicated from the American political system entirely.
Even if this case makes absolutely no headway in terms of actually getting the Obama administration to justify their actions, it does play a very important role in bringing this issue into the sphere of public debate and hopefully making more people who might otherwise ignore it aware of the horrors being committed in our name around the world.
It also might serve to help more people become aware of the fact that “our” government does not, in fact, work for us and thanks to this insane secrecy, they could actually target anyone for targeted killing.
With no accountability, there can be no justice, and the Obama administration can continue to attack people with impunity, even Americans.
Maybe this newest lawsuit will wake some people up to this ugly reality and hopefully build up a larger body of people in the United States who will no longer sit by and accept what our government is doing.
If you have any tips, comments or opinions to share, please email me at: [email protected]
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