!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Follow Us!

We are planning some big changes! Please follow us to stay updated and be part of our community.

Twitter Facebook

US Civil Liberties

Government Acting in Secret

Project: US Civil Liberties
Open-Content project managed by Paul, KJF, mtuck, paxvector

add event | references

Page 5 of 5 (445 events)
previous | 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 | next

The Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) expires today. Congress has refused to pass a reauthorization of the legislation that contains a provision to grant retroactive immunity to US telecommunications firms to protect them from lawsuits arising from their previous cooperation with government eavesdroppers (see February 5, 2006). President Bush has warned for days that by refusing to reauthorize the bill, Congress is leaving the US “more in danger of attack.” The surveillance elements of the PAA will continue in force for another year after its passage even as the PAA itself expires, so the government’s capability to use electronic surveillance against suspected terrorists and citizens alike continues unabated through August 2008.
Republican Reaction - House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) warns, “This is a grave problem, and the Democrat leaders ought to be held accountable for their inaction.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, “The companies have been waiting for six months for retroactive liability” protection. “They are under pressure from their directors, pressure from their shareholders, and you’re jeopardizing the entire existence of the company by continuing to do this.”
Democratic Reaction - But House Democrats seem to be in no mood to give in to Bush’s rhetoric. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush is “misrepresenting the facts on our nation’s electronic-surveillance capabilities.” “There is no risk the program will go dark,” says Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Many Democrats accuse the administration of putting the interests of telecom firms over national security—accusations that intensify after Bush’s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, admitted that the real issue behind the reauthorization is the immunity for telecoms (see February 15-17, 2008). Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says that the entire argument is “nothing more than a scare tactic designed to avoid legal and political accountability and keep Americans in the dark about the administration’s massive lawbreaking.” House member Tim Walz (D-MN) says, “Coming from a military background, I sure don’t downplay that there are threats out there, but the president’s demagoguery on this is the equivalent of the boy crying wolf.” And Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), the head of the House Democratic Caucus, says bluntly: “This is not about protecting Americans. The president just wants to protect American telephone companies.”
Previous Depiction - When the law was signed into effect August 5, 2007, it was portrayed by the White House as “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate needs of the intelligence community to protect the country.” Now it is being portrayed by Bush officials as the cornerstone of the nation’s terrorist-surveillance program. The issue is sure to resurface when Congress returns from a week-long break in late February. [Associated Press, 2/14/2008; Washington Post, 2/16/2008]

Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Mike McConnell, John Boehner, George W. Bush, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Mitch McConnell, Protect America Act, Rahm Emanuel, Silvestre Reyes, Tim Walz

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Attorney General Michael Mukasey pen a letter to Silvestre Reyes (D-TX, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, claiming that because the Democratically led Congress has allowed the Protect America Act (PAA) to expire (see February 16, 2008), the government is losing critically needed intelligence on potential terrorist threats. McConnell and Mukasey do not include any evidence of the claim in their letter. In the six days since the PAA expired, the two write, some of the government’s “partners” in intelligence operations—US telecommunications firms—have “reduced [their] cooperation” in the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. The two officials do not name which firms they say have cut back on their cooperation. The telecom firms are more reluctant to continue their cooperation with the government because they do not have retroactive legal immunity from civil and criminal charges for their cooperation in the past. The Bush administration and Congressional Republicans allowed the PAA to expire rather than approve an extension of the law that did not include an immunity clause (see February 23, 2008). In their letter, McConnell and Mukasey claim that since the Protect America Act lapsed, telecom firms “have delayed or refused compliance with our requests to initiate new surveillances of terrorist and other foreign intelligence targets under existing directives issued pursuant to the Protect America Act.” They add, “Although most partners intend to cooperate for the time being, they have expressed deep misgivings about doing so in light of the uncertainty and have indicated that they may well cease to cooperate if the uncertainty persists.” McConnell and Mukasey write that if Congress does not extend immunity to the telecom firms, the firms will continue to be reluctant to cooperate with the surveillance program: “This uncertainty may well continue to cause us to miss information that we otherwise would be collecting.” A day later, the two retract their claim (see February 23, 2008). Reyes and other Democrats have accused the administration of exaggerating the claims of threats to national security because of their refusal to grant the telecoms immunity; some have accused the administration of “fearmongering” and employing “scare tactics.” [Newsweek, 2/22/2008; Newsweek, 2/22/2008; Politico, 2/22/2008]
Democrats Take 'Strong Offense' to Charges - In a joint statement, Reyes, Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), and other Democrats respond to McConnell and Mukasey’s letter: “Further politicizing the debate, the administration today announced that they believe there have been gaps in security since the Protect America Act expired. They cannot have it both ways; if it is true that the expiration of the PAA has caused gaps in intelligence, then it was irresponsible for the president and congressional Republicans to openly oppose an extension of the law. Accordingly, they should join Democrats in extending it until we can resolve our differences.” [Newsweek, 2/22/2008] Reyes says: “President Bush has just been spoiled dealing with the Republican-controlled Congress before. I take strong offense at the president’s comments that somehow we’re less safe because the Protect America Act expired.” [Politico, 2/22/2008]
Republicans Refuse to Discuss Legislation - Democratic staffers in the House and Senate Intelligence Committees meet today to discuss how to iron out difference between the two chambers’ version of the proposed extension of the PAA; Republican aides refuse to attend. [Associated Press, 2/23/2008] Democrats also charge that, contrary to administration claims of wanting to work with Congress to pass an acceptable update to the law, the White House has refused to supply lawmakers with documents they have requested pertaining to the extension. [Politico, 2/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Mike McConnell, Protect America Act, House Intelligence Committee, Michael Mukasey, Bush administration (43), Silvestre Reyes, John D. Rockefeller

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

A day after the director of national intelligence and the attorney general warned that the government is losing critical intelligence on terrorist activities because Congress had not reauthorized the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), the same two officials now admit that the government is receiving the same intelligence as it did before the PAA expired (see February 16, 2008 and February 22, 2008). Mike McConnell and Michael Mukasey now admit that the nation’s telecommunications firms are still cooperating with the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. “We learned last night after sending [the original] letter that… new surveillances under existing directives issued pursuant to the Protect America Act will resume, at least for now,” Mukasey and McConnell say in a statement. “We appreciate the willingness of our private partners to cooperate despite the uncertainty.” But in the same letter, McConnell and Mukasey contradict themselves, saying, “Unfortunately, the delay resulting from this discussion impaired our ability to cover foreign intelligence targets, which resulted in missed intelligence information.” No one in the White House will give specifics of what intelligence data may have been missed, or how serious it may have been. A Democratic Congressional official says he is skeptical that anything was missed because the law permits continued monitoring of terrorists and their associates regardless of the PAA’s expiration. “This is serious backpedaling by the DNI,” the Democratic official says of McConnell. “He’s been saying for the last week that the sky is falling, and the sky is not falling.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Caroline Fredrickson, whose organization is suing a number of telecoms for information about the government’s warrantless wiretapping program, says, “In an attempt to get sweeping powers to wiretap without warrants, Republicans are playing politics with domestic surveillance legislation.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/24/2008]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), American Civil Liberties Union, Mike McConnell, Protect America Act, Michael Mukasey, Caroline Fredrickson

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

President Bush again demands that Congress reinstate the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), with new provisions providing the nation’s telecommunications industry retroactive legal immunity from criminal and civil prosecution for possible crimes committed in the administration’s domestic wiretapping program (see May 12, 2006). Bush says that without such immunity, US telecom firms will be reluctant to help the administration spy on potential terrorists. The PAA is a central part of the legislative update of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (see 1978) which mandates that any wiretaps must receive the approval of the FISA Court. Bush insists that he will veto an update to FISA without the immunity provisions, even as he asserts the country is at risk of further terrorist attacks without the FISA updates, and after letting the PAA lapse without signing an extension of the legislation into law. However, Bush blames Congress for not passing the FISA update with an immunity clause: “Congress’ failure to pass this legislation was irresponsible,” he says. “In other words, the House’s refusal to act is undermining our ability to get cooperation from private companies. And that undermines our efforts to protect us from terrorist attack.” He explains why the Democrats don’t want his bill: “House leaders are blocking this legislation, and the reason can be summed up in three words: class action lawsuits.” A spokesman for Congressional Democrats retorts: “They cannot have it both ways. If it is true that the expiration of the [surveillance law] has caused gaps in intelligence, then it was irresponsible for the president and Congressional Republicans to openly oppose an extension of the law.”
Democrats Put Trial Lawyers Before National Security? - Bush says: “The Senate bill would prevent plaintiffs’ attorneys from suing companies believed to have helped defend America after the 9/11 attacks. More than 40 of these lawsuits have been filed, seeking hundreds of billions of dollars in damages from these companies.… It is unfair and unjust to threaten these companies with financial ruin only because they are believed to have done the right thing and helped their country.” The lawsuits (see June 26, 2006) seek damages based upon violations of FISA, the Wiretap Act, the Communications Act, and the Stored Communications Act, among other laws. Bob Edgar of Common Cause says neither money nor punishment is the issue: “Innocent Americans who have had their rights violated by the telecoms deserve their day in court. If these companies did nothing wrong, then they have nothing to fear.” Bush is apparently attempting to refocus the issue as an attack on trial lawyers—traditionally a group supportive of Democrats—in saying: “Members of the House have a choice to make: They can empower the trial bar—or they can empower the intelligence community. They can help class action trial lawyers sue for billions of dollars—or they can help our intelligence officials protect millions of lives. They can put our national security in the hands of plaintiffs’ lawyers—or they can entrust it to the men and women of our government who work day and night to keep us safe.” House member John Conyers (D-MI) calls such characterizations “irresponsible” and “inaccurate.” [CBS News, 2/23/2008]

Entity Tags: Protect America Act, John Conyers, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Mike McConnell, George W. Bush, Michael Mukasey, Common Cause, Bob Edgar, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Dana Rohrbacher

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

The Bush administration says all major US telecommunications firms have agreed to cooperate “for the time being” with US intelligence agencies’ wiretapping, regardless of the recent expiration of the Protect America Act (PAA) (see February 16, 2008). According to a joint statement from the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, wiretaps will resume under the current law “at least for now.” The statement says in part, “Although our private partners are cooperating for the time being, they have expressed understandable misgivings about doing so in light of the ongoing uncertainty and have indicated they may well discontinue cooperation if the uncertainty persists.” Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said earlier that intelligence agencies have missed critical intelligence because of the expiration of the PAA, a claim they retracted hours later (see February 23, 2008). [Reuters, 2/23/2008]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice, Protect America Act, Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) pens a blistering op-ed for the conservative National Review that accuses House Democrats of allowing the Protect America Act to expire (PAA—see February 16, 2008) and thereby endangering the country by leaving it unprotected against terrorist attacks. This is the same argument President Bush and Republicans have advanced in recent days in favor of continued warrantless wiretapping (see February 23, 2008). Hoekstra calls the Democrats’ action “unprecedented irresponsibility.” The “burdensome paperwork, government lawyers, and court orders” that implementing wiretaps will now engender, Hoekstra writes, “could mean the difference in stopping a terrorist plot or saving the life of an American soldier.” Hoekstra quickly turns to another key agenda for reauthorizing the PAA—providing retroactive immunity from lawsuits for American telecommunications firms. He echoes the arguments of Bush and other officials such as Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell (see February 22, 2008) by writing that without such immunity, “these companies obviously will be reluctant to cooperate with the government in the future.” But Hoekstra takes the argument even farther, equating the Democrats’ refusal to reauthorize the PAA with their support from trial lawyers, who “have contributed more $1.5 million to Democrat coffers.” He then says that US intelligence agents will suffer because, he asserts, “many of [them] have been forced to take out professional liability insurance to protect them from the actions of the Democratic Congress.” Hoekstra claims that Democrats consistently favor working to investigate global warming over protecting the nation. [National Review, 2/25/2008] Hoekstra continues the attack the next day with a piece in the Wall Street Journal co-authored with his House colleague Lamar Smith (R-TX) and his Senate colleague Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO). The three open this column with the rhetorical question, “Are Americans as safe today as they were before Congress allowed the Protect America Act to expire on Feb. 16?” and answer it with much the same arguments that Hoekstra advanced the day before. “We are less safe today and will remain so until Congress clears up the legal uncertainty for companies that assist in collecting intelligence for the government—and until it gives explicit permission to our intelligence agencies to intercept, without a warrant, foreign communications that pass through the US,” they claim. They also echo the claim asserted by McConnell and Mukasey that the nation’s intelligence community has lost valuable intelligence because of the lapse in legislation—without acknowledging that McConnell and Mukasey withdrew that claim within hours (see February 23, 2008). [Wall Street Journal, 2/26/2008]

Entity Tags: Michael Mukasey, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, George W. Bush, Lamar Smith, Peter Hoekstra, Mike McConnell, Protect America Act

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Attorney General Michael Mukasey refuses to refer a House contempt citation against two of President Bush’s top officials to a federal grand jury. The House has found former White House counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer Congressional subpoenas (see February 14, 2008), but Mukasey says neither Bolten nor Miers have committed any crimes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has, in return, given the House Judiciary Committee the authority to file a lawsuit against Miers and Bolten in federal court. Mukasey says Bolten and Miers were right to ignore the subpoenas because both were acting at President Bush’s behest. Pelosi retorts: “The American people demand that we uphold the law. As public officials, we take an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect our system of checks and balances and our civil lawsuit seeks to do just that.” Democrats want the filing to move swiftly so that a judge might rule before the November elections; a key tenet of Democratic political strategy is the accusation that the Bush administration has abused its executive powers and considers itself above the law. Bolten and Miers were subpoenaed to testify about the possible political motivations behind the 2006 firings of nine US attorneys. Mukasey agrees with the Bush administration in saying that neither Miers nor Bolten, as officials of the executive branch, are required to answer to Congress for their actions, “The contempt of Congress statute was not intended to apply and could not constitutionally be applied to an executive branch official who asserts the president’s claim of executive privilege,” he writes. “Accordingly, the department has determined that the noncompliance by Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers with the Judiciary Committee subpoenas did not constitute a crime.” Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) says of Mukasey’s decision: “Today’s decision to shelve the contempt process, in violation of a federal statute, shows that the White House will go to any lengths to keep its role in the US attorney firings hidden. In the face of such extraordinary actions, we have no choice but to proceed with a lawsuit to enforce the committee’s subpoenas.” [Associated Press, 2/29/2008]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, John Conyers, Harriet E. Miers, Michael Mukasey, Joshua Bolten, Nancy Pelosi

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, 2006 US Attorney Firings

The House Judiciary Committee asks a federal judge to compel two White House officials to testify about the firings of eight US attorneys in 2007. Former White House counsel Harriet Miers and current White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten have both refused to testify, ignoring subpoenas from the Judiciary Committee (see February 14, 2008), and Attorney General Michael Mukasey has refused to enforce the subpoenas (see February 29, 2008). The White House steered the refusals. Judge John D. Bates, a federal district court judge in Washington, is overseeing the case. The suit says that neither Miers nor Bolten may avoid testimony by citing executive privilege, as both they and the White House have asserted. White House press secretary Dana Perino calls the suit “partisan theater,” and adds, “The confidentiality that the president receives from his senior advisers and the constitutional principle of separation of powers must be protected from overreaching, and we are confident that the courts will agree with us.” Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) vehemently disagrees, saying, “The administration’s extreme claim to be immune from the oversight processes are at odds with our constitutional principles.” Conyers warns, “We will not allow the administration to steamroll Congress.” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) calls the suit a waste of time and accuses the committee of “pandering to the left-wing swamps of loony liberal activists.” The case is central to the ongoing tension between the White House and Congress over the balance of power between the two branches. Constitutional law professor Orin S. Kerr says the case raises fresh issues. While the Supreme Court recognized executive privilege in 1974, it acknowledged that executive privilege was not absolute and could be overturned in some instances, such as a criminal investigation. No court has ruled whether a claim of executive privilege outweighs a Congressional subpoena. According to lawyer Stanley Brand, who is involved in the suit for the Democrats, the committee turned to the legal system to avoid the possibility of charging Miers and Bolten with contempt and trying them in Congress on the charges. Such an action, Brand says, would be unseemly. [House Judiciary Committee v. Miers & Bolten, 3/10/2008 pdf file; New York Times, 3/11/2008]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, Dana Perino, Harriet E. Miers, John Boehner, John Conyers, Orin S. Kerr, John D. Bates, Joshua Bolten, Michael Mukasey, Stanley Brand

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, 2006 US Attorney Firings

The Electronic Frontier Foundation joins the American Civil Liberties Union in its skeptical response to the news of a secret October 2001 Justice Department memo that says the Fourth Amendment does not apply in government actions taken against terrorists (see April 2, 2008). “Does this mean that the administration’s lawyers believed that it could spy on Americans with impunity and face no Fourth Amendment claim?” it asks in a statement. “It may, and based on the thinnest of legal claims—that Congress unintentionally allowed mass surveillance of Americans when it passed the Authorization of Use of Military Force in… 2001 (see September 14-18, 2001) .… In short, it appears that the administration may view NSA domestic surveillance, including the surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans… as a ‘domestic military operation.’ If so, this Yoo memo would blow a loophole in the Fourth Amendment big enough to fit all of our everyday telephone calls, web searches, instant messages and emails through.… Of course, the [Justice Department’s] public defense of the NSA program also asserted that warrantless surveillance did not violate the Fourth Amendment.… But the memo referenced above raises serious questions. The public deserves to know whether the 2001 Yoo memo on domestic military operations—issued the same month that the NSA program began—asserted that the Fourth Amendment did not apply to domestic surveillance operations conducted by the NSA. And of course it reinforces why granting immunity aimed at keeping the courts from ruling on the administration’s flimsy legal arguments is wrongheaded and dangerous.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 4/2/2008]

Entity Tags: American Civil Liberties Union, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

The American Civil Liberties Union learns of another Justice Department memo in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) response that produces a 2003 memo supporting the use of torture against terror suspects (see April 1, 2008). This 2001 memo (see October 23, 2001), says that the Constitution’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures—fundamental Fourth Amendment rights—do not apply in the administration’s efforts to combat terrorism. The Bush administration now says it disavows that view.
Background - The memo was written by John Yoo, then the deputy assistant attorney general, and the same lawyer who wrote the 2003 torture memo. It was written at the request of the White House and addressed to then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The administration wanted a legal opinion on its potential responses to terrorist activity. The 37-page memo itself has not yet been released, but was mentioned in a footnote of the March 2003 terror memo. “Our office recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations,” the footnote states, referring to a document titled “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States.”
Relationship to NSA Wiretapping Unclear - It is not clear exactly what domestic military operations the October memo covers, but federal documents indicate that the memo relates to the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP). The TSP began after the 9/11 attacks, allowing for warrantless wiretaps of phone calls and e-mails, until it stopped on January 17, 2007, when the administration once again began seeking surveillance warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (see May 1, 2007). White House spokesman Tony Fratto says that the October 2001 memo is not the legal underpinning for the TSP. Fratto says, “TSP relied on a separate set of legal memoranda” outlined by the Justice Department in January 2006, a month after the program was revealed by the New York Times (see February 2001, After September 11, 2001, and December 15, 2005). Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says department officials do not believe the October 2001 memo was about the TSP, but refuses to explain why it was included on FOIA requests for documents linked to the TSP.
No Longer Applicable - Roehrkasse says the administration no longer holds the views expressed in the October 2001 memo. “We disagree with the proposition that the Fourth Amendment has no application to domestic military operations,” he says. “Whether a particular search or seizure is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment requires consideration of the particular context and circumstances of the search.” The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer is not mollified. “The recent disclosures underscore the Bush administration’s extraordinarily sweeping conception of executive power,” he says. “The administration’s lawyers believe the president should be permitted to violate statutory law, to violate international treaties and even to violate the Fourth Amendment inside the US. They believe that the president should be above the law.” He continues, “Each time one of these memos comes out you have to come up with a more extreme way to characterize it.” The ACLU has filed a court suit to challenge the government’s withholding of the memo. [Associated Press, 4/3/2008] Another civil rights group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, joins the ACLU in challenging the memo (see April 2, 2008).

Entity Tags: Jameel Jaffer, Brian Roehrkasse, American Civil Liberties Union, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Terrorist Surveillance Program, US Department of Justice, John C. Yoo, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Tony Fratto

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), fresh from obtaining the release of a 2003 Justice Department memo that justified torture for US military officials (see April 1, 2008), calls on the Bush administration to release a still-secret Justice Department memo from October 2001 that the 2003 memo used as legal justification to ignore the Fourth Amendment (see October 23, 2001). The Fourth Amendment protects against unlawful search and seizure. The 2001 memo claims that the “Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.” The ACLU believes that the Fourth Amendment justification “was almost certainly meant to provide a legal basis for the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program, which President Bush launched the same month the memo was issued” (see Shortly After September 11, 2001-October 2005), a claim the Justice Department denies. The NSA is part of the Defense Department. Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, says: “The recent disclosures underscore the Bush administration’s extraordinarily sweeping conception of executive power. The administration’s lawyers believe the president should be permitted to violate statutory law, to violate international treaties, and even to violate the Fourth Amendment inside the US. They believe that the president should be above the law.” No one has ever tried to assert, before this memo was written, that the Fourth Amendment was legally impotent for any reason or justification inside US borders. Jaffer notes that no court has ever ruled that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to the military: “In general, the government can’t send an FBI agent to search your home or listen to your phone calls without a warrant, and it can’t send a soldier to do it, either. The applicability of the Fourth Amendment doesn’t turn on what kind of uniform the government agent is wearing.” The ACLU has known about the October 2001 memo for several months, but until now has not known anything of its contents. In response to a 2007 Freedom of Information lawsuit, the Justice Department acknowledged the existence of “a 37-page memorandum, dated October 23, 2001, from a deputy assistant attorney general in OLC [Office of Legal Counsel], and a special counsel, OLC, to the counsel to the president, prepared in response to a request from the White House for OLC’s views concerning the legality of potential responses to terrorist activity.” The only information publicly known about the memo was that it was related to a request for information about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. The ACLU has challenged the withholding of the October 2001 memo in court. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Bush administration (43), Jameel Jaffer, National Security Agency, US Department of Defense, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret

Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, writes to Attorney General Michael Mukasey requesting access to the transcripts of interviews by President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding the “outing” of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). The interviews were conducted as part of the investigation of former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Waxman notes that he made a similar request in December 2007 which has gone unfulfilled (see December 3, 2007). Waxman wants the reports from Bush and Cheney’s interviews, and the unredacted reports from the interviews with Libby, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, former White House aide Cathie Martin, “and other senior White House officials.” Information revealed by McClellan in conjuction with his new book What Happened, including McClellan’s statement that Bush and Cheney “directed me to go out there and exonerate Scooter Libby,” and his assertion that “Rove, Libby, and possibly Vice President Cheney… allowed me, even encouraged me, to repeat a lie,” adds to evidence from Libby’s interviews that Cheney may have been the source of the information that Wilson worked for the CIA. For Cheney to leak Wilson’s identity, and to then direct McClellan to mislead the public, “would be a major breach of trust,” Waxman writes. He adds that no argument can be made for withholding the documents on the basis of executive privilege, and notes that in 1997 and 1998, the Oversight Committee demanded and received FBI interviews with then-President Clinton and then-Vice President Gore without even consulting the White House. [US House of Representatives, 6/3/2008; TPM Muckraker, 6/3/2008]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Henry A. Waxman, Condoleezza Rice, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Scott McClellan, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Michael Mukasey

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Privacy, Government Acting in Secret

David Addington and John Yoo before the House Judiciary Committee.David Addington and John Yoo before the House Judiciary Committee. [Source: Washington Post]David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney and one of the architects of the Bush administration’s torture policies (see Late September 2001), testifies before the House Judiciary Committee. He is joined by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who authored or contributed to many of the legal opinions that the administration used to justify the torture and “extralegal” treatment of terror suspects (see November 6-10, 2001). Addington, unwillingly responding to a subpoena, is, in Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank’s description, “nasty, brutish, and short” with his questioners. [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] He tells lawmakers that the world has not changed much since the 9/11 attacks: “Things are not so different today as people think. No American should think we are free, the war is over, al-Qaeda is not coming.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/27/2008]
Refusing to Define 'Unitary Executive' - Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) peppers Addington with questions about the Bush administration and its penchant for the “unitary executive” paradigm, which in essence sees the executive branch as separate and above the other two, “lesser” branches of government. Addington is one of the main proponents of this theory (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But instead of answering Conyers’s questions, he slaps away the questions with what Milbank calls “disdain.”
bullet Addington: “I frankly don’t know what you mean by unitary theory.”
bullet Conyers: “Have you ever heard of that theory before?”
bullet Addington: “I see it in the newspapers all the time.”
bullet Conyers: “Do you support it?”
bullet Addington: “I don’t know what it is.”
bullet Conyers (angrily): “You’re telling me you don’t know what the unitary theory means?”
bullet Addington: “I don’t know what you mean by it.”
bullet Conyers: “Do you know what you mean by it?”
bullet Addington: “I know exactly what I mean by it.”
Open Contempt - He flatly refuses to answer most questions, and treats the representatives who ask him those questions with open contempt and, in Milbank’s words, “unbridled hostility.” One representative asks if the president is ever justified in breaking the law, and Addington retorts, “I’m not going to answer a legal opinion on every imaginable set of facts any human being could think of.” When asked if he consulted Congress when interpreting torture laws, Addington snaps: “That’s irrelevant.… There is no reason their opinion on that would be relevant.” Asked if it would be legal to torture a detainee’s child (see After September 11, 2002), Addington answers: “I’m not here to render legal advice to your committee. You do have attorneys of your own.” He offers to give one questioner advice on asking better questions. When asked about an interrogation session he had witnessed at Guantanamo, he replies: “You could look and see mouths moving. I infer that there was communication going on.” At times he completely ignores questions, instead writing notes to himself while the representatives wait for him to take notice of their queries. At other times, he claims an almost complete failure of memory, particularly regarding conversations he had with other Bush officials about interrogation techniques. [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] (He does admit to being briefed by Yoo about an August 2002 torture memo (see August 1, 2002), but denies assisting Yoo in writing it.) [Los Angeles Times, 6/27/2008] Addington refuses to talk more specifically about torture and interrogation practices, telling one legislator that he can’t speak to him or his colleagues “[b]ecause you kind of communicate with al-Qaeda.” He continues, “If you do—I can’t talk to you, al-Qaeda may watch C-SPAN.” When asked if he would meet privately to discuss classified matters, he demurs, saying instead: “You have my number. If you issue a subpoena, we’ll go through this again.” [Think Progress, 6/26/2008; Washington Post, 6/27/2008]
Yoo Dodges, Invokes Privilege - Milbank writes that Yoo seems “embolden[ed]” by Addington’s “insolence.” Yoo engages in linguistic gymnastics similar to Addington’s discussion with Conyers when Keith Ellison (D-MN) asks him whether a torture memo was implemented. “What do you mean by ‘implemented’?” Yoo asks. Ellison responds, “Mr. Yoo, are you denying knowledge of what the word ‘implement’ means?” Yoo says, “You’re asking me to define what you mean by the word?” Ellison, clearly exasperated, retorts, “No, I’m asking you to define what you mean by the word ‘implement.’” Yoo’s final answer: “It can mean a wide number of things.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] Conyers asks Yoo, “Could the president order a suspect buried alive?” Yoo responds, “Uh, Mr. Chairman, I don’t think I’ve ever given advice that the president could order someone buried alive.” Conyers retorts: “I didn’t ask you if you ever gave him advice. I asked you thought the president could order a suspect buried alive.” Yoo answers, “Well Chairman, my view right now is that I don’t think a president—no American president would ever have to order that or feel it necessary to order that.” Conyers says, “I think we understand the games that are being played.” Reporter Christopher Kuttruff writes, “Throughout his testimony, Yoo struggled with many of the questions being asked, frequently delaying, qualifying and invoking claims of privilege to avoid answering altogether.” [Human Rights First, 6/26/2008; Truthout (.org), 6/27/2008]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, John C. Yoo, Al-Qaeda, David S. Addington, Dana Milbank, Christopher Kuttruff, Bush administration (43), John Conyers, Keith Ellison

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), officially repudiates an OLC memo from seven years earlier claiming that the president has the unilateral authority to order military strikes or raids within the US (see October 23, 2001). “[C]aution should be exercised before relying in any respect” on the memo, Bradbury writes, and it “should not be treated as authoritative for any purpose.” The 2001 contention that the Fourth Amendment is, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant in the face of presidential authority “does not reflect the current views of this Office,” Bradbury writes. Another portion of that 2001 memo, the contention that the president can set aside First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of the press (see October 23, 2001), are no longer operative, Bradbury writes. Much of Bradbury’s memo is an attempt to explain and justify the 2001 memo by recalling the period of anxiety and disarray after the 9/11 attacks. [US Department of Justice, 10/6/2008 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] Yale law professor Jack Balkin will later note that the memo does not repudiate “any of the Bush administration’s specific policies regarding surveillance, detention, and interrogation.” [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Steven Bradbury, Jack Balkin

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

A US District Court orders the Justice Department to turn over ten documents from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to determine whether they should be released under the Freedom of Information Act. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) say the documents may hold information that would shed light on the legal reasoning behind the Bush administration’s “Stellar Wind” warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). EPIC and the ACLU seek the release of 30 documents from the OLC; Judge Henry Kennedy has ordered that 10 be turned over to him for further examination and 20 others remain classified because of national security considerations. Seven of those documents are about the government’s “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (TSP—apparently the same program as, or an element of, Stellar Wind), 12 are FBI documents detailing how TSP had assisted the Bureau in counterterrorism investigations, and one is an OLC memo covered under an exemption for “presidential communications”—presumably a memo written either by, or for, President Bush. [Ars Technica, 11/2/2008]

Entity Tags: Henry H. Kennedy Jr., Electronic Privacy Information Center, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Freedom of Information Act, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Terrorist Surveillance Program, ’Stellar Wind’

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Government Acting in Secret, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Newsweek reveals that Thomas Tamm, a former high-level Justice Department official, was one of the whistleblowers who revealed the government’s illegal domestic wiretapping program, known as “Stellar Wind,” to the New York Times (see December 15, 2005). Tamm, an ex-prosecutor with a high security clearance, learned of the program in the spring of 2004 (see Spring 2004).
Intense FBI Scrutiny - As of yet, Tamm has not been arrested as one of the leakers in the criminal leak investigation ordered by President Bush (see December 30, 2005), though since the December 2005 publication, Tamm has remained under Justice Department suspicion—FBI agents have raided his home, hauled away his personal possessions, and relentlessly questioned his family and friends (see August 1, 2007). He no longer has a government job, and is having trouble finding steady work as a lawyer. He has resisted pressure to plead to a felony charge of divulging classified information. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff writes, “[H]e is living under a pall, never sure if or when federal agents might arrest him.” Perhaps his biggest regret is the impact the FBI investigation has had on his wife and children. “I didn’t think through what this could do to my family,” he says. But, “I don’t really need anybody to feel sorry for me,” he says. “I chose what I did. I believed in what I did.”
No Decision to Prosecute Yet - The Justice Department has deferred a decision over whether to arrest and prosecute Tamm until after the Bush administration leaves office and a new attorney general takes over the department. Both President-elect Barack Obama and the incoming Attorney General, Eric Holder, have denounced the warrantless wiretapping program. In one speech Holder gave in June 2008, he said that President Bush had acted “in direct defiance of federal law” by authorizing the NSA program. Former US Attorney Asa Hutchinson, who is helping in Tamm’s defense, says: “When I looked at this, I was convinced that the action he took was based on his view of a higher responsibility. It reflected a lawyer’s responsibility to protect the rule of law.” Hutchinson has no use for the idea, promulgated by Bush officials and conservative pundits, that the Times story damaged the “war on terror” by alerting al-Qaeda terrorists to Stellar Wind and other surveillance programs. “Anybody who looks at the overall result of what happened wouldn’t conclude there was any harm to the United States,” he says. Hutchinson is hopeful that Holder’s Justice Department will drop its investigation of Tamm.
The Public 'Ought to Know' about NSA Eavesdropping - Recently Tamm decided to go public with his story, against the advice of his lawyers. “I thought this [secret program] was something the other branches of the government—and the public—ought to know about,” he tells Isikoff. “So they could decide: do they want this massive spying program to be taking place?… If somebody were to say, who am I to do that? I would say, ‘I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution.’ It’s stunning that somebody higher up the chain of command didn’t speak up.” Tamm also admits that he leaked information to the Times in part over his anger at other Bush administration policies for the Justice Department, including its aggressive pursuit of death penalty cases, and its use of “renditions” and “enhanced” interrogation techniques against terrorist suspects. He insists that he divulged no “sources and methods” that might compromise national security when he spoke to the Times. He could not tell the Times reporters anything about the NSA program, he says, because he knew nothing specific about the program. As Isikoff writes, “All he knew was that a domestic surveillance program existed, and it ‘didn’t smell right.’” (Times reporter Eric Lichtblau refuses to confirm if Tamm was one of his sources for the stories he wrote with fellow Times reporter James Risen.) [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Michael Isikoff, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Asa Hutchinson, ’Stellar Wind’, Eric Holder, Eric Lichtblau, Newsweek, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Thomas Tamm, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Media Involvement and Responses

The Bush administration updates the secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is designed to ensure the survival of the federal government during disasters. Federal emergency responsibilities are consolidated within the White House Military Office, a move designed to simplify the government’s response procedures. Under the changes, the Department of Defense and the Bush administration take over parts of the program from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). According to the New York Times, “Under the revamped structure, the White House Military Office, which reports to the office of the White House chief of staff, has assumed a more central role in setting up a temporary ‘shadow government’ in a crisis.” According to the Times, the move comes after “months of heated internal debate about the balance of power and the role of the military” in a time of crisis. “Supporters of the plan inside the Bush White House, including Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, saw the erratic response to the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as a mandate for streamlining an emergency response process they considered clunky because it involved too many agencies.” Officials opposed to the plan argue the new structure places “too much power in the hands of too few people.” They also perceive the changes to be “part of the Bush administration’s broader efforts to enhance the power of the White House.” Supporters of the plan originally wanted to take the changes further, but according to the Times, “concerns about the perception of growing military influence in the emergency process set off an internal struggle, and the White House decided not to move ahead with a more ambitious proposal to give the power of the purse to the military arm, rather than FEMA, for budgeting the emergency operations, one official said.” A spokesman for the Pentagon will later describe the changes as a “minor tweaking” of the system. The changes are authorized by President Bush’s National Security Presidential Directive 51 (NSPD-51), which was signed in May 2007 (see May 9, 2007). [New York Times, 7/27/2009]

Entity Tags: White House MIlitary Office, Bush administration (43), Federal Emergency Management Agency, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Continuity of Government, Government Acting in Secret

Judge Vaughn Walker rules that “sufficient facts” exist to keep alive a lawsuit brought by the defunct Islamic charity Al Haramain, which alleges it was subjected to illegal, warrantless wiretapping by the US government (see February 28, 2006). The lawsuit centers on a Top Secret government document accidentally disclosed to plaintiffs’ lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoo that allegedly proves the claim of illegal wiretapping; previous court rulings forced Belew and Ghafoo to return the document to the government and prohibited its use in the lawsuit. The lawsuit is widely viewed as a test case to decide in court whether the Bush administration abused its power by authorizing a secret domestic spying program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Jon Eisenberg, the lawyer for Belew and Ghafoo, says it does not matter whether the case pertains to the Bush administration or the incoming Obama administration. “I don’t want President Obama to have that power any more than I do President Bush,” he says. Because the lawsuit contains sufficient evidence even without the Top Secret document, Walker rules, it can continue. “The plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to withstand the government’s motion to dismiss,” he writes. Therefore, he adds, the law demands that they be allowed to review the classified document, and others, to determine whether the lawyers were spied on illegally and whether Bush’s spy program was unlawful. “To be more specific, the court will review the sealed document ex parte and in camera,” Walker writes. “The court will then issue an order regarding whether plaintiffs may proceed—that is, whether the sealed document establishes that plaintiffs were subject to electronic surveillance not authorized by FISA” (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—see 1978). [Wired News, 1/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Vaughn Walker, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Asim Ghafoo, Jon Eisenberg, Bush administration (43), Wendell Belew, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Obama administration

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Government Acting in Secret, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Newsweek publishes a range of responses to its article about Justice Department whistleblower Thomas Tamm (see December 22, 2008), who alerted the New York Times to the Bush administration’s illegal domestic wiretapping program “Stellar Wind” (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Most are extremely supportive of Tamm; Newsweek writes, “Nearly all labeled Tamm a hero.” One reader wonders why “few in the Justice Department were as troubled as Tamm about the illegality of the secret domestic wiretapping program or had the courage of his convictions.” Another notes, “Whistle-blowers like him are heroes because they are protecting ‘We the people.’” A Milwaukee reader, Harvey Jay Goldstein, suggests that President-elect Obama honor Tamm’s courage and service by “issuing him a pardon” and then “seek indictments against those involved in authorizing and carrying out the illegal program, including President Bush and Vice President Cheney.” The reader is “appalled” that Tamm “is being harassed and persecuted by the FBI (see August 1, 2007) for his part in disclosing the coverup of a program that originated in the Oval Office.” He calls Tamm “a national hero who had the guts to do what he thought was right and wasn’t intimidated by the power of the presidency.” Goldstein accuses Bush and Cheney of “undermining and circumventing the protections of the First and Fourth amendments [in what] are perhaps the most egregious attempts to consolidate absolute power within the executive branch since the dark days of Richard Nixon.” Illinois reader Leonard Kliff, a World War II veteran, writes: “It is disgusting that this man is on the run when he should be receiving a medal for his actions. I am sure the majority of Americans fully support him.” The Reverend Joseph Clark of Maryland calls Tamm “a common man doing his job—upholding the Constitution of the United States and the rule of law.… Thank God for people like Thomas Tamm who spoke when no one else was finding a voice.… This nation is made up of people like Tamm, and that is our strength.” And a former schoolmate of Tamm’s, Peter Craig, writes: “No one who attended Landon School in Bethesda, Md., in the late 1960s, as I did, will be at all surprised to learn that Tom Tamm ended up risking it all to do the right thing. In his senior year, for instance, Tom, then the president of the student council, decided to turn himself in to the rest of the council for some minor infraction unknown to anyone else (and ultimately warranting no punishment). It showed the same character and a burgeoning morality that years later would compel him to do what he did.” Only one published letter, from Bob Spickelmier, expresses the view that Tamm should go to jail for his actions. [Newsweek, 1/10/2009]

Entity Tags: Thomas Tamm, Bob Spickelmier, ’Stellar Wind’, Bush administration (43), Newsweek, Harvey Jay Goldstein, Leonard Kliff, US Department of Justice, Peter Craig, Joseph Clark

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Media Involvement and Responses

Steven Bradbury, the outgoing head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a legal opinion finding certain earlier opinions from the OLC invalid. Bradbury is referring to several memos issued by former OLC lawyers John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and others after the 9/11 attacks (see March 2, 2009).
'Doubtful Nature' - Bradbury writes that these opinions had not been relied upon since 2003, and notes that it is important to acknowledge in writing “the doubtful nature of these propositions.” The opinions “do not currently reflect, and have not for some years reflected, the views of the” OLC, Bradbury writes, “and on several occasions we have already acknowledged the doubtful nature of these propositions.”
President's Position - One portion of Bradbury’s memo says it is “not sustainable” to argue that the president’s power as commander in chief “precludes Congress from enacting any legislation concerning the detention, interrogation, prosecution, and transfer of enemy combatants.” Bradbury is referring to a 2002 memo that claimed President Bush could order the “rendition” of detainees to other countries without regard to Congressional legislation (see March 13, 2002).
'Novel and Complex Questions' - In repudiating the memos, Bradbury writes that they were the product of Yoo and others confronting what he calls “novel and complex questions in a time of great danger and under extraordinary time pressure.” [US Department of Justice, 1/15/2009 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009]
Response - Yale law professor Jack Balkin later notes that the memo does not repudiate “any of the Bush administration’s specific policies regarding surveillance, detention, and interrogation.” [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009] In 2004, the Justice Department repudiated the so-called “golden shield” memo, written by Yoo and the then-chief counsel for Vice President Cheney, David Addington, which gave US personnel almost unlimited authority to torture prisoners (see August 1, 2002). The New York Times writes that Bradbury’s last-minute memo “appears to have been the Bush lawyers’ last effort to reconcile their views with the wide rejection by legal scholars and some Supreme Court opinions of the sweeping assertions of presidential authority made earlier by the Justice Department.” Walter Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, says that Bradbury’s memo “disclaiming the opinions of earlier Bush lawyers sets out in blunt detail how irresponsible those earlier opinions were.” Dellinger says it is important to note that the Bush administration’s assertions “that Congress had absolutely no role in these national security issues was contrary to constitutional text, historical practice, and judicial precedent.” [New York Times, 3/2/2009] Bradbury, who like Yoo and Bybee may face disbarment, is careful to note that while the legal opinions are invalid, he is not suggesting that the authors did not “satisfy” professional standards. [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Steven Bradbury, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), New York Times, Walter Dellinger, Jay S. Bybee, Jack Balkin, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Eric Holder.Eric Holder. [Source: New York Times]Incoming Attorney General Eric Holder says the Justice Department will defend the US’s warrantless eavesdropping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005) in court, based on Congress’s passage of legislation immunizing US telecommunications companies from lawsuits challenging their participation in the government spy program (see January 5, 2009). Holder makes this statement during Senate hearings to confirm his selection as attorney general. “The duty of the Justice Department is to defend statutes that have been passed by Congress,” Holder says. “Unless there are compelling reasons, I don’t think we would reverse course.” President-elect Obama, while a senator, opposed granting immunity to the telecommunications firms, but voted for immunity because it was included in a broader surveillance bill that gave the Bush administration broad new powers to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. [Wired News, 1/15/2009]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, US Department of Justice, Eric Holder, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Other Surveillance

As one of its last official acts, the Bush administration asks federal judge Vaughn Walker to stay his ruling that keeps alive a lawsuit testing whether a sitting president can bypass Congress and eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. The request, filed at 10:56 p.m. on President Bush’s last full day in office, asks Walker to stay his ruling and allow the federal government to appeal his ruling that allows the al-Haramain lawsuit to proceed (see February 28, 2006). The warrantless wiretapping alleged in the lawsuit took place in 2004, well before Congress’s 2008 authorization of the government’s spy program. The Obama administration’s incoming Attorney General, Eric Holder, says the Justice Department will defend the spy program because Congress made it legal (see January 15, 2009). It is not clear whether the Justice Department under Holder will continue to fight the Al Haramain lawsuit. The Bush administration wants Walker to reverse his decision to let plaintiffs’ lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoo use a Top Secret document that was accidentally disclosed to them in 2004 (see January 5, 2009); that document, which allegedly proves the warrantless and illegal nature of the wiretapping performed against the Al Haramain charity, is at the center of the lawsuit. Previous rulings disallowed the use of the document and forced the defense lawyers to return it to the government, but Walker ruled that other evidence supported the claim of warrantless wiretapping, and therefore the document could be used. In its request for a stay, the Bush administration asserts that allowing the document to be used in the lawsuit would jeopardize national security, and that the document is protected under the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953). Administration lawyers say that Walker should not be allowed to see the document, much less the defense lawyers. “If the court were to find… that none of the plaintiffs are aggrieved parties, the case obviously could not proceed, but such a holding would reveal to plaintiffs and the public at large information that is protected by the state secrets privilege—namely, that certain individuals were not subject to alleged surveillance,” the administration writes in its request. If the lawsuit continues, the government says, that decision “would confirm that a plaintiff was subject to surveillance” and therefore should not be allowed: “Indeed, if the actual facts were that just one of the plaintiffs had been subject to alleged surveillance, any such differentiation likewise could not be disclosed because it would inherently reveal intelligence information as to who was and was not a subject of interest, which communications were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication may or may not have been subject to surveillance.” Jon Eisenberg, the lawyer for Belew and Ghafoo, says: “We filed this lawsuit to establish a judicial precedent that the president cannot disregard Congress in the name of national security. Plaintiffs have a right to litigate the legality of the surveillance.” [Wired News, 1/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Jon Eisenberg, Asim Ghafoo, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Bush administration (43), Obama administration, Eric Holder, Wendell Belew, Vaughn Walker, US Department of Justice, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Government Acting in Secret, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Constitutional lawyer and author Bruce Fein, a former official in the Justice Department under Ronald Reagan, writes that if President Obama wants to “restore the rule of law and to prevent future wrongdoing by high-level government officials,” he “should investigate, among others, former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former White House counsel and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and former White House political adviser Karl Rove. The crimes to be investigated should include complicity in torture, illegal surveillance, illegal detention, perjury, obstruction of justice, and contempt of Congress. Prosecutions should follow if the evidence convinces a grand jury to indict.” Fein states that “[t]he best way to deter government criminality and to teach citizens the rule of law is to punish the perpetrators who are unanimously found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by independent and impartial jurors.”
FBI, CIA Feared Prosecution for Torture - He notes that the FBI refused to participate in “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, for fear of being charged with war crimes. And the CIA required specific legal opinions from the Bush Justice Department—the so-called “golden shield” (see August 1, 2002)—and specific presidential authorization before it would allow its agents to torture detainees. And the White House ordered an end to waterboarding after it was warned that such tactics left its officials open to charges of torture and war crimes.
Attorney General Feared Prosecution under FISA - He goes on to note that Justice Department officials such as acting Attorney General James Comey “balked at approving… Bush’s warrantless surveillance program without modification in March 2004 probably because he feared criminal prosecution under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act” (see 1978).
'Unpunished Lawlessness by Government Officials Invites Lawlessness Generally' - Fein asserts that “unpunished lawlessness by government officials invites lawlessness generally.” He quotes former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.” The best way to deter criminal behavior, he says, is to prosecute alleged criminals, and that process must start with government officials. [Washington Times, 1/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Bruce Fein

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Other, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

President Barack Obama issues an executive order limiting the ability of former presidents to block the release of records from their time in the White House. Obama’s order overturns an executive order from former President Bush (see November 1, 2001) that is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit, and was found in part illegal by a federal judge in 2007. Obama’s order invalidates Bush’s order entirely. Obama’s order allows former presidents to ask the National Archives to keep certain documents private, but strips their power to compel the Archives to do so. The order also covers former vice presidents and the families of deceased presidents. “It’s a great signal to send on the president’s first day in office,” says Scott Nelson, a lawyer with the civil liberties group Public Citizen, which led the challenge to Bush’s order. Nelson says the order will make it easier for researchers to gain access to White House records.
Strips Power from Former Executives - Under the Presidential Records Act, former presidents can restrict access to some of their records, including confidential communications with advisers, for up to 12 years. Bush’s order extended that restriction indefinitely, and gave former vice presidents and even the families and heirs of deceased presidents the same power to restrict documents. Obama’s order limits claims of executive privilege to records concerning national security, law enforcement or internal communications; it also specifies that only living former presidents may request that papers not be made public, and gives them 30 days to say so once they get word of the archivist’s intention to release records. The order gives the Obama administration and the National Archives, not the former executives, the final decision-making power. Under Obama’s order, former Vice President Dick Cheney can no longer block access to records from his records during his eight years in the White House. Cheney is engaged in a lawsuit to block access to his vice-presidential records. [Washington Post, 1/21/2009]
Wide-Ranging Impact - Experts agree that the executive order could have wide-ranging impacts on a number of issues relating to the Bush administration. Douglas Kmiec, a conservative law professor and an expert on executive privilege, says the order could strongly impact current battles over Bush’s records, “whether it be the dismissal of US attorneys, whether it be other assertions of executive privilege dealing with White House emails and the like.” It could also affect investigations into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, and the Bush administration’s efforts to precipitate a war with Iraq. [TPM Muckraker, 1/22/2009] Neil Eggleston, who served as White House counsel in the Clinton administration, says he believes the Obama order is specifically designed to pry loose information from the Bush administration about such issues. “This is absolutely about all those issues,” he says. In a sense, Eggleston continues, it is an order to the National Archivist: “It says, ‘Archivist—if Bush calls up and says don’t release certain papers, don’t listen to what he says, listen to what I say.’” [TPM Muckraker, 1/23/2009]

Entity Tags: National Archives and Records Administration, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Presidential Records Act, Douglas Kmiec, Scott Nelson, Neil Eggleston

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Freedom of Speech / Religion

An array of Afghan and Pakistani human rights representatives and former Guantanamo inmates say that President Obama’s plans to close the detention camp (see January 22, 2009) do not go far enough. Other US detention centers should also be shut down and former inmates should be compensated, they say. Obama “is closing it in order to put an end to the criticism from human rights groups and also to get rid of the bad image it created for the Americans,” says Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan who spent more than three years imprisoned at Guantanamo. “But he needs to restore justice for prisoners who were persecuted there during investigations. There were innocent people imprisoned there. He needs to put on trial those who were involved in the persecution of inmates.” Lal Gul Lal, the head of the Afghanistan Human Rights Organization, calls the Guantanamo prison “a flagrant violation of international and American laws.” He continues: “If Obama’s administration wants to get rid of the criticism and wants to implement justice then it should hand over to their respective countries all the prisoners it has in various prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. If that does not happen the closure of Guantanamo will have no meaning.” Some 250 prisoners are still being held in Guantanamo, around 600 prisoners still remain in custody at the detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, and more are being held in camps at Kandahar and Khost. Many of the detainees have never been charged with a crime. Amina Masood Janjua, a Pakistani campaigner for the release of detainees, says while the closing of Guantanamo will be a positive development, “those governments which are running illegal torture cells and safe houses set up by intelligence agencies and militaries should be forced to close them too.” Khalid, a former Pakistani security agent who now heads the Defense of Human Rights organization, calls the closure “nothing… a media stunt.” He adds: “After brutally and inhumanely treating inmates, now they’re pretending that they believe in justice and human rights. What about the human rights crimes committed there? What about those who have seen the worst time of their lives there? Is it that easy to ignore or forgive?” [Reuters, 1/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Abdul Salam Zaeef, Afghanistan Human Rights Organization, Amina Masood Janjua, Barack Obama, Obama administration, Lal Gul Lal

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Other Legal Changes, Detainments Outside US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells an NPR reporter that he never allowed the Justice Department (DOJ) to become politicized, and that he believes the historical judgment of his tenure in the department will be favorable. He acknowledges making some errors, including failing to properly oversee the DOJ’s push to fire nine US attorneys in 2008, a process many believe was orchestrated by the White House with the involvement of Gonzales and then-White House political guru Karl Rove.
Failure to Engage - “No question, I should have been more engaged in that process,” he says, but adds that he is being held accountable for decisions made by his subordinates. “I deeply regret some of the decisions made by my staff,” he says, referring to his former deputy Paul McNulty, who resigned over the controversy after telling a Senate committee that the attorney firings were performance-related and not politically motivated. Gonzales says his then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, was primarily responsible for the US attorney review process and for working with McNulty. “If Paul McNulty makes a recommendation to me—if a recommendation includes his views—I would feel quite comfortable that those would be good recommendations coming to me” about the qualifications of the US attorneys under question, Gonzales says. He adds that he has “seen no evidence” that Rove or anyone at the White House tried to use the US attorneys to politicize the work at the DOJ. A review by the DOJ’s Inspector General found that the firing policy was fundamentally flawed, and that Gonzales was disengaged and had failed to properly supervise the review process.
Claims He Was Unfairly Targeted by 'Mean-Spirited' Washington Insiders - Gonzales says he has been unfairly held responsible for many controversial Bush administration policies, including its refusal to abide by the Geneva Conventions (see Late September 2001, January 9, 2002, January 18-25, 2002, January 25, 2002, August 1, 2002, November 11, 2004, and January 17, 2007) and its illegal eavesdropping on US citizens (see Early 2004, March 9, 2004, December 19, 2005, Early 2006, and February 15, 2006), because of his close personal relationship with former President Bush. Washington, he says, is a “difficult town, a mean-spirited town.” He continues: “Sometimes people identify someone to target. That’s what happened to me. I’m not whining. It comes with the job.”
Visiting Ashcroft at the Hospital - In 2004, Gonzales, then the White House counsel, and White House chief of staff Andrew Card raced to the bedside of hospitalized Attorney General John Ashcroft to persuade, or perhaps coerce, Ashcroft to sign off on a secret government surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). The intervention was blocked by Deputy Attorney General James Comey (see March 12-Mid-2004). Gonzales says he has no regrets about the incident: “Neither Andy nor I would have gone there to take advantage of somebody who was sick. We were sent there on behalf of the president of the United States.” As for threats by Justice Department officials to resign en masse over the hospital visit (see Late March, 2004), Gonzales merely says, “Lawyers often disagree about important legal issues.”
Warning about Plain Speaking - Gonzales says Obama’s attorney general nominee, Eric Holder, should refrain from making such statements as Holder made last week when he testified that waterboarding is torture. “One needs to be careful in making a blanket pronouncement like that,” Gonzales says, adding that such a statement might affect the “morale and dedication” of intelligence officials and lawyers who are attempting to make cases against terrorism suspects. [National Public Radio, 1/26/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Eric Holder, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Alberto R. Gonzales, Geneva Conventions, George W. Bush, James B. Comey Jr., Karl C. Rove, Paul J. McNulty, D. Kyle Sampson

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Detainments Outside US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, 2006 US Attorney Firings

Reflecting on the Bush administration’s decision to create “military commissions” to try terror suspects (see November 13, 2001), John Bellinger, the former legal adviser to the National Security Council during much of the Bush administration, says: “A small group of administration lawyers drafted the president’s military order establishing the military commissions, but without the knowledge of the rest of the government, including the national security adviser, me, the secretary of state, or even the CIA director. And even though many of the substantive problems with the military commissions as created by the original order have been resolved by Congress in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hamdan case (see June 30, 2006), we have been suffering from this original process failure ever since.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), Colin Powell, US Supreme Court, George J. Tenet, National Security Council, John Bellinger

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other human rights organizations release over a thousand pages of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The documents provide new details of the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners in its “global war on terror.” Among other things, the documents show a much closer collaboration between the CIA and the Defense Department than initially believed; the Defense Department was intimately involved with the CIA’s practices of indefinite “ghost” detentions and torture. The documents confirm the existence of a previously “undisclosed detention facility” at Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base and details of the extensive abuse and torture of prisoners at that facility. They also show that the Defense Department worked to keep the Red Cross away from its detainees by refusing to register their capture with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for two weeks or more, “to maximize intelligence collection,” a practice the Defense Department officials acknowledged in their private communications to be illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
CIA, Defense Department in Collusion? - The Center for Constitutional Rights notes, “These policies demonstrate the ease with which the CIA could have used DOD facilities as ‘sorting facilities’ without having to worry about ICRC oversight or revelation of the ghost detainee program.” The documents also include e-mails sent to Defense Department Transportation Command officials recommending that a number of prisoners slated for release from Guantanamo be detained longer, for fear of negative press coverage (see February 17, 2006). [AlterNet, 2/13/2009] “These newly released documents confirm our suspicion that the tentacles of the CIA’s abusive program reached across agency lines,” says Margaret Satterthwaite of New York University’s International Human Rights Clinic. “In fact, it is increasingly obvious that defense officials engaged in legal gymnastics to find ways to cooperate with the CIA’s activities. A full accounting of all agencies must now take place to ensure that future abuses don’t continue under a different guise.”
Heavy Redactions Thwart Intent of FOIA - Amnesty International’s Tom Parker notes that much of the information in the documents was blacked out before its release. “Out of thousands of pages, most of what might be of interest was redacted,” he says. “While the sheer number of pages creates the appearance of transparency, it is clear this is only the tip of the iceberg and that the government agencies have not complied with spirit of President Obama’s memo on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (see January 21, 2009). We call on Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration to put teeth into the memo and work actively to comply with FOIA requests.” [Center for Constitutional Rights, 2/12/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Geneva Conventions, Central Intelligence Agency, Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, American Civil Liberties Union, International Committee of the Red Cross, Obama administration, International Human Rights Clinic, New York University, Margaret Satterthwaite, Tom Parker

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Detainments Outside US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union calls the case of alleged al-Qaeda detainee Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) a key test of “the most far-reaching use of detention powers” ever asserted by the executive branch. Al-Marri has spent five years incarcerated in the Charleston Naval Brig without being charged with a crime. “If President Obama is serious about restoring the rule of law in America, they can’t defend what’s been done to Marri. They would be completely buying into the Bush administration’s war on terror,” he says. Hafetz, who is scheduled to represent al-Marri before the Supreme Court in April, compares the Bush administration’s decision to leave al-Marri in isolation to his client’s being stranded on a desert island. “It’s a Robinson Crusoe-like situation,” he adds. Hafetz says that among the issues to be decided is “the question of who is a soldier, and who is a civilian.” He continues: “Is the fight against terrorism war, or is it not war? How far does the battlefield extend? In the past, they treated Peoria as a battlefield. Can an American be arrested in his own home and jailed indefinitely, on the say-so of the president?” Hafetz wants the Court to declare indefinite detention by executive fiat illegal. He also hopes President Obama will withdraw al-Marri’s designation as an enemy combatant and reclassify him as a civilian; such a move would allow al-Marri to either be charged with crimes and prosecuted, or released entirely. Civil liberties and other groups on both sides of the political divide have combined to file 18 amicus briefs with the Court, all on al-Marri’s behalf. The al-Marri decision will almost certainly impact the legal principles governing the disposal of the approximately 240 detainees still being held at Guantanamo.
Opinion of Former Bush Administration Officials - Former Bush State Department counsel John Bellinger says of his counterparts in the Obama administration: “They will have to either put up or shut up. Do they maintain the Bush administration position, and keep holding [al-]Marri as an enemy combatant? They have to come up with a legal theory.” He says that Obama officials will find it more difficult to put their ideals into action: “Governing is different from campaigning,” he notes, and adds that Obama officials will soon learn that “they can’t just set the clocks back eight years, and try every terror suspect captured abroad in the federal courts.” Former Attorney General John Ashcroft calls keeping al-Marri and other “enemy combatants” locked away without charges or trials a “sound decision” to “maximize the national interest,” and says that in the end, Obama’s approach will be much like Bush’s. “How will he be different?” he asks. “The main difference is going to be that he spells his name ‘O-b-a-m-a,’ not ‘B-u-s-h.’”
Current Administration's Opinion - Obama spokesman Larry Craig sums up the issue: “One way we’ve looked at this is that we own the solution. We don’t own the problem—it was created by the previous administration. But we’ll be held accountable for how we handle this.” [New Yorker, 2/23/2009]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Barack Obama, American Civil Liberties Union, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Bush administration (43), US Supreme Court, Obama administration, Jonathan Hafetz, Larry Craig, John Bellinger

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Detainments in US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret

A Justice Department investigation finds that the legal work done by John Yoo and two other former Justice lawyers for the Bush administration was unacceptably deficient. Opinions written by Yoo, his former boss Jay Bybee of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and Bybee’s successor, Steven Bradbury, often ignored legal precedent and existing case law as they took extralegal stances on a number of controversial issues, including torture and domestic surveillance. Many of the opinions, including the August 2002 “Golden Shield” memo (see August 1, 2002), were written specifically to authorize illegal acts such as waterboarding that had already taken place, in an apparent attempt to provide the Bush administration with retroactive legal “cover.” The investigation finds that in that memo, Yoo ignored the landmark 1952 Youngstown Supreme Court ruling (see June 2, 1952) that restricts presidential authority. The investigation also finds that in the March 2003 memo authorizing the military to ignore the law in using extreme methods in interrogating suspected terrorists (see March 14, 2003), Yoo ignored the advice of military lawyers and Justice Department officials who warned that the memo contained major legal flaws. In this and others of Yoo’s torture memos, the investigation finds that he went well beyond the legal bounds of interrogation methods, failed to cite legal cases that might have undercut the Bush administration’s claims of broad new war powers, and refused to rewrite his opinions in light of these caveats. And, the investigation finds, Yoo often went over the head of Attorney General John Ashcroft and dealt directly with the White House, particularly with White House lawyers David Addington and Alberto Gonzales. The investigation was headed by H. Marshall Jarrett, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and has been in operation since 2004, following the Abu Ghraib torture scandal and the leak of one of Yoo’s “torture memos.” It is unclear whether the final OPR report will find that the actions of the former OLC lawyers rose to the level of “professional misconduct.” The report is being reviewed by Attorney General Eric Holder and other Justice Department officials. A draft was actually completed last year, and a copy was supposed to be given to Senators Richard Durbin (R-IL) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), but then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey repeatedly blocked the report’s release in order to give Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury time to prepare their responses. Durbin and Whitehouse have asked Jarrett to explain the delay in the report’s release. [Public Record, 2/22/2009]

Entity Tags: David S. Addington, Sheldon Whitehouse, Steven Bradbury, US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Bush administration (43), Office of Professional Responsibility, Michael Mukasey, Eric Holder, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), H. Marshall Jarrett, Alberto R. Gonzales, John C. Yoo, John Ashcroft, Jay S. Bybee

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that after reading the nine newly released Bush-era Justice Department memos that asserted sweeping powers for the president not granted by the Constitution (see March 2, 2009), “you’ve gotta almost conclude we had an unconstitutional dictator. It’s pretty deadly and pretty serious, what’s in these materials.” Anyone deemed a terrorist by President Bush could be kidnapped, incarcerated, and tortured, all without any legal recourse. “Who in this formula was supposed to decide that these were terrorists?” asks MSNBC host Keith Olbermann. Dean replies: “Well, according to these memos, that was rather limited to the president of the United States and there are no guidelines as to how he might describe who was or was not a terrorist. The president can unilaterally or, theoretically, even somebody he delegates can decide who indeed can be incarcerated, who can not. That is why I say, this is pretty close to being an unconstitutional dictator, in any definition under the law of this country.” [MSNBC, 3/2/2009; Raw Story, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), John Dean, US Department of Justice, George W. Bush, Keith Olbermann

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Some of the Justice Department memos released today.Some of the Justice Department memos released today. [Source: Los Angeles Times]The Department of Justice releases nine memos written after the 9/11 attacks that claimed sweeping, extraconstitutional powers for then-President Bush. The memos, written primarily by John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), claim that Bush could, if he desired, order military raids against targets within the US, and order police or military raids without court warrants (see October 23, 2001). The only justification required would be that Bush had declared the targets of such raids to be suspected terrorists. Other powers the president had, according to the memos, were to unilaterally abrogate or abandon treaties with foreign countries, ignore Congressional legislation regarding suspected terrorists in US detention (see March 13, 2002), suspend First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and information dissemination (see October 23, 2001), and conduct a program of warrantless domestic surveillance (see September 25, 2001). In January, an opinion issued by the OLC claimed that the opinions of the earlier memos had not been acted upon since 2003, and were generally considered unreliable (see January 15, 2009). Attorney General Eric Holder, who signed off on the release of the memos, says: “Too often over the past decade, the fight against terrorism has been viewed as a zero-sum battle with our civil liberties. Not only is that thought misguided, I fear that in actuality it does more harm than good.” [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/2/2009; US Department of Justice, 3/2/2009; New York Times, 3/2/2009]
Memos Laid Groundwork for Warrantless Wiretapping - Though many of the powers said to belong to the president in the memos were never exercised, the assertions led to the warrantless wiretapping of US citizens (see December 15, 2005 and Spring 2004) and the torture of detained terror suspects. [Newsweek, 3/2/2009]
'How To ... Evade Rule of Law' - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says the memos begin “to provide details of some of the Bush administration’s misguided national security policies” that have long been withheld from public scrutiny. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says the memos collectively “read like a how-to document on how to evade the rule of law.” [Washington Post, 3/3/2009] Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies says that the memos were part of a larger effort “that would basically have allowed for the imposition of martial law.” [Newsweek, 3/2/2009]
'Tip of Iceberg' - The memos are, according to a former Bush administration lawyer, “just the tip of the iceberg” in terms of what the Bush administration authorized. Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the Bush administration memos “essentially argue that the president has a blank check to disregard the Constitution during wartime, not only on foreign battlefields, but also inside the United States.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/3/2009] The ACLU, which has sued to obtain these and other memos, applauds the release of the documents, and says it hopes this is the first step in a broader release. [Reuters, 3/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Eric Holder, Jennifer Daskal, Patrick J. Leahy, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jameel Jaffer, Kate Martin, John C. Yoo, Bush administration (43), American Civil Liberties Union, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Columnist and international law expert Scott Horton writes of his horror and shock at the nine just-released Bush administration memos from the Justice Department designed to grant President Bush extraordinary executive authority (see March 2, 2009).
'Disappearing Ink' - Horton writes: “Perhaps the most astonishing of these memos was one crafted by University of California at Berkeley law professor John Yoo. He concluded that in wartime, the president was freed from the constraints of the Bill of Rights with respect to anything he chose to label as […] counterterrorism operations inside the United States” (see October 23, 2001, and October 23, 2001). Horton continues: “John Yoo’s Constitution is unlike any other I have ever seen. It seems to consist of one clause: appointing the president as commander in chief. The rest of the Constitution was apparently printed in disappearing ink.”
Timing of Repudiation Proves Bush Officials Found Claims Useful - Horton has no patience with the claims of former Office of Legal Counsel chief Steven Bradbury that the extraordinary powers Yoo attempted to grant Bush were not used very often (see January 15, 2009). “I don’t believe that for a second,” Horton notes, and notes Bradbury’s timing in repudiating the Yoo memos: five days before Bush left office. “Bradbury’s decision to wait to the very end before repealing it suggests that someone in the Bush hierarchy was keen on having it,” Horton asserts.
Serving Multiple Purposes - The memos “clear[ly]” served numerous different purposes, Horton notes. They authorized, or provided legal justification for, the massive domestic surveillance programs launched by military agencies such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency (see September 25, 2001). But the memos went much farther, Horton says: “[T]he language of the memos suggest that much more was afoot, including the deployment of military units and military police powers on American soil. These memos suggest that John Yoo found a way to treat the Posse Comitatus Act as suspended.” They also gave Bush the apparent legal grounds to order the torture of people held at secret overseas sites (see March 13, 2002), and to hold accused terrorist Jose Padilla without charge or due process, even though the administration had no evidence whatsoever of the crimes he had been alleged to commit (see June 8, 2002).
American Dictatorship - Horton’s conclusion is stark. “We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship,” he writes. “The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution. What we know now is likely the least of it.” [Harper's, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Scott Horton, Steven Bradbury, George W. Bush, Jose Padilla, Bush administration (43), Defense Intelligence Agency, John C. Yoo

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Time columnist Michael Scherer, writing about the nine just-released Bush administration memos from the Justice Department designed to grant President Bush extraordinary executive authority (see March 2, 2009), notes: “I know I am late on this, but every American should take note of the incredible neo-Orwellian, near-totalitarian powers that President Bush’s Justice Department granted the White House in the days after September 11.… They are certainly not based on a ‘conservative’ limited government reading of the constitution. They are, by almost every account, of doubtful constitutional merit. And if we wish to continue to teach our children that freedom and liberty are the bedrock of the American form of government, we should as citizens take care to make sure they do not become a precedent for future presidents to use in responding to attacks on the homeland.” [Time, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Michael Scherer

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Columnist and civil litigator Glenn Greenwald writes that the recently released Bush-era Justice Department memos documenting the enormous power Bush attempted to gather for himself (see March 2, 2009) mandates a wide-ranging investigation of the Bush administration’s criminal activities. He notes, “[T]here is almost certainly a whole slew of other activities that remain concealed, and very well may remain undisclosed for years” because of the apparent reluctance of the Obama administration to give serious consideration to such an investigation, or, as Greenwald writes, “a new administration that seems bizarrely desperate to keep concealed the secrets of the old one.” Greenwald continues: “The most vital point is that all of the documents released yesterday by the Obama [Justice Department] comprise nothing less than a regime of secret laws under which we were governed. Nothing was redacted when those documents yesterday were released because they don’t contain any national security secrets. They’re nothing more than legal decrees, written by lawyers. They’re just laws that were implemented with no acts of Congress, unilaterally by the executive branch. Yet even the very laws that governed us were kept secret for eight years. This is factually true, with no hyperbole: Over the last eight years, we had a system in place where we pretended that our ‘laws’ were the things enacted out in the open by our Congress and that were set forth by the Constitution. The reality, though, was that our government secretly vested itself with the power to ignore those public laws, to declare them invalid, and instead, create a whole regimen of secret laws that vested tyrannical, monarchical power in the president (see March 3, 2009). Nobody knew what those secret laws were because even Congress, despite a few lame and meek requests, was denied access to them. What kind of country lives under secret laws?” But, he writes: “If our political class had its way, even the bits and pieces we’ve now seen would continue to be hidden in the dark. Most of the specific individuals who initiated these measures may no longer be in power, but the institutions and the political and media elites who enabled all of it haven’t gone anywhere. They’re now actively working to keep as much as possible concealed and to insist that nothing should be done about any of it.” [Salon, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Glenn Greenwald

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Legal experts and civil libertarians are “stunned” by the recently released memos from the Bush-era Justice Department which assert sweeping powers for the president not granted by the Constitution (see March 2, 2009 and March 3, 2009). Yale law professor Jack Balkin calls the memos a demonstration of the Bush “theory of presidential dictatorship.” Balkin continues: “They say the battlefield is everywhere. And the president can do anything he wants, so long as it involves the military and the enemy.… These views are outrageous and inconsistent with basic principles of the Constitution as well as with two centuries of legal precedents. Yet they were the basic assumptions of key players in the Bush administration in the days following 9/11.” George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr agrees. “I agree with the left on this one,” he says. The approach in the memos “was simply not a plausible reading of the case law. The Bush [Office of Legal Counsel, or OLC] eventually rejected [the] memos because they were wrong on the law—and they were right to do so” (see January 15, 2009). Balkin says the time period of most of the memos—the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks—merely provided a convenient excuse for the administration’s subversion of the Constitution. “This was a period of panic, and panic creates an opportunity for patriotic politicians to abuse their power,” he says. [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009; Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009] Civil litigator and columnist Glenn Greenwald writes that the memos helped provide the foundation for what he calls “the regime of secret laws under which we were ruled for the last eight years… the grotesque blueprint for what the US government became.” [Salon, 3/3/2009] Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger says that, contrary to the memos’ assertion of blanket presidential powers in wartime, Congress has considerable powers during such a time. Congress has, according to the Constitution, “all legislative powers,” including the power “to declare war… and make rules concerning captures on land and water” as well as “regulation of the land and naval forces.” Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, continues: “You can never get over how bad these opinions were. The assertion that Congress has no role to play with respect to the detention of prisoners was contrary to the Constitution’s text, to judicial precedent, and to historical practice. For people who supposedly follow the text [of the Constitution], what don’t they understand about the phrase ‘make rules concerning captures on land and water’?” [Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Orin S. Kerr, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jack Balkin, Walter Dellinger, Glenn Greenwald, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Reporter Seymour Hersh speaking at a 2007 forum on the media in Doha, Qatar.Reporter Seymour Hersh speaking at a 2007 forum on the media in Doha, Qatar. [Source: Reuters / Fadi Al-Assaad / MinnPost (.com)]In a wide-ranging seminar with former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh at the University of Minnesota, Hersh claims that he has evidence that the US operated what he calls an “executive assassination wing” during the Bush administration, perhaps controlled by the office of then Vice President Dick Cheney. [MinnPost (.com), 3/11/2009] (Hersh will later say he used the word “wing,” but it was widely misreported as “ring” in the media.) [CNN, 3/30/2009] Hersh says he will explain his charges more fully in an upcoming book. When asked about recent instances of a president exceeding his constitutional authority, Hersh gives a response that moves from CIA activities, through the Joint Special Operations Command, to the alleged “assassination wing”: “After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command—JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him.… Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination wing essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths. Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us. It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized. In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people. I’ve had people say to me—five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee?’ But they’re not gonna get before a committee.” Mondale says of Cheney and his office that “they ran a government within a government.” Hersh adds, “Eight or nine neoconservatives took over our country.” Mondale notes that the precedents of abuse of vice presidential power by Cheney would remain “like a loaded pistol that you leave on the dining room table.” [MinnPost (.com), 3/11/2009] CIA spokesman George Little responds to Hersh’s allegation by writing: “I saw your story on Seymour Hersh’s recent allegations regarding CIA activities since 9/11. If you wish, you can attribute the quoted portion that follows to me, in name, as a CIA spokesman: ‘This is utter nonsense.’” [MinnPost (.com), 3/12/2009]

Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, William H. McRaven, Joint Special Operations Command, George W. Bush, George Little, Central Intelligence Agency, Walter Mondale, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that the allegation of an “executive assassination wing,” as recently made by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh (see March 10, 2009), could well be a war crime if it is true. Both Dean and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann note that if true, Cheney’s actions could well violate a 1976 executive order that states in part, “No employee of the United States government shall engage in or conspire to engage in political assassination.” Dean says: “[F]ighting terrorism is not dealing with tiddlywinks. We want our government to deal with the most effective tools they have. But they also have to be legal. The executive order, really, is nothing more than direction to the executive branch and the presidency is the only one who you can even argue might have the authority to engage in assassinations. It’s an unresolved question. So, it’s potentially a war crime, it’s potentially just outright murder, and it could clearly be in violation of the Ford executive order.” In the same broadcast, author and political analyst Howard Fineman says of Hersh’s report: “In checking around in the intelligence community today, I can say this, you know, Seymour Hersh is somebody they respect. They don’t always trust. But they put it this way, as one of them said to me, ‘Look, I don’t know anything about this specifically at all, but I wouldn’t dismiss what Sy Hersh is saying without checking carefully.’ That’s their backhanded way of saying it’s worth looking into, for sure.” [MSNBC, 3/12/2009]

Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, Howard Fineman, John Dean, Keith Olbermann, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer interviews investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who recently alleged that an “executive assassination wing” operated out of the White House (see March 10, 2009). Blitzer notes that the entity Hersh cited, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), denies Hersh’s claim, and says, in Blitzer’s words, “their forces operate under established rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict.” The JSOC “has no command and control authorities over the US military,” the JSOC has told Blitzer. Additionally, former Bush national security expert Frances Townsend has denied Hersh’s claim.
Not New Reporting - Hersh tells Blitzer that though he has not written specifically about the “assassination wing,” he and others have written about the actions of the JSOC well before now. “[I]t’s a separately independent unit that does not report to Congress, at least in the years I know about.… It has been given executive authority by the president in as many as 12 countries to go in and kill we’re talking about high value targets. That’s absolutely correct.” He says that such actions are not only illegal, but have no basis in intelligence. “The idea that you’re telling a group of American combat soldiers,” he says, “[t]he idea that we have a unit set up who goes after high-value targets who up to a certain point I know for sure until very recently were clearing lists. That doesn’t mean Cheney has an assassination unit that he says I want to go get somebody. That’s how it sort of played out in the press. The idea that we have a unit that goes around and without reporting to Congress, Congress knows very little about this group, can’t get clearings, can’t get hearings, can’t get even a classified hearings on it. Congresspeople have told me this. Those are out and has authority for the president to go into a country without telling the CIA station chief or the ambassador and whack somebody and I’m sorry, Wolf, I have a lot of problems with that.”
Poor Choice of Phrase - Hersh says he regrets using the phrase “executive assassination wing,” because it is a “loaded phrase.” Word choice aside, Hersh says: “It comes down to the same thing, that you can—you’ve delegated authority to troops in the field to hit people on the basis of whatever intelligence they think is good and I can tell you it’s always not good and sometimes things get very bloody.… The bottom line is, it’s—if it were the way your little presentation set up, that everything was checked and cleared, in fact, it was an awful lot of delegation to this group, which does not brief the Congress. And this does raise profound questions of constitutional authority. It’s the same questions that have come up repeatedly in the Bush administration. That is a unitarian president, the notion that a president can do things without telling Congress and unilaterally. This is an extension of that issue.”
Implied Confirmation from Former Cheney Adviser - John Hannah, the former national security adviser to Vice President Cheney, says Hersh’s allegations are “not true,” but in his next statement, he seems to confirm Hersh’s allegations to an extent. Blitzer says: “Explain exactly what’s going on in terms of a list. Is there a list of terrorists, suspected terrorists, out there who can be assassinated?” Hannah replies: “There is—there’s clearly a group of people that go through a very extremely well-vetted process—interagency process, as I think was explained in your piece, that have committed acts of war against the United States, who are at war with the United States, or is suspected of planning operations of war against the United States, who authority is given, to our troops in the field in certain war theaters to capture or kill those individuals. That is certainly true.… Osama bin Laden and his number two are right at the top of the list. [The number of individuals to be assassinated] is a small group and the point is that it is very, very heavily vetted throughout the interagency process.” Hannah says that he has trouble believing that Congress was not aware of actions, presumably including possible assassinations, carried out by the JSOC: “I don’t know exactly what the consultations are with the Congress, but it’s hard for me to believe that those committee chairman and the leadership on the Hill involved in intelligence and armed services, if they want to know about these operations, cannot get that information through the Defense Department.” Asked if such assassinations are legal and Constitutional, Hannah says: “There is no question. And in a theater of war, when we are at war, and there’s no doubt, we are still at war against al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and on that Pakistani border, that our troops have the authority to go out after and capture and kill the enemy, including the leadership of the enemy.” [CNN, 3/30/2009; MinnPost (.com), 3/31/2009]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Frances Townsend, Seymour Hersh, US Department of Defense, Wolf Blitzer, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Joint Special Operations Command, John Hannah

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh discusses his recent allegation that what he calls an “executive assassination wing” was run from the office of former Vice President Dick Cheney (see March 10, 2009). Interviewer Amy Goodman opens her segment with Hersh by playing what was apparently an implicit confirmation, to an extent, of Hersh’s claims from a former Cheney aide (see March 30, 2009). Hersh notes that the comments from the former aide, John Hannah, verify that “yes, we go after people suspected—that was the word he used—of crimes against America. And I have to tell you that there’s an executive order, signed by Jerry Ford, President Ford, in the ‘70s, forbidding such action. It’s not only contrary—it’s illegal, it’s immoral, it’s counterproductive.” Of the allegations that the “assassination wing” is operated through the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), Hersh says: “[T]he problem with having military go kill people when they’re not directly in combat, these are asking American troops to go out and find people and… they go into countries without telling any of the authorities, the American ambassador, the CIA chief, certainly nobody in the government that we’re going into, and it’s far more than just in combat areas. There’s more—at least a dozen countries and perhaps more. [President Bush] has authorized these kinds of actions in the Middle East and also in Latin America, I will tell you, Central America, some countries. They’ve been—our boys have been told they can go and take the kind of executive action they need, and that’s simply—there’s no legal basis for it.… [T]he idea that the American president would think he has the constitutional power or the legal right to tell soldiers not engaged in immediate combat to go out and find people based on lists and execute them is just amazing to me.… And not only that, Amy, the thing about George Bush is, everything’s sort of done in plain sight. In his State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)… about a month and a half before we went into Iraq, Bush was describing the progress in the war, and he said—I’m paraphrasing, but this is pretty close—he said that we’ve captured more than 3,000 members of al-Qaeda and suspected members, people suspected of operations against us. And then he added with that little smile he has, ‘And let me tell you, some of those people will not be able to ever operate again. I can assure you that. They will not be in a position.’ He’s clearly talking about killing people, and to applause. So, there we are. I don’t back off what I said. I wish I hadn’t said it ad hoc… sometimes when you speak off the top, you’re not as precise.” JSOC, Hersh explains, is a group of Navy Seals, Delta Force soldiers, and other “commandos” (a word the soldiers don’t prefer, but, Hersh says, most journalists use), which has been “transmogrified, if you will, into this unit that goes after high-value targets.” Hersh explains the involvement of Cheney’s office: “And where Cheney comes in and the idea of an assassination ring—I actually said ‘wing,’ but of an assassination wing—that reports to Cheney was simply that they clear lists through the vice president’s office. He’s not sitting around picking targets. They clear the lists. And he’s certainly deeply involved, less and less as time went on, of course, but in the beginning very closely involved.” Goodman concludes by asking, “One question: Is the assassination wing continuing under President Obama?” Hersh replies: “How do I know? I hope not.” [Democracy Now!, 3/31/2009]

Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

Congressional Quarterly reporter Jeff Stein publishes an article alleging that House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) was captured on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage charges against two officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see October 2005). The offer was allegedly made in return for AIPAC’s help in Harman’s attempt to gain the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee (see Summer 2005). Stein’s sources say the wiretap was approved by a federal court as part of an FBI investigation into illegal Israeli covert actions in Washington. Stein also reports on accusations that the FBI investigation into Harman’s activities was halted by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in return for Harman’s support for the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Late 2005). In a statement, Harman says the allegations are false. “These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact,” she says through a spokesman. “I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009] Harman’s chief of staff, John Hess, later tells reporters that Stein’s story “recycles three-year-old discredited reporting of largely unsourced material to manufacture a ‘scoop’ out of widely known and unremarkable facts—that Congresswoman Jane Harman is and has long been a supporter of AIPAC, and that some members of AIPAC regarded her as well qualified to chair the House Intelligence Committee following the 2006 elections.” Hess adds, “If there is anything about this story that should arouse concern, it is that the Bush administration may have been engaged in electronic surveillance of members of the Congressional intelligence committees.” [Roll Call, 4/21/2009]
Explanation of Harman's Failure to Ascend - According to Stein, “[s]uch accounts go a long way toward explaining not only why Harman was denied the gavel of the House Intelligence Committee (see December 2, 2006), but failed to land a top job at the CIA or Homeland Security Department in the Obama administration.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009]
Bipartisan Corruption - Both Congressional Democrats and their Republican colleagues are remarkably silent on the charges, which, if true, would taint both a high-ranking Congressional Democrat and a former Republican attorney general. “The whole thing smells, and nobody’s hands are clean,” says an aide to a senior Democratic lawmaker. Conservative scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says, “I don’t think anybody wants to touch it.” Ornstein, who says he knows Harman “very well,” calls the charges a “big embarrassment,” but notes that he would be “very surprised” if the charges proved to be true. The political watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is calling for an investigation. CREW executive director Melanie Sloan says, “If Rep. Harman agreed to try to influence an ongoing criminal investigation in return for help securing a committee chairmanship, her conduct not only violates federal law and House rules, but also her oath to uphold the Constitution.” [Roll Call, 4/21/2009]

Entity Tags: John Hess, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Central Intelligence Agency, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Alberto R. Gonzales, House Intelligence Committee, Jeff Stein, US Department of Homeland Security, Jane Harman, Norman Ornstein, National Security Agency, Melanie Sloan, Obama administration

Category Tags: Government Acting in Secret, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

FBI special agent and whistleblower Robert G. Wright Jr. wins the right to publish most of the information over which he has been fighting the FBI in court for nearly seven years (see May 9, 2002). US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler rules that Wright can publish most of the information in his 500-page manuscript, all of the information in two complaints he had filed with the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General regarding the FBI’s handling of terrorism investigations, and his answers to New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s questions. Kessler also rules that Wright’s colleague and co-plaintiff, FBI Special Agent John Vincent, can publish his answers to Miller’s questions.
Judge Repeatedly Faults FBI - In her 41-page memorandum opinion, Kessler repeatedly finds fault with the FBI. The preface to the opinion summarizes the proceedings and the related issues in this way: “This is a sad and discouraging tale about the determined efforts of the FBI to censor various portions of a 500-page manuscript, written by a former long-time FBI agent, severely criticizing the FBI’s conduct of the investigation of a money laundering scheme in which United States-based members of the Hamas terrorist organization were using non-profit organizations in this country to recruit and train terrorists and fund terrorist activities both here and abroad. The FBI also sought to censor answers given by both plaintiffs to a series of written questions presented to them by a New York Times reporter concerning Wright’s allegations about the FBI’s alleged mishandling of the investigation. In its efforts to suppress this information, the FBI repeatedly changed its position, presented formalistic objections to release of various portions of the documents in question, admitted finally that much of the material it sought to suppress was in fact in the public domain and had been all along, and now concedes that several of the reasons it originally offered for censorship no longer have any validity. Unfortunately, the issues of terrorism and of alleged FBI incompetence remain as timely as ever.” [Memorandum Opinion: Wright, v. FBI (PDF), 5/6/2009 pdf file]
A 'Pyrrhic Victory' for Wright - Reporting on the case for Politico, Josh Gerstein will call the outcome “a pyrrhic victory for [Wright], since the passage of time appears to have diminished the market for his book.” Gerstein will quote one of Wright and Vincent’s lawyers, Paul Orfanedes of Judical Watch, as saying, “It’s a perfect example of how delaying somebody’s ability to publish is a clear violation of their rights.” Gerstein will also report, “Orfanedes said Wright’s book ‘might be made public in a reduced format,’ but that the group’s main hope now was to expose how the government system for pre-publication reviews of books by FBI, CIA, and other national security-related officials, is dysfunctional.” [Politico, 5/11/2009]
FBI Attempts to Censor Judge's Memorandum Opinion and Fails - In an ironic twist, an FBI demand for redaction of a portion of Kessler’s memorandum opinion calls attention to that portion of the text, which is easily readable due to improper redaction technique; the text under the blacked out portion can be copied and pasted. The redacted portion is an FBI argument for why a portion of Wright’s manuscript must be redacted. It reads, “[D]isclosure of the location and use of this infrastructure could allow individuals to survey, attempt to penetrate, or disrupt the activities that take place in the infrastructure.” It is unclear why the FBI believes that a general reference to sensitive infrastructure is sensitive in itself. [Memorandum Opinion: Wright, v. FBI (PDF), 5/6/2009 pdf file; Memorandum Opinion: Wright, v. FBI (PDF), 5/6/2009; Memorandum Opinion: Wright, v. FBI (PDF), 5/6/2009]

Entity Tags: John Vincent, Gladys Kessler, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Office of Inspector General (Justice Department), Josh Gerstein, Judith Miller, Paul Orfanedes, Robert G. Wright, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Media Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Government Acting in Secret

CIA Director Leon Panetta is informed by the agency’s Counterterrorist Center that it has a program to assassinate or capture al-Qaeda leaders. The program was established shortly after 9/11, but has never become operational (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). Panetta immediately cancels the program. [New York Times, 7/14/2009] CIA spokesman George Little says the decision was “clear and straightforward,” as Panetta “knew it [the program] hadn’t been successful.” [Washington Post, 8/20/2009] There is no resistance inside the CIA to this decision, apparently because the program is not fully operational and has not yet been briefed to Congress. [New York Times, 7/12/2009]
CIA Was Reviewing Program - It is unclear why Panetta is informed of the program at this time. However, the Counterterrorist Center has recently conducted a review of it, so he may learn of its existence due to the review, which will be presented to the White House and the Congressional intelligence committees. [New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Why Was Panetta Not Told Before? - It is also unclear why Panetta, who was confirmed as CIA director four months ago, was not told of the program earlier. One explanation is that it is because the program was not operational. “It’s a capability that wasn’t being used, so it wasn’t a front-burner issue,” says one unnamed official. Another retired official familiar with the program’s details says, “It would have been a big deal if it was operational, but since it was not, it’s not a big deal.” However, several former CIA officers and intelligence experts find this explanation unconvincing. According to Time magazine, “For one thing, they say, the mere fact that the program apparently merited [former Vice President Dick] Cheney’s close attention should have been a red flag.” A former operations expert says, “Even if the program was dormant, the top officials would have known about Cheney’s instructions, and they should have told Panetta right away.” Another retired senior official puts it more bluntly, saying, “[Given Cheney’s interest,] I don’t know why the program was not on the new director’s desk within his first two weeks on the job.” He adds, “The speed of Panetta’s actions when he was informed tells me that the program was pretty important.” Paul Pillar, a former deputy director of the Counterterrorist Center, comments, “In retrospect, the [Cheney] angle ought to be sufficient grounds for someone to think, this does deserve the boss’s attention.” [New York Times, 7/14/2009]

Entity Tags: Leon Panetta, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterterrorist Center, Paul R. Pillar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

At an emergency meeting, CIA Director Leon Panetta tells the House and Senate intelligence committees of a CIA program to assassinate and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). [New York Times, 7/14/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009] Panetta learned of the program the previous day and immediately canceled it (see June 23, 2009). The lawmakers had not previously received information about the program, apparently at the direction of former Vice President Dick Cheney (see 2002). Panetta says he thinks the lawmakers should have been told earlier, because the program had moved beyond the planning stage and therefore deserved Congressional scrutiny. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Senate Intelligence Committee, House Intelligence Committee, Leon Panetta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

The House Intelligence Committee launches an investigation into whether the CIA broke the law by failing to notify Congress about an agency program to assassinate and capture al-Qaeda leaders. The program was initiated shortly after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 17, 2001), but Congress was not notified of it, apparently at the instruction of former Vice President Dick Cheney (see 2002), until it was shut down in July 2009 (see June 23, 2009 and June 24, 2009). [Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009] Congressional Democrats are furious that the program was not shared with the House Committee and with its Senate counterpart. However, some Congressional Republicans say that as Congress had already approved broad authorities for the CIA after 9/11, the CIA was not required to brief lawmakers on specifics about the program, which never became operational. [New York Times, 7/12/2009; New York Times, 7/14/2009]

Entity Tags: House Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

Page 5 of 5 (445 events)
previous | 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 | next

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike