I am trying a new toothpaste tonight, because try as I may, I cannot wash the bitter taste of disgust out of my mouth. I have chewed upon the following two facts, and they don’t combine well:
A. When Barack Obama was inaugurated as President of the United States, he promised an era of new government openness and accountability.
B. This month, the Obama Administration is arguing that Americans don’t have the right to sue the federal government when it violates their rights.
Last year, Barack Obama voted in favor of the FISA Amendments Act, a law that expanded the power of the government to spy on Americans through electronic communications networks and through physical searches conducted without any search warrant. The FISA Amendments Act also gave retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications corporations that illegally gave massive amounts of private information about law-abiding Americans’ personal communications to the Bush White House.
Part of the justification by politicians like Barack Obama who voted for the bill was that although the telecommunications corporations could no longer be held accountable to the law, Americans could still sue the federal government in order to try to stop warrantless wiretapping taking place against them.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation decided to pursue just that avenue. So, it began a lawsuit, officially entitled Jewel v. NSA, to try to force the National Security Agency from engaging in its massive dragnet to gather essentially all electronic communications taking place within the USA and internationally.
So, now that Barack Obama is President, is Obama cooperating with efforts to undo that new Total Information Awareness spying system? No, on the contrary, Obama is defending it. A week ago, the Obama White House sent lawyers from the Department of Justice to court in order to try to have the Jewel v. NSA lawsuit dismissed.
Obama’s argument: American citizens don’t have the right to file suit when their government violates their rights. Obama’s lawyers filed papers asking for dismissal because Barack Obama claims that national security will be harmed if the lawsuit goes forward. President Obama’s lawyers offered no evidence that national security was at stake. They just claimed that the lawsuit involved “state secrets”, and so must not be allowed to continue.
Essentially, President Obama is claiming the right to stop any lawsuit he doesn’t like – just by claiming that the lawsuit jeopardizes national security. If we citizens don’t have the power to sue when the government violates our rights and breaks the law, then we are living in an autocracy in which the President is above the law. That’s the power that George W. Bush claimed for himself – and now Barack Obama is claiming it too.
Actually, Barack Obama is making even more outlandish claims to total power than George W. Bush made. There are legal arguments the Obama Administration is making in defense of total Presidential power that the Bush Administration never made. Barack Obama is finding new ways to defend the indefensible.
Obama made this legal move a week ago. So, why am I writing about it now? I’m writing about it now because I’m reading about it now. Search for Jewel v. NSA on a corporate news site, and chances are nothing at all will come up. Most newspapers across the USA haven’t published anything about this incident – offline or online. You’ve got to look with a bit more determination than usual to find information about the Jewel v. NSA hearing.
Even more than under Bush, corporate journalism is shrugging while American freedom is smothered.