An update on a story from February in which President Obama declared that his right to keep “state secrets” is more important than the right of people to have their legal rights protected: Five men accuse the American government of kidnapping them and shipping them to a secret prison to be tortured. In February, President Obama sent his lawyers to court with the claim that the men have no right to file suit in an effort to gain compensation for the violation of their rights. Obama argued that he has the power to declare state secrets, and any violation of legal rights that takes place in relation to a state secret is beyond the law.
The essence of Obama’s argument is that he, as President, has the power to act beyond the power of the law, and that no one has the right to restrain his actions as President. It’s the same argument that George W. Bush made when he was President. Strangely, though Democrats opposed Bush when he made this claim, most Democrats have fallen silent about Obama’s identical argument.
Yesterday, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Obama’s arguments. The decision was unanimous.
Judge Michael Hawkins explained that Obama’s legal strategy would establish the CIA as a kind of shadow police force that would act, not to enforce the law, but in defiance of it. “According to the government’s theory, the judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law,” Hawkins wrote.
Furthermore, Hawkins explained that Obama’s authoritarian approach would contradict the promises of an open government, to “perversely encourage the president to classify politically embarrassing information simply to place it beyond the reach of judicial process.”
As for the act of extraordinary rendition – government kidnapping and torture – that Obama seeks to defend, Hawkins characterized it with a blunt, yet apt, term: “Despotism”. Despotism was wrong under George W. Bush. It remains wrong under Barack Obama.