Obama Administration Hinders Legal Actions Against Bush Sponsored Torture

There was a disappointing move by the Obama administration today as the Justice Department repeated Bush administration claims of “state secrets” in a lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan which provided air taxi service for the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” torture program. The ACLU represents five torture victims in the case. Following is their statement:

The Justice Department today repeated Bush administration claims of “state secrets” in a lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan for its role in the extraordinary rendition program. Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen was brought on behalf of five men who were kidnapped and secretly transferred to U.S.-run prisons or foreign intelligence agencies overseas where they were interrogated under torture. The Bush administration intervened in the case, inappropriately asserting the “state secrets” privilege and claiming the case would undermine national security. Oral arguments were presented today in the American Civil Liberties Union’s appeal of the dismissal, and the Obama administration opted not to change the government position in the case, instead reasserting that the entire subject matter of the case is a state secret.

The following can be attributed to Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU:

“Eric Holder’s Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government. This is not change. This is definitely more of the same. Candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets, but President Obama’s Justice Department has disappointingly reneged on that important civil liberties issue. If this is a harbinger of things to come, it will be a long and arduous road to give us back an America we can be proud of again.”

The following can be attributed to Ben Wizner, a staff attorney with the ACLU, who argued the case for the plaintiffs:

“We are shocked and deeply disappointed that the Justice Department has chosen to continue the Bush administration’s practice of dodging judicial scrutiny of extraordinary rendition and torture. This was an opportunity for the new administration to act on its condemnation of torture and rendition, but instead it has chosen to stay the course. Now we must hope that the court will assert its independence by rejecting the government’s false claims of state secrets and allowing the victims of torture and rendition their day in court.”

Democrats.com asks, “Why the heck is President Obama protecting torturers?” Glenn Greenwald writes, “Obama fails his first test on civil liberties and accountability — resoundingly and disgracefully.”

What makes this particularly appalling and inexcusable is that Senate Democrats had long  vehemently opposed the use of the “state secrets” privilege in exactly the way that the Bush administration used it in this case, even sponsoring legislation to limits its use and scope.  Yet here is Obama, the very first chance he gets, invoking exactly this doctrine in its most expansive and abusive form to prevent torture victims even from having their day in court, on the ground that national security will be jeopardized if courts examine the Bush administration’s rendition and torture programs — even though (a) the rendition and torture programs have been written about extensively in the public record; (b) numerous other countries have investigated exactly these allegations; and (c) other countries have provided judicial forums in which these same victims could obtain relief.

There is mixed reaction on the right. There are still some on the right who respect traditional conservative values such as limiting the power of government and showing respect for human rights. Andrew Sullivan writes:

The Obama administration will continue the cover-up of the alleged torture of the British resident. The argument is that revealing the extent of the man’s torture and abuse would reveal state secrets. No shit. This is a depressing sign that the Obama administration will protect the Bush-Cheney torture regime from the light of day.  And with each decision to cover for their predecessors, the Obamaites become retroactively complicit in them.

So what are they hiding from us? Wouldn’t you like to know?

The more common conservative reaction is seen at QandO which shows it has neither credibility or any understand of those who do. They try to draw a false equivalency between Obama and Bush on rendition. While I disagree with what appears to be a general policy from Obama to avoid prosecution based upon the crimes of the Bush administration, this still does not place Obama on the level of those in the Bush administration which actually committed these acts. We can be disappointed in this decision by the Obama administration to hinder prosecution for past acts while still applauding their decision to refrain from such actions in the future.

QandO also claims that civil libertarians who supported Obama will not be displeased by this action. Response in the blogosphere has quickly proven them wrong. This is not very surprising. The right wingers who spent the last eight years showing zero respect for liberty and the principles this nation was founded upon while acting as apologists for the Bush administration are not likely to understand that it is possible to express agreement or disagreement with individual acts of a president based upon adherence to principles. They only understand either blindly following their leader or blindly attacking the opposing party without any regard for principle, showing a total lack of credibility.

Update: More from Glenn Greenwood on the improper application of states secrets in this case.

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  1. 1
    Suggestions4Obama says:

    How do we entertain the notion that the government can just say “state secrets” and get the case dismissed outright? Assuming it does not lead to abuse, shouldn’t the proper response of a court if the government asserts the state secrets privilege to enter a default judgment against the government and grant the remedy the plaintiffs seek?

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    One reason for such law suits is to expose past wrong doing by the government. My primary concern isn’t punishing companies which went along with criminal acts of the Bush administration but getting out the truth as to what occurred during the past eight years–primarily to reduce the risk of this ever happening again in the United States.

    A default judgment might satisfy the specific plaintiffs but a trial might be of value to expose actually occurred. Having past wrong doings covered up as state secrets would remain unsatisfying even if the plaintiffs did win by a default judgment.

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