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And, yes, I DO take it personally: Greenwald and Olbermann on Obama's support for warrantless wiretapping [UPDATE: EFF perspective, a change for the worse]
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Friday, April 10, 2009

Greenwald and Olbermann on Obama's support for warrantless wiretapping [UPDATE: EFF perspective, a change for the worse]

worth stretching the fair use standard for...

from glenn greenwald in salon via information clearing house with a nod to brother tim...

April 08, "Salon" -- -Several weeks ago, I noted that unlike the Right -- which turned itself into a virtual cult of uncritical reverence for George W. Bush especially during the first several years of his administration -- large numbers of Bush critics have been admirably willing to criticize Obama when he embraces the very policies that prompted so much anger and controversy during the Bush years. Last night, Keith Olbermann -- who has undoubtedly been one of the most swooning and often-uncritical admirers of Barack Obama of anyone in the country (behavior for which I rather harshly criticized him in the past) -- devoted the first two segments of his show to emphatically lambasting Obama and Eric Holder's DOJ for the story I wrote about on Monday: namely, the Obama administration's use of the radical Bush/Cheney state secrets doctrine and -- worse still -- a brand new claim of "sovereign immunity" to insist that courts lack the authority to decide whether the Bush administration broke the law in illegally spying on Americans.

The fact that Keith Olbermann, of all people, spent the first ten minutes of his show attacking Obama for replicating (and, in this instance, actually surpassing) some of the worst Bush/Cheney abuses of executive power and secrecy claims reflects just how extreme is the conduct of the Obama DOJ here. Just as revealingly, the top recommended Kos diary today (voted by the compulsively pro-Obama Kos readership) is one devoted to attacking Obama for his embrace of Bush/Cheney secrecy and immunity doctrines (and promoting the Olbermann clips). Also, a front page Daily Kos post yesterday by McJoan vehemently criticizing Obama (and quoting my criticisms at length) sparked near universal condemnation of Obama in the hundreds of comments that followed. Additionally, my post on Monday spawned vehement objections to what Obama is doing in this area from the largest tech/privacy sites, such as Boing Boing and Slashdot.

This is quite encouraging but should not be surprising. As much as anything else, what fueled the extreme hostility towards the Bush/Cheney administration were their imperious and radical efforts to place themselves behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy and above and beyond the rule of law. It would require a virtually pathological level of tribal loyalty and monumental intellectual dishonesty not to object just as vehemently as we watch the Obama DOJ repeatedly invoke these very same theories and, in this instance, actually invent a new one that not even the Bush administration espoused.

To be clear: there are important areas in which Obama has been quite commendable, and I've personally praised him fairly lavishly for those actions (see, for instance, here, here and here), but it is simply unacceptable -- no matter what else is true about him -- for Obama to claim for himself the very legal immunity and secrecy powers which characterized and enabled the worst excesses of Bush lawlessness. Yet in a short period of time, he has taken one step after the next to do exactly that.

The Olbermann segments, which are really worth watching, highlight the exact passages of the Obama DOJ's brief which I excerpted and posted on Monday, and underscore how intolerable the Obama administration's conduct in the area of transparency and civil liberties has increasingly become. Credit to Olbermann for highlighting this issue and commenting on it with such unrestrained candor. This should help galvanize greater action to make clear to the Obama administration that this conduct is completely unacceptable, and -- with Accountability Now, FDL and others -- I expect there to be some specific actions announced very shortly to begin pushing back, hard, against these serious transgressions.

brother tim and i had quite a discussion about this on the "And, yes, I DO take it personally" radio show yesterday, and we both agreed that this is a very disturbing development... i've been concerned ever since then-senator obama voted in favor of the fisa bill offering retroactive immunity to telecom companies, and i was hopeful that, upon becoming president, we would see obama unequivocally repudiate this kind of constitutional abuse... that it's not happening is a bad sign...

kevin at cryptogon has christened hopeful attitudes like mine "hopium"... i notice atrios is getting pushed to the edge as well, as evidenced by his occasional post title, "hopey - changey"...

meanwhile, i'm still waiting to get our country back...


from the horse's mouth...


We had hoped this would go differently.

Friday evening, in a motion to dismiss Jewel v. NSA, EFF's litigation against the National Security Agency for the warrantless wiretapping of countless Americans, the Obama Administration's made two deeply troubling arguments.

First, they argued, exactly as the Bush Administration did on countless occasions, that the state secrets privilege requires the court to dismiss the issue out of hand. They argue that simply allowing the case to continue "would cause exceptionally grave harm to national security." As in the past, this is a blatant ploy to dismiss the litigation without allowing the courts to consider the evidence.

It's an especially disappointing argument to hear from the Obama Administration. As a candidate, Senator Obama lamented that the Bush Administration "invoked a legal tool known as the 'state secrets' privilege more than any other previous administration to get cases thrown out of civil court." He was right then, and we're dismayed that he and his team seem to have forgotten.

Sad as that is, it's the Department Of Justice's second argument that is the most pernicious. The DOJ claims that the U.S. Government is completely immune from litigation for illegal spying — that the Government can never be sued for surveillance that violates federal privacy statutes.

This is a radical assertion that is utterly unprecedented. No one — not the White House, not the Justice Department, not any member of Congress, and not the Bush Administration — has ever interpreted the law this way.

Previously, the Bush Administration has argued that the U.S. possesses "sovereign immunity" from suit for conducting electronic surveillance that violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). However, FISA is only one of several laws that restrict the government's ability to wiretap. The Obama Administration goes two steps further than Bush did, and claims that the US PATRIOT Act also renders the U.S. immune from suit under the two remaining key federal surveillance laws: the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act. Essentially, the Obama Adminstration has claimed that the government cannot be held accountable for illegal surveillance under any federal statutes.

Again, the gulf between Candidate Obama and President Obama is striking. As a candidate, Obama ran promising a new era of government transparency and accountability, an end to the Bush DOJ's radical theories of executive power, and reform of the PATRIOT Act. But, this week, Obama's own Department Of Justice has argued that, under the PATRIOT Act, the government shall be entirely unaccountable for surveilling Americans in violation of its own laws.

This isn't change we can believe in. This is change for the worse.

the more i read, the more deeply troubled i'm finding all of this...

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