Commentary by Tim Jones
April 7th, 2009
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.
“We had hoped this would go differently” is the biggest understatement made in the US since 1776. This move by Obama fully undermines just about every argument made when he was a candidate. If I had any clue that Obama would have done anything like this, I would not have bothered voting at all.
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