The ACLU just held a conference call which I think establishes the civil liberties community's emerging take on the Obama administration: namely that while Obama has rejected some of the past administration's excesses, it has continued to shield government lawbreakers from accountability. The call focused on the White House's decision not to pursue investigations against the architects of the Bush administration's torture policy. The administration was also criticized for blocking civil suits filed by torture victims and continuing to withhold material relevant to Freedom of Information Act requests regarding torture.
Jameel Jaffer, head of the ACLU's National Security Project, said that while "the Bush administration constructed a legal framework for torture, the Obama administration is constructing a legal framework for impunity.” The ACLU's Ben Wizner, who is counsel for the plaintiffs in the Jeppesen v. Dataplan rendition lawsuit, warned that the administration's invocation of the state secrets argument -- he called it the "Bush/Obama approach to state secrets” -- would have drastic consequences.
“In the last month of 2009, not a single torture victim has had his day in court, not a single court in a torture case has ruled on the legality of the Bush administration’s torture policies," Wizner said. As a result, Wizner explained, “we don’t have a binding definitive determination from any court that what went on for the past eight years is illegal," without which it would be all too easy for another lawyer in another administration to write a memo allowing “monstrous conduct.”
What the ACLU is saying in effect is that the Obama administration's attempt to block scrutiny of the past administration may have the effect of making the current administration's ban on torture merely a temporary one.
“Torture is not an issue in which there should be two people on either side of the table on Hardball,” Wizner said.
-- A. Serwer
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