The White House is making it harder for the government to claim
"state secrets" as a way to hide details of "sensitive national
security strategies such as rendition and warrantless eavesdropping," reports the Washington Post.
The privilege was used widely during the Bush administration, prompting charges that it was exploited
for political reasons and to cover up legally dubious activity. Under the new policy, federal agencies now must get Justice Department approval to invoke state secrets. Does
Obama's move strengthen government accountability--or is it, as some critics claim, a cynical "reaffirmation"
of a Bush policy dressed up to look better?
- Same Old Bush Policies Marcy Wheeler's guest blogger, "bmaz," decried the "effectively meaningless policy" as a "reaffirmation" of Bush's
stance on state secrets. "The Obama Administration has done nothing but
put the proverbial lipstick on the existing baked pig," he/she wrote. "bmaz" suggesting that Obama might have timed the policy shift to coincide with the thorny
state-secrets case, al-Haramain v. Obama, which includes accusations of
borderline-or-worse government practices. "There is a lot the
government has to hide in al-Haramain, and
they are desperate to do just that. It would be a perfect time to whip
out a ruse in the form of a 'new state secrets policy.' Even if there
is nothing at all new about it." Adam Serwer and Glenn Greenwald agreed.
- Great Policy, if it's Enforced Kevin Drum expressed cautious optimism, warning that Obama or future presidents could still get around the policy. "I'm all for this, but unless it's backed by the force of law we're still just trusting the government to do the right thing. Maybe they will, maybe they won't. Maybe this administration will and the next one won't. Who knows?" Drum wrote. "DOJ can't have any objection to Congress making sure they do what they say they're going to do anyway, can they?"
- Responsibly Limits Abuse Jonathan Adler praised
the move as "a significant improvement" and "a long time coming."
Adler noted that Obama could have taken an easier but less
"responsible" path. "While I suppose the President could have
immediately suspended reliance
on the privilege, he took a more responsible course: ordering a review
of how the privilege is used and tasking Justice Department attorneys
with developing a new policy that will safeguard vital government
interests in a less intrusive fashion," Adler wrote. "Clear rules and
procedures limiting the privilege will reduce this
potential for abuse. Even if the new policy would have allowed
invocation of the privilege in the recent cases that sparked the
controversy, it should provide greater assurance that the privilege is
only invoked when it serves a legitimate purpose." John Cole agreed.