Belaboring the Obvious

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Fooled You Once, Fooled You Twice....

Sen. Dick Durbin's recent--and not particularly convincing--lamentation that he was prevented from telling the public of the Bush administration's deceptions leading to war--because of his sworn secrecy--points, yet again, to the dilemmas implicit in a system of institutionalized secrecy.

Nothing actually prevented Durbin from making a general assessment of what he was told under seal of secrecy, or kept him from suggesting that what the Senate Select Intelligence Committee heard and saw was not what the public was being told. That the two versions were different shouldn't have been a deep, dark, essential secret. Such would be a characterization of the evidence, rather a breach which might reveal sources or methods.

That Durbin's assessment was restricted to his vote on the war resolution didn't help the public at all in its evaluation of the evidence--especially when considering that the news media cheerfully reported every dire prediction emanating from the Bush administration. What was done in the name of security was, in point of fact, a silence which served to make legitimate the sleaziest sort of propaganda.

So, lame excuse or principled silence? Probably more of the former than the latter. The administration forced the vote only a few weeks before the 2002 election (by contrast, the vote authorizing the first Gulf War came only days before the attacks began, was greatly closer than in 2002, and in 1991, was greatly affected by quite open lies about the behavior of Iraqi troops in Kuwait). Nevertheless, the invocation of state secrets made it easier for the war to proceed--and for the public to be convinced that the war was a matter of necessity, rather than the war of ill-advised choice that it was from the outset. Selective leaks by the Bushies from the same documentation Durbin refused, on principle, to discuss at the time--in even general terms--enabled the administration to twist both the context for and underlying reasons for war.

Ever since its inception, the modern security system has accreted more and more power to limit the flow of information, and, often, that accretion has been spurred by political concerns. For example, the legal basis for the now much-abused and so-called "state secrets privilege" rests in the litigation of a civil case against the government--United States v. Reynolds. In that, the litigants were family members of military contractors who had died in the crash of an Air Force plane. They argued that the reason for those deaths was inadequate and shoddy maintenance of the aircraft by the government. The government petitioned the Supreme Court in 1953, arguing that national security concerns outweighed any constitutional right to individual relief through the courts. The Court ruled in favor of the government after hearing, in camera, the security reasons offered by the government. It was over three decades later that the government was forced to release the maintenance records at issue in the case, and those records showed that, indeed, the litigants were correct in their assertions, and that, very likely, the national security issues were contrived, or inflated, to save the government embarrassment. Despite this obvious bamboozlement of the Court, the Court has not seen fit to revisit the issue, even though it has had opportunity to do so, as recently as November, 2005.

Over the years, the state secrets privilege was used sparingly, until the Bush administration suddenly had the excuse of terrorism to expand its use, as it has done with a host of other procedures, including the also much-abused national security letter (which is invariably accompanied by a gag order preventing the recipient of the letter from revealing the existence of the letter or its demands for document production). Although U.S. Code explicitly disallows the classification of documents--or the withholding of documents--for political purposes or to hide incompetence or wrongdoing, it has been easy for the government to do so because of the acquiescence of the lower courts in matters described by the administration as impinging upon national security. The so-called "war" on terrorism has greatly expanded the number of opportunities for the government to use very minor players in that matter around the world for poltical advantage. (Tangentially, consider the process employed by the government in the detention and prosecution of Jose Padilla. Padilla was questioned in Chicago after his return from overseas. Only when he refused to incriminate himself and ceased answering questions was he detained, in secret. A month later, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft made a dramatic statement in the midst of talks in Moscow that Padilla had conspired to produce a "dirty bomb" for use against American citizens. Despite being a U.S. citizen, Padilla was refused habeas corpus rights and was eventually not charged with the highly-publicized crimes on which he had been held originally. Given that Padilla's education in the nuclear sciences was considerably lacking--he averred that he could enrich nuclear materials by swinging them in a bucket over his head--and that Ashcroft's announcement was artificially sensational, it's not difficult to surmise that all the genuinely pertinent aspects of the Padilla case were submerged in secrecy for political advantage.)

Unfortunately for an uninformed citizenry, all this means that those most able to understand and manipulate the national security system--those that make classifications and do investigations under the rubric of national security--are also able to politicize the system in ways unbeknownst to the average man on the street (or the average federal judge), if they are so inclined. If anything, the current Congressional investigations into the politicization of the Department of Justice should stand as fair warning of the likelihood that the rest of the national security system has also been politicized in ways we do not yet understand for lack of knowledge, even though we should, by now, know better. It was, after all, the greatest of Nixon's secular sins that he tried to use the CIA and the FBI for political purposes, to destroy his political enemies. To maintain that the hordes of sleazy, wholly unprincipled fucks working for Bush and the RNC are above using the CIA, the NSA, the DoD and the FBI for similar political purposes is like saying the sky is green. Nixon gave `em the roadmap, and they're cruising down it at a hundred miles an hour.

And yet, we're in the fiftieth month of an unnecessary war precisely because this administration politicized the national security system, protestations by Dick Durbin notwithstanding. By now, keeping history in mind, it's unconscionable that either the press or the public--or the not-yet-stark-raving-bonkers in Congress--give this administration a pass on any attempt at secrecy on national security grounds. If one needs any reminder of the likelihood of the Bushies using every tool at their disposal to screw their detractors, recall Bush's exceptional refusal to allow security clearances to the investigators of the DoJ's Office of Professional Responsibilty when they sought to investigate DoJ approval of the NSA warrantless surveillance program.

These guys are dirty, and they're using the bogus war on terror to hide that fact. They're not the only ones in history to have used "national security" to cover their asses, but, dollars to doughnuts, they've done so more brazenly and more extensively than any other administration in modern history--including Nixon's band of pirateers.

The Dick Durbins in government have been their useful idiots, yes, but it's time for that to stop, now that subpoena power can be used for something other than investigating Socks the White House Cat's fan club. Maybe Durbin will finally get the big picture when he figures out that Karl Rove has been keeping tabs on all his phone calls courtesy of the NSA....


  • You have an otherwise strong column & case, except for possibly going over the top on Durbin. For me, what counts is his vote on the Iraq War resolution. The chips were down, he went on record. To paraphrase Katrina vanden Heuvel on Fox News, when most were giving head, he kept his.

    By Blogger Vigilante, at 8:59 AM  

  • You wrote about my greatest peeve. The very idea that our reps can run our Democracy on and in secret once again looks to be what will be our demise. If only this were more obvious to the masses. And I really don't understand why so many judges are so easily swayed.

    And Romney (another dangerous rich boy idiot) hired Cofer Black to be one of his major advisors.

    Hope all is well, amigo.. your words are needed in the big albiet nutty conversation to, imo


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:06 AM  

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