Obama’s secrecy worries civil libertarians

Civil liberties experts say ongoing cases related to torture and rendition are testing the Obama administration’s assertion it will be more open and transparent than the Bush administration.

Since taking office on January 20, President Barack Obama has extended Bush-era secrecy over documents authorizing waterboarding and other controversial interrogation techniques, and has resisted an appeal by a terrorism suspect seeking to challenge his arrest and detainment.

"It’s not the clean break that people were looking for," said Steven Aftergood, who heads the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy. "It’s also not the last word."

Obama has been in office less than a month and several Department of Justice appointees have not yet been confirmed.

But rights groups are already worried Obama will not live up to campaign promises to create a transparent government in contrast to the secrecy of George W. Bush.

On Wednesday, the administration was scheduled to argue in Manhattan federal court for a 90-day grace period to review three memos by former Bush legal council Steven Bradbury, which Bush administration officials refused to release on national security grounds.

The American Civil Liberties Union first demanded the documents in a Freedom of Information request five years ago, and the Bush administration had refused on national security grounds.

According to a 2007 article in the New York Times referenced by the ACLU, the memos provided "explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics," including "simulated drowning."

The group opposed the extension as excessive and the two sides reached a compromise on the eve of the hearing, allowing the administration 30 days to respond.

In a separate case brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the administration asked for extra time to respond to a request for documents relating to extraordinary rendition and coercive interrogation.

On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled the administration could have 60 days, rather than the 90 days it requested.

"I think it’s premature to say that they’re reluctant to release them," said Jameel Jaffer, the lead attorney on the ACLU case. "I think it is promising that the Obama administration has decided to revisit the withholding of the memos."

But, he added, a refusal to release the documents would be "a breach of the promises that President Obama made with respect to transparency."

No less troubling to civil liberties groups has been a move in two other cases to concur with legal arguments made by Bush administration officials.

The Obama Justice Department has moved to dismiss or delay a lawsuit by Mohammed Jawad — a teenage prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay prison who says he was detained unlawfully after being tortured.

And last week, the Justice Department told an appeals court it concurred with a Bush administration argument that a lawsuit by former detainees who say they were subject to extraordinary rendition and then tortured should be thrown out in its entirety because the case relies on "state secrets."


  1. bryan mcclellan

    They should have forgone the Bible and just had Obama sworn in holding a shovel because it hasn’t taken long for he and his administration to start burying the campaign rhetoric of change.

    The only change I can see is the furtive efforts to move the bodies to unnamed undisclosed locations thereby insulating his now apparent crime buddy Bush II from the price he owes to humanity.

    Call me wacko but it almost appears that this whole economic shell game was long in the making to shield the crooks and liars in government, at the Federal reserve, and at the corporations from prosecution.

    Pelosi is the one who said we don’t have time for impeachment proceedings and all but a few of her lap dogs got on board.

    Does it walk like a duck?

    Obama said he prefers to look forward and now we can see why.


    He has his 911 ( economy goes bust ) to offer up as urgent business thus giving him a pass on following the rudimentary foundations of our laws in chasing down those that have abused their privilege.How convenient. HACK!

  2. AustinRanter

    Well Bryan…ditto. Did I mention Kleenex stocks are up? Oh, and I think KY Jelly stocks are up also… :)

  3. Wayne K Dolik

    Another thing rapidly developing. It’s the unemployed compensation excessive bank charges. If you are a victim Quit those offending banks. Boycott works!

  4. sandollar

    So, civil libertarians are getting concerned now are they?
    Isn’t it a little late to ‘get religion’?

  5. robbies

    In my opinion these things are diverting the minds of people towards drugs and they are really becoming addicts of it. Therefore, addicts should use the precious services of Narconon Vista Bay. They are really good.