Conjuring up the image of President Richard Nixon, who once stated “When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal,” Obama recently disclosed secret government information on the Jay Leno Show, and on this past week’s internet forum. Last year, when asked about Army Private Bradley Manning’s status, Obama quipped “If I was to release stuff, information that I’m not authorized to release, I’m breaking the law.” At the time, Manning had not been charged with any crime.
But, by the standards of Obama’s statement on Manning, the president has also broken the law. Glenn Greenwald takes this up in today’s column, titled ACLU sues Obama administration over assassination secrecy. The Obama administration, defending its program of assassination of American citizens, and its illegal drone assassinations, and killing of hundreds of innocent people as collateral damage, has stated repeatedly that these programs are so secret that even discussing them is forbidden. Greenwald:
When they face the rule of law, then the program is so profoundly classified that it cannot be spoken of at all — indeed, the administration cannot even confirm or deny that it exists — and it therefore cannot be scrutinized by courts at all.
Worse, they not only invoke these secrecy claims to avoid the ACLU and NYT‘s FOIA requests, but they also invoked it when Awlaki’s father sued them and asked a court to prevent President Obama from executing his son without a trial. When forced to justify their assassination program in court, the Obama DOJ insisted that the program was so secretive that it could not even safely confirm that it existed — it’s a state secret – and thus no court could or should review its legality (see p.43 of the DOJ’s brief and Panetta’s Affidavit in the Awlaki lawsuit).
But Obama, on the Jay Leno Show, said:
This is a guy who was actively planning a whole range of operations here in the homeland and was focused on the homeland. And so this was probably the most important al Qaeda threat that was out there after Bin Laden was taken out, and it was important that working with the enemies, we were able to remove him from the field.
And on the internet event last week, he said:
“I think that we have to be judicious in how we use drones,” Obama said on Monday, adding that they have been used for “very precise, precision strikes against Al Qaeda and their affiliates.”
Obama went on to say that “obviously a lot of these strikes have been in the FATA,” the acronym for Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas, and have been used for “going after Al Qaeda suspects who are in very tough terrain along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
“This thing is kept on a very tight leash,” Obama said. The U.S. does not use drones “willy nilly” but in a way that avoids more intrusive military actions, he said.
Obama, by divulging classified information to the public, using his own administration’s tortured arguments, in his own words, “If I was to release stuff, information that I’m not authorized to release, I’m breaking the law,” has done just that.
Greenwald is clearly upset about where we’ve gotten:
It’s extraordinary enough that the Obama administration is secretly targeting citizens for execution-by-CIA; that they refuse even to account for what they are doing — even to the point of refusing to disclose their legal reasoning as to why they think the President possesses this power — is just mind-boggling. Truly: what more tyrannical power is there than for a government to target its own citizens for death — in total secrecy and with no checks — and then insist on the right to do so without even having to explain its legal and factual rationale for what it is doing? Could you even imagine what the U.S. Government and its media supporters would be saying about any other non-client-state country that asserted and exercised this power?
When we voted for Obama, many hoped we’d get another FDR, or at least a JFK. Then we realized we’d gotten something more akin to another Gerald Ford. Now, more and more, it seems what we’ve gotten is a newer version of some of the most uncomfortable aspects of Richard M. Nixon.