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Posts tagged ‘Justice Department’

The Newly Released Secret Laws of the Bush Administration

Glenn Greenwald

glenn

S A L O N

Tuesday March 3, 2009 06:31 EST

The newly released secret laws of the Bush administration

(updated below – Update II – Update III)

Reviewing yesterday’s front page of the print edition of The New York Times prompted this observation from Digby:

I looked at the front page of the paper this morning and wondered for a moment if I was looking at one of those historical documents about which scholars would wonder if those who read it in real time had a clue about the scale of what was happening.

There’s a run on the banks in Ukraine, the world’s biggest insurer suffered the highest quarterly losses in corporate history, Europe is starting to come apart — with Germany being the lead player. Major change seems to be rumbling in a bunch of different ways right now — with echoes of the past overlaid with things we’ve never seen before. Maybe it’s just a blip.  But maybe not.

Various universal perception biases always make it difficult to assess how genuinely consequential contemporary events are:  events in the present always seem more important than ones in the past; those that affect us directly appear more significant than those that are abstract, etc. (though powers of denial — e.g.: all of those bad things I’ve read about in history can’t happen to me and my country and my time — undercut those biases).  Whatever else is true, it seems undeniably clear, at the very least, that the extreme decay and instabilities left in the wake of the Bush presidency will alter many aspects of the social order in radical and irrevocable (albeit presently unknowable) ways.

One of the central facts that we, collectively, have not yet come to terms with is how extremist and radical were the people running the country for the last eight years.  That condition, by itself, made it virtually inevitable that the resulting damage would be severe and fundamental, even irreversible in some sense.  It’s just not possible to have a rotting, bloated, deeply corrupt and completely insular political ruling class — operating behind impenetrable walls of secrecy — and avoid the devastation that is now becoming so manifest.  It’s just a matter of basic cause and effect.

Yet those who have spent the last several years pointing out how unprecedentedly extremist and radical was our political leadership (and how meek and complicit were our other key institutions) were invariably dismissed as shrill hysterics.  As but one of countless highly illustrative examples, here is a November, 2004 David Broder column scoffing at the notion that there was anything radical or unusual taking place in the U.S., dismissively deriding the claim that there was anything resembling an erosion of basic checks and safeguards in the United States:

Bush won, but he will have to work within the system for whatever he gets. Checks and balances are still there. The nation does not face “another dark age,” unless you consider politics with all its tradeoffs and bargaining a black art.

That was (and still is) the prevailing attitude among our political and media elites:  it was those who were sounding alarm bells about the radicalism and damage of the Bush administration — not Bush officials themselves — who were the real radicals and, worst of all, were deeply Unserious.

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Americans Heart Torture

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Justice Department Drops Case Against Army Deserter

Justice Department drops appeal in Watada case

watada

Seattle Times

The U.S. Justice Department under the Obama administration has decided to drop its appeal of a federal judge’s ruling that 1st Lt. Ehren Watada cannot face a second court-martial resulting from his high-profile 2006 refusal to go to Iraq with his Fort Lewis brigade.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday granted the Justice Department’s request to drop its appeal of a federal judge’s earlier ruling that the second court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada on that count would represent double jeopardy and a violation of Watada’s constitutional rights.

This is the latest development in the long legal battle of Watada, whose 2006 decision not to join his Stryker brigade in Iraq turned the Hawaiian-born officer into a national symbol of the anti-war movement.

But Watada’s legal troubles may not be over.

He could still face a military tribunal for two other counts of conduct unbecoming an officer, according to a Fort Lewis spokesman.

Those counts were not thrown out by the federal court. They result from two interviews Watada gave in 2006, in which, among other comments, he attacked then-President George Bush for betraying the trust of the American people. He also said that Bush’s conduct made him ashamed to wear his Army uniform.

“At this point the leadership at Fort Lewis is considering a full range of judical and adminstrative options, which could range from court martial to adminstrative actions and discharge,” said Joe Piek, a Fort Lewis spokesman.

Watada’s first court martial, in February 2007, ended with a mistrial.

To block a second court martial, Watada’s attorneys sued in U.S. District Court. The unusual move left the U.S. Justice Department arguing the case on behalf of the Army.

In October, U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma ruled that Watada could not be prosecuted again by the Army on charges of missing his deployment to Iraq. He also blocked court-martial for comments made in a news conference and while speaking at a Veterans for Peace national convention.

But Settle left open the possibility that the Army could retry Watada on the two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer.

The Army has consistently maintained that a second trial on all the counts would not be double jeopardy. In December, in the waning days of the Bush Administration, the Justice Department filed a notice of appeal that kept open the option of trying to overturn Settle’s ruling.

After a more lengthy review, the Justice Department in the Obama administration opted to withdraw that appeal. That decision was made by the department’s Office of Solicitor General, which determines what cases should be appealed, according to Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorneys Office in Western Washington.

Through the course of this legal battle, Watada has been assigned a desk job at Fort Lewis. Eventually, he hopes to return to civilian life and attend law school, said Kenneth Kagan, one of Watada’s attorneys.

The 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division that left for Iraq without Watada was deployed for 15 months. The brigade returned to Fort Lewis and is preparing to serve again in Iraq later this year.

Hal Bernton: hbernton@seattletimes.com.

Obama Takes Bush Secrecy on Wiretaps and Doubles Down

Government opts for secrecy in wiretap suit

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

(04-06) 15:26 PDT SAN FRANCISCO — The Obama administration is again invoking government secrecy in defending the Bush administration’s wiretapping program, this time against a lawsuit by AT&T customers who claim federal agents illegally intercepted their phone calls and gained access to their records.

Disclosure of the information sought by the customers, “which concerns how the United States seeks to detect and prevent terrorist attacks, would cause exceptionally grave harm to national security,” Justice Department lawyers said in papers filed Friday in San Francisco.

Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a lawyer for the customers, said Monday the filing was disappointing in light of the Obama presidential campaign’s “unceasing criticism of Bush-era secrecy and promise for more transparency.”

In a 2006 lawsuit, the AT&T plaintiffs accused the company of allowing the National Security Agency to intercept calls and e-mails and inspect records of millions of customers without warrants or evidence of wrongdoing.

The suit followed President George W. Bush’s acknowledgement in 2005 that he had secretly authorized the NSA in 2001 to monitor messages between U.S. residents and suspected foreign terrorists without seeking court approval, as required by a 1978 law.

Congress passed a new law last summer permitting the surveillance after Bush allowed some court supervision, the extent of which has not been made public. The law also sought to grant immunity to AT&T and other telecommunications companies from suits by customers accusing them of helping the government spy on them.

Nearly 40 such suits from around the nation, all filed after Bush’s 2005 disclosure, have been transferred to San Francisco and are pending before Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker. He is now reviewing a constitutional challenge to last year’s immunity law, which the Obama administration is defending.

Walker is also considering a challenge to the surveillance program by the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a now-defunct charity that was inadvertently given a government document in 2004, reportedly showing that its lawyers had been wiretapped during an investigation that landed the group on the government’s terrorist list.

The Obama administration is also opposing that suit and has challenged Walker’s order to let Al-Haramain’s lawyers examine the still-classified surveillance document.

The administration’s new filing asks Walker to dismiss a second suit filed in September by AT&T customers that sought to sidestep the telecommunications immunity law by naming only the government, Bush and other top officials as defendants.

Like the earlier suit, the September case relies on a former AT&T technician’s declaration that he saw equipment installed at the company’s San Francisco office to allow NSA agents to copy all incoming e-mails. The plaintiffs’ lawyers say the declaration, and public statements by government officials, revealed a “dragnet” surveillance program that indiscriminately scooped up messages and customer records.

The Justice Department said Friday that government agents monitored only communications in which “a participant was reasonably believed to be associated with al Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist organization.” But proving that the surveillance program did not sweep in ordinary phone customers would require “disclosure of highly classified NSA intelligence sources and methods,” the department said.

Individual customers cannot show their messages were intercepted, and thus have no right to sue, because all such information is secret, government lawyers said. They also said disclosure of whether AT&T took part in the program would tell the nation’s enemies “which channels of communication may or may not be secure.”

E-mail Bob Egelko at begelko@sfchronicle.com.

Karl Rove Discusses His Second Subpoena From House Judiciary Committee

Karl Rove Discusses His Second Subpoena From House Judiciary Committee

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Former Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico Has His Records Subpoenaed in David Iglesias, U.S. Attorneys Scandal

Ex-lawmaker’s records subpoenaed in firings probe

Associated Press – February 11, 2009

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WASHINGTON (AP) – A federal grand jury has subpoenaed records of former Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico.

Career federal prosecutor Nora R. Dannehy is looking into whether former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, other Bush administration officials or Republicans in Congress should face criminal charges in the dismissals of U.S. Attorneys.

The grand jury subpoena for some of Domenici’s records has been confirmed by two private attorneys who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not representing the former senator.

Domenici’s attorney, K. Lee Blalack, has declined to comment.

Domenici made three phone calls to Gonzales in 2005 and 2006 complaining about the performance of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. Iglesias was fired for what the Justice Department’s inspector general said were political reasons.

Kicking Ass and Taking Names: Jane Hamsher and Glenn Greenwald Call Bullshit on the White House Stenographers

jandg

The Grand Dame of Blogs, Jane Hamsher and the Tough, Smart Glenn Greenwald Are Getting it Done

Access Journalism — Business As Usual?

By: Jane Hamsher Wednesday February 11
F I R E D O G L A K E

Glenn Greenwald has been rightfully indignant about the Obama DoJ’s use of Bush’s “state secrets” argument to cover up charges of rendition and torture.  The NY Times this morning says “It was as if last month’s inauguration had never occurred…..Voters have good reason to feel betrayed if they took Mr. Obama seriously on the campaign trail when he criticized the Bush administration’s tactic of stretching the state-secrets privilege to get lawsuits tossed out of court.”

But Bush’s “state secrets” claims aren’t the only White House holdovers. Glenn also singles out Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic today for being a DC stenographer whose idea of “reporting” is calling up administration sources, granting them anonymity without cause, and then writing it up mindlessly without critique or context:

What possible justification is there for granting administration officials anonymity to explain why they are embracing a Bush-era weapon that they have long criticized?  And why does an administration swearing great levels of transparency and accountability — and vowing to use secrecy only when absolutely necessary — need to hide behind a wall of anonymity in order to explain why they did what they did here?  Why can’t they attach their names to this explanation, so that they can be questioned about it and held accountable?

Why would he do that?  Well, possibly because that’s the only way they’ll talk to him — or anyone else.  New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston has also written about this “business as usual” quality of White House press relations:

My questions to LaBolt and Singh prompted a return phone call the next day from Nick Shapiro, who spelled his name, but had to be prodded several times to give his job title: assistant press secretary.

During our brief conversation, Shapiro, like LaBolt (whose name Shapiro did not recognize), started one sentence with “off the record.” Told that the journalist grants the privilege, and that none would be granted here, Shapiro expressed surprise. His surprise was double-barreled, at both the idea that the reporter issues any privilege and that any reporter would decline to talk “off the record.”

The reportorial practice of letting government officials speak without taking responsibility for their words has been an issue with the public and is being questioned now by some journalists, as shown by this article from Slate’s Jack Shafer.

Questions about whether Shapiro knows the difference between off-the-record, background, deep background, and on-the-record did not get asked, because Shapiro made it clear he had no interest in answering anything about how the Obama press secretary’s office is operating and what its tone will be. He said questions should be submitted in writing by e-mail to nshapiro@who.eop.gov. I sent Shapiro an e-mail outlining the contours of what would be covered in an interview, but have not received a response as of this writing, the following day.

Johnston is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter whose book, Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense [and Stick You with the Bill] is indispensible for anyone wanting to understand how the taxation and legislative system has been gamed to favor the rich.  He’s a superb journalist and sometimes it’s hard to believe he’s still employed at the Times(note:  Johnston has left the NYT.) An administration interested in transparency should be ecstatic about working with him.

But what is going on right now in the world of DC journalism finds its most naked expression in Ambinder’s piece, though I’ve seen other glaring examples of late — journalists are scrambling for who gets “access” to the White House.  So there’s no end to the bullshit they’ll write to ingratiate themselves to potential sources, or the inconvenient facts they’ll edit out in order to be the new Bob Woodward. (Though Ambinder does deserve some praise on this front — he wrote what everyone else knows but isn’t saying about White House plans:   “encouragement of moderate Democrats,” “entitlement reform” and “standing up to Speaker Pelosi.”)

You can see it in the horror with which the traditional media is responding to Sam Stein getting called on at the President’s press conference — there are rules, there is a pecking order, and This Is Not How It’s Done. While it’s great Sam got recognized — he’s a really good journalist and he asked a critical question — it’s not much more than “window dressing” if the day-to-day interaction with the press stays the same as it did during the Bush years.  And with Rahm managing the relations between the White House and the media these days, it looks like that’s exactly what’s happening.

Update: And the stenography continues: Ambinder calls back his “administration sources” so they can respond to Glenn but neither names him nor links to him.  “They’re sensitive to the politics of the case, but they’re not motivated by what civil libertarians may write on their blogs.”  The administration people don’t want you at the slumber party Glenn Greenwald, and they don’t give anonymous quotes to you, Glenn Greenwald, and they certainly aren’t going to RESPOND to you, Glenn Greenwald, well okay they DID and Ambinder just wrote PARAGRAPHS about it but they are going to just turn their backs and pretend you’re not there.  Feh.

The Man Who Blew The Whistle on Illegal Wiretapping

Michael Isikoff

NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE

Issue dated Dec 22, 2008

Thomas M. Tamm was entrusted with some of the government’s most important secrets. He had a Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance, a level above Top Secret. Government agents had probed Tamm’s background, his friends and associates, and determined him trustworthy.

It’s easy to see why: he comes from a family of high-ranking FBI officials. During his childhood, he played under the desk of J. Edgar Hoover, and as an adult, he enjoyed a long and successful career as a prosecutor. Now gray-haired, 56 and fighting a paunch, Tamm prides himself on his personal rectitude. He has what his 23-year-old son, Terry, calls a “passion for justice.” For that reason, there was one secret he says he felt duty-bound to reveal.

In the spring of 2004, Tamm had just finished a yearlong stint at a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies—a unit so sensitive that employees are required to put their hands through a biometric scanner to check their fingerprints upon entering. While there, Tamm stumbled upon the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency program that seemed to be eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. The unit had special rules that appeared to be hiding the NSA activities from a panel of federal judges who are required to approve such surveillance. When Tamm started asking questions, his supervisors told him to drop the subject. He says one volunteered that “the program” (as it was commonly called within the office) was “probably illegal.”

Tamm agonized over what to do. He tried to raise the issue with a former colleague working for the Senate Judiciary Committee. But the friend, wary of discussing what sounded like government secrets, shut down their conversation. For weeks, Tamm couldn’t sleep. The idea of lawlessness at the Justice Department angered him. Finally, one day during his lunch hour, Tamm ducked into a subway station near the U.S. District Courthouse on Pennsylvania Avenue. He headed for a pair of adjoining pay phones partially concealed by large, illuminated Metro maps. Tamm had been eyeing the phone booths on his way to work in the morning. Now, as he slipped through the parade of midday subway riders, his heart was pounding, his body trembling. Tamm felt like a spy. After looking around to make sure nobody was watching, he picked up a phone and called The New York Times.

That one call began a series of events that would engulf Washington—and upend Tamm’s life. Eighteen months after he first disclosed what he knew, the Times reported that President George W. Bush had secretly authorized the NSA to intercept phone calls and e-mails of individuals inside the United States without judicial warrants. The drama followed a quiet, separate rebellion within the highest ranks of the Justice Department concerning the same program. (James Comey, then the deputy attorney general, together with FBI head Robert Mueller and several other senior Justice officials, threatened to resign.) President Bush condemned the leak to the Times as a “shameful act.” Federal agents launched a criminal investigation to determine the identity of the culprit.

The story of Tamm’s phone call is an untold chapter in the history of the secret wars inside the Bush administration. The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for its story. The two reporters who worked on it each published books. Congress, after extensive debate, last summer passed a major new law to govern the way such surveillance is conducted. But Tamm—who was not the Times’s only source, but played the key role in tipping off the paper—has not fared so well. The FBI has pursued him relentlessly for the past two and a half years. Agents have raided his house, hauled away personal possessions and grilled his wife, a teenage daughter and a grown son. More recently, they’ve been questioning Tamm’s friends and associates about nearly every aspect of his life. Tamm has resisted pressure to plead to a felony for divulging classified information. But he is living under a pall, never sure if or when federal agents might arrest him.wh

Exhausted by the uncertainty clouding his life, Tamm now is telling his story publicly for the first time. “I thought this [secret program] was something the other branches of the government—and the public—ought to know about. So they could decide: do they want this massive spying program to be taking place?” Tamm told NEWSWEEK, in one of a series of recent interviews that he granted against the advice of his lawyers. “If somebody were to say, who am I to do that? I would say, ‘I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution.’ It’s stunning that somebody higher up the chain of command didn’t speak up.”

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Sneaky George W. Bush Pushing Through Dozens of Last-Minute Legislative Scams

THE OBSERVER

PAUL HARRIS

DEC 14 2008

chinatown110ec

After spending eight years at the helm of one of the most ideologically driven administrations in American history, George W. Bush is ending his presidency in characteristically aggressive fashion, with a swath of controversial measures designed to reward supporters and enrage opponents.

By the time he vacates the White House, he will have issued a record number of so-called ‘midnight regulations’ – so called because of the stealthy way they appear on the rule books – to undermine the administration of Barack Obama, many of which could take years to undo.

Dozens of new rules have already been introduced which critics say will diminish worker safety, pollute the environment, promote gun use and curtail abortion rights. Many rules promote the interests of large industries, such as coal mining or energy, which have energetically supported Bush during his two terms as president. More are expected this week.

America’s attention is focused on the fate of the beleaguered car industry, still seeking backing in Washington for a multi-billion-dollar bail-out. But behind the scenes, the ‘midnight’ rules are being rushed through with little fanfare and minimal media attention. None of them would be likely to appeal to the incoming Obama team.

The regulations cover a vast policy area, ranging from healthcare to car safety to civil liberties. Many are focused on the environment and seek to ease regulations that limit pollution or restrict harmful industrial practices, such as dumping strip-mining waste.

The Bush moves have outraged many watchdog groups. ‘The regulations we have seen so far have been pretty bad,’ said Matt Madia, a regulatory policy analyst at OMB Watch. ‘The effects of all this are going to be severe.’

Bush can pass the rules because of a loophole in US law allowing him to put last-minute regulations into the Code of Federal Regulations, rules that have the same force as law. He can carry out many of his political aims without needing to force new laws through Congress. Outgoing presidents often use the loophole in their last weeks in office, but Bush has done this far more than Bill Clinton or his father, George Bush sr. He is on track to issue more ‘midnight regulations’ than any other previous president.

Many of these are radical and appear to pay off big business allies of the Republican party. One rule will make it easier for coal companies to dump debris from strip mining into valleys and streams. The process is part of an environmentally damaging technique known as ‘mountain-top removal mining’. It involves literally removing the top of a mountain to excavate a coal seam and pouring the debris into a valley, which is then filled up with rock. The new rule will make that dumping easier.

Another midnight regulation will allow power companies to build coal-fired power stations nearer to national parks. Yet another regulation will allow coal-fired stations to increase their emissions without installing new anti-pollution equipment.

The Environmental Defence Fund has called the moves a ‘fire sale of epic size for coal’. Other environmental groups agree. ‘The only motivation for some of these rules is to benefit the business interests that the Bush administration has served,’ said Ed Hopkins, a director of environmental quality at the Sierra Club. A case in point would seem to be a rule that opens up millions of acres of land to oil shale extraction, which environmental groups say is highly pollutant.

There is a long list of other new regulations that have gone onto the books. One lengthens the number of hours that truck drivers can drive without rest. Another surrenders government control of rerouting the rail transport of hazardous materials around densely populated areas and gives it to the rail companies.

One more chips away at the protection of endangered species. Gun control is also weakened by allowing loaded and concealed guns to be carried in national parks. Abortion rights are hit by allowing healthcare workers to cite religious or moral grounds for opting out of carrying out certain medical procedures.

A common theme is shifting regulation of industry from government to the industries themselves, essentially promoting self-regulation. One rule transfers assessment of the impact of ocean-fishing away from federal inspectors to advisory groups linked to the fishing industry. Another allows factory farms to self-regulate disposal of pollutant run-off.

The White House denies it is sabotaging the new administration. It says many of the moves have been openly flagged for months. The spate of rules is going to be hard for Obama to quickly overcome. By issuing them early in the ‘lame duck’ period of office, the Bush administration has mostly dodged 30- or 60-day time limits that would have made undoing them relatively straightforward.

Obama’s team will have to go through a more lengthy process of reversing them, as it is forced to open them to a period of public consulting. That means that undoing the damage could take months or even years, especially if corporations go to the courts to prevent changes.

At the same time, the Obama team will have a huge agenda on its plate as it inherits the economic crisis. Nevertheless, anti-midnight regulation groups are lobbying Obama’s transition team to make sure Bush’s new rules are changed as soon as possible. ‘They are aware of this. The transition team has a list of things they want to undo,’ said Madia.

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