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Dec 06 2011

Irony and the Rule of Law, Part 1

From a speech by Eric Holder to the American Constitution Society shortly before he was named Attorney General by then-President-elect Barack Obama, waxing eloquent about the vital importance of the rule of law — a position he quickly abandoned once in office.

Our needlessly abusive and unlawful practices in the ‘War on Terror’ have diminished our standing in the world community and made us less, rather than more, safe. For the sake of our safety and security, and because it is the right thing to do, the next president must move immediately to reclaim America’s standing in the world as a nation that cherishes and protects individual freedom and basic human rights…

Unfortunately in the last few years, we have quite frankly lost our way with respect to this commitment to the Constitution and to the rule of law. The rule of law is not, as some have seen it, an obstacle to be overcome, but the very foundations of our nation. It is the rule of law that has held us together despite our differences while other nations have descended into strife. It is the rule of law that has made the United States a beacon to the world – a nation that others aspire to emulate…

Although we did not respond to 9/11 by imprisoning Muslim Americans, our government authorized the use of torture, approved of secret electronic surveillance of American citizens, secretly detained American citizens without due process of law, denied the Writ of Habeus Corpus to hundreds of accused enemy combatants, and authorized the use of procedures that both violate international law and the United States Constitution…

Although we did not respond to 9/11 by imprisoning Muslim Americans, our government authorized the use of torture, approved of secret electronic surveillance of American citizens, secretly detained American citizens without due process of law, denied the Writ of Habeus Corpus to hundreds of accused enemy combatants, and authorized the use of procedures that both violate international law and the United States Constitution…

Fourth, to those in the Executive branch who say “just trust us” when it comes to secret and warrantless surveillance of domestic communications I say remember your history. In my lifetime, federal government officials wiretapped, harassed and blackmailed Martin Luther King and other civil rights leader in the name of national security. One of America’s greatest heroes whom today we honor with a national holiday, countless streets, schools and soon a monument in his name, was treated like a criminal by those in our federal government possessed of too much discretion and a warped sense of patriotism. Watergate revealed similar abuses during the Nixon administration. These and other government abuses of power led Congress to enact into law the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 – FISA. We must utilize and enhance our intelligence collection capabilities to identify and to root out terrorists. We must also comply with the law. We must also comply with FISA.

That last part is especially ironic given the DOJ’s position under Holder of arguing that FISA cannot be enforced against the executive branch because of the State Secrets Privilege. Sure would have been nice if he’d actually meant those words.

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  1. 1
    Aquaria

    It would be different if these idiots would do what they did with DADT and offer up only token defense of FISA as it stands now while working on Congress to write a better law regarding FISA courts, and making sure there are safeguards to prevent abuses of the state secrets privilege.

    But that’s not what they’re doing, so, yes, it is ironic for Holder to say all this while fighting so vigorously to keep on keeping on with State Secrets Privilege.

  2. 2
    daveau

    We have always been at war with Eastasia.

  3. 3
    Bronze Dog

    One irony angle I see: ~2008 Holder, Obama appointee, lists the reasons I will not vote for Obama (or any of the Republican nutbars) in 2012.

  4. 4
    gopiballava

    The rule of law is clearly intended to prevent evil people from doing bad things. I am not evil, therefore I should not be constrained by the laws. Duh.

  5. 5
    Marcus Ranum

    I remember when Holder was being portrayed as the tough guy who was going to get to the bottom of the whole torture fiasco. Unfortunately, he hit bottom and liked it there.

  6. 6
    Ed Brayton

    I find it very interesting that posts like this get very few comments. When Obama first took office and I was criticizing him over things like this, many of my readers jumped to his defense, saying things like “give him time, he’s only been in office a few months, there are still Bush holdovers in the DOJ, he’ll get to it.” Time has clearly proven those arguments false and now when I criticize Obama, very few people even acknowledge it, much less dispute it. The reality here is just indisputable — when it comes to civil liberties, Obama hasn’t just been disappointing he’s been a total disaster.

  7. 7
    Marcus Ranum

    The reality here is just indisputable — when it comes to civil liberties, Obama hasn’t just been disappointing he’s been a total disaster.

    I don’t think anyone is arguing that point. Are they?

    The problem with Obama, perhaps why people are silent, is that Obama rubs everyone’s face in the reality of the fakeness of the 2 party system and how bogus the idea of representative government really is. There’s not much that can be said about that. Other than “bend over here it comes again” unless you’re inclined to start a revolution.

    The reason Obama is worse is because he ran against what he’s being worse than. He said he’d be better but in fact he’s been terrible. Yeah, that’s worse than the other guys because they were obviously terrible from the get-go. I voted for Obama because he said he’d close Gitmo. Now I pick up my guitar and play, just like yesterday, then I get on my knees and, ah, fuckit, I know we’ll get fooled again.

  8. 8
    sunsangnim

    From Glenn Greenwald’s new book:

    “A ruler’s belief in his own virtue actually renders abuses of power more likely, since he can rationalize all manner of arbitrary and capricious measures: ‘I am good and doing this for good ends, and it is therefore justifiable.’ Power exercised corruptly inevitably degrades and destroys even genuinely benevolent intent.”

  9. 9
    shadowwalkyr

    I find it very interesting that posts like this get very few comments.

    What’s left to say?

  10. 10
    Chris from Europe

    I second shadowwalkyr. Ed, can you give us a little hint where the discussion could go?

    I have to say that I really wonder how this could have happened. It’s a bit hard to believe that so many people had zero conviction when they said stuff like that. And then there have been quite a few people who quietly resigned.

  11. 11
    slc1

    One of the reasons that the administration gets away with this is that the lamestream media doesn’t call them on it. In the president’s infrequent news conference, has he ever been questioned about this or, if he was, was there a follow up question after his answer?

    However, it’s not quite a total disaster. Yesterday, his Secretary of State made a strong statement about human rights for gays. Is there the slightest possibility that a Secretary of State in a Romney or Gingrich administration would make such a speech?

    http://globalspin.blogs.time.com/2011/12/07/hillary-clinton-vows-to-support-global-fight-for-gay-rights/

  12. 12
    Pieter B, FCD

    I remember the Obama faithful rationalizing state-security abuses loud and long. My favorite (in terms of sheer blind devotion) went along the lines of “he wanted to cut back on the excesses but he probably got the sooper-seekrit briefing and things are much worse than we all thought so he has to do this.”

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