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Humanists of Colorado Message Board › Orwell: more right than he knew, Part 2 of 2

Orwell: more right than he knew, Part 2 of 2

A former member
Post #: 190
Kept a one-paragraph overlap below . . . --KR

The decision not to release the memo is noteworthy because the Obama administration -- in particular the Office of Legal Counsel -- has sought to portray itself as more open than the Bush administration was. By turning down the foundation's request for a copy, the department is ensuring that its legal arguments in support of the FBI's controversial and discredited efforts to obtain telephone records will be kept secret.

What's extraordinary about the Obama DOJ's refusal to release this document is that it does not reveal the eavesdropping activities of the Government but only its legal rationale for why it is ostensibly permitted to engage in those activities. The Bush DOJ's refusal to release its legal memos authorizing its surveillance and torture policies was unquestionably one of the acts that provoked the greatest outrage among Democratic lawyers and transparency advocates (see, for instance, Dawn Johnsen's scathing condemnation of the Bush administration for its refusal to release OLC legal reasoning: "reliance on 'secret law' threatens the effective functioning of American democracy" and "the withholding from Congress and the public of legal interpretations by the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) upsets the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government."

The way a republic is supposed to function is that there is transparency for those who wield public power and privacy for private citizens. The National Security State has reversed that dynamic completely, so that the Government (comprised of the consortium of public agencies and their private-sector "partners") knows virtually everything about what citizens do, but citizens know virtually nothing about what they do (which is why WikiLeaks specifically and whistleblowers generally, as one of the very few remaining instruments for subverting that wall of secrecy, are so threatening to them). Fortified by always-growing secrecy weapons, everything they do is secret -- including even the "laws" they secretly invent to authorize their actions -- while everything you do is open to inspection, surveillance and monitoring.

This dynamic threatens to entrench irreversible, absolute power for reasons that aren't difficult to understand. Knowledge is power, as the cliché teaches. When powerful factions can gather unlimited information about citizens, they can threaten, punish, and ultimately deter any meaningful form of dissent: J. Edgar Hoover infamously sought to drive Martin Luther King, Jr. to suicide by threatening to reveal King's alleged adultery discovered by illicit surveillance; as I described earlier today in my post on New York's new Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer was destroyed in the middle of challenging Wall Street as the result of a massive federal surveillance scheme that uncovered his prostitution activities. It is the rare person indeed with nothing to hide, and allowing the National Security State faction unfettered, unregulated intrusive power into the private affairs of citizens -- as we have been inexorably doing -- is to vest them with truly awesome, unlimited power.

Conversely, allowing government officials to shield their own conduct from transparency and (with the radical Bush/Obama version of the "State Secrets privilege") even judicial review ensures that National Security State officials (public and private) can do whatever they want without any detection and (therefore) without limit or accountability. That is what the Surveillance State, at its core, is designed to achieve: the destruction of privacy for individual citizens and an impenetrable wall of secrecy for those with unlimited surveillance power. And as these three events just from the last 24 hours demonstrate, this system -- with fully bipartisan support --- is expanding more rapidly than ever.


UPDATE: I confused the timing of the second incident I mentioned here: the White House's proposal to expand NSL's to include Internet records. That actually occurred last July. But I also neglected to include in this list the Obama White House's September demands that all ISP's and manufacturers of electronic communication devices (such as Blackberries) provide "backdoors" for government surveillance, so that bolsters the points I made here.


UPDATE II: So patently illegal is Obama's war in Libya as of today that media reports are now coming quite close to saying so directly; see, for instance, this unusually clear CNN article today from Dana Bash. As a result, reporters today bombarded the White House with questions about the war's legality, and here is what happened, as reported by ABC News' Jake Tapper:

Talk about "secret law." You're not even allowed to know the White House's rationale (if it exists) for why this war is legal. It simply decrees that it is, and you'll have to comfort yourself with that. That's how confident they are in their power to operate behind their wall of secrecy: they don't even bother any longer with a pretense of the most minimal transparency.
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