Leaks versus secrecy

Glenn Greenwald has a post on the ACLU suing the Obama administration to find out what legal arguments and doctrines were used to justify the assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki, an American citizen who was never charged with a crime. Greenwald notes throughout that the administration has used anonymity granted by a compliant press corps to repeatedly leak what happened and how it has been happened, as well as boasted of by the President on late night talk shows, but only when the justifications are challenged in court does it become Obama administration policy that these things cannot ever see the light of day:

Everyone knows that the U.S. Government is doing these things. They are discussed openly all over the world. The damage they do and the victims they leave behind make it impossible to conceal them. Often, they are the subject of judicial proceedings in other countries. Typically, U.S. officials will speak about them and justify and even glorify them to American media outlets anonymously.

There’s only one place in the world where these programs cannot be discussed: in American courts. That’s because, when it comes time to have real disclosure and adversarial checks — rather than one-sided, selective, unverifiable disclosure — and when it comes time to determine if government officials are breaking the law, the administration ludicrously claims that it is too dangerous even to confirm if such a program exists (and disgracefully deferential federal courts in the post-9/11 era typically acquiesce to those claims). So here we have the nauseating spectacle of the Obama administration secretly targeting its own citizens for assassination, boasting in public about it in order to show how Tough and Strong the President is, but then hiding behind broad secrecy claims to shield their conduct from meaningful transparency, public debate, and legal review, all while pretending that they are motivated by lofty National Security Concerns when wielding these secrecy weapons. The only thing worse than the U.S. Government’s conduct of most affairs behind a wall of secrecy is how cynical, manipulative and self-protective is its invocation of these secrecy powers. [Emphasis original.

It’s also worth noting that when government officials leak information in unauthorized ways about the powers seized by the executive branch relating to terrorism and surveillance, these leakers are prosecuted with extreme prejudice by the Obama administration. Leaks are a tool to be used to bolster themselves when they want to look and act tough, but when someone uses leaks to shine sunlight onto the behaviors of the administration, then they are treated as the gravest of offenses. The hypocrisy is truly sickening.

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