Obama Moves to Change Law to Avoid Supreme Court Ruling on Withheld Detainee Photos

225px-official_portrait_of_barack_obamatorture -abu ghraibPresident BarackN Obama, the world’s newest Nobel peace laureate, is again expanding on the policies of former President George Bush and fighting to conceal evidence of U.S. torture and abuse. As did the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration is seeking to change the law after courts rejected its absurd argument that the President can withhold photos of detainee abuse simply because they are embarrassing to the United States. Democrats in Congress are assisting in the effort to try to stop the Supreme Court from considering the issue by preempting the litigation.

This is the problem of nominating someone for the Nobel prize less than two weeks after entering office, here. Obama has thus far worked as a barrier rather than a catalyst for international law and values in the areas of torture and abuse. His position in the case of ACLU v. Department of Defense is reprehensible and exceeds the arguments made by Bush. He is claiming that he can deny the media and the public such pictures simply because he views them as controversial and likely to cause anger from Muslims. It is an exception that would swallow the rule.

As some of stated at the time, this argument is legally meritless and that is precisely what the courts have concluded. Now, however, Obama has taken another lesson from Bush. Unable to win on the merits, he has called on Congress to simply change the rules before the Supreme Court can vote. Democrats have joined the effort and are now close to passing legislation to remove the courts from the controversy. This is what Obama supportedW on the telecom litigation, where courts had rejected arguments of executive authority and Congress stepped in to extinguish dozens of public interest lawsuits.

225px-elena_kagan_1The position of President Obama in the case is disgraceful. Solicitor General Elena Kagan has admitted that the pictures show such things as “soldiers pointing pistols or rifles at the heads of hooded and handcuffed detainees.” In another, “a soldier holds a broom as if ‘sticking its end into the rectum of a restrained detainee.'” Kagan has taken the extraordinary step of asking the Court to delay considering the case to allow Congress to kill the litigation through legislation. As a result, no court would be allowed to rule on the release of the 87 photographs and authority would be transferred to the Defense Department.

Had Bush done such a thing (giving the Pentagon control) Democrats would have been in the streets. However, Democratic leaders are supporting the effort, the media is largely silent, and the Democratic base is passive. The move contradicts Obama’s pledge of transparency in government. It contradicts his pledge to make a full account of abuses. It makes of mockery of his award of the Nobel for encouraging international “dialogue”. It appears that that dialogue must still occur on the terms set by the United States and specifically avoids evidence that would embarrass the United States or show clearly how it has violated international law.

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31 thoughts on “Obama Moves to Change Law to Avoid Supreme Court Ruling on Withheld Detainee Photos”

  1. Obama fought the law and he won:

    “November 14, 2009

    ACLU Says Actions Stifle Transparency and Accountability

    CONTACT: (917) 302-7189 or (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

    WASHINGTON – In a brief filed late Friday night, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates invoked his authority to block the release of photos depicting the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody overseas. The photos are the subject of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit seeking their release. Secretary Gates was granted the authority to exempt certain images from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as part of a new law signed by President Obama last month.”

  2. NY Times Editorial

    The Cover-Up Continues

    Published October 25, 2009

    The Obama administration has clung for so long to the Bush administration’s expansive claims of national security and executive power that it is in danger of turning President George W. Bush’s cover-up of abuses committed in the name of fighting terrorism into President Barack Obama’s cover-up.


  3. You must realize that the National Security State is paramount..a one trillion dollar military “defence” budget…Obama calls the war in Afghanistan a “War of Necessity”, aping the Richard Haas CFR book “Wars of Choice, Wars of Necessity.” There are no Democrats or Republicans…only the National Security State, the CIA and the NSA, and Homeland Security. Obama is building forward military bases in Colombia to continue our Hegemony in that region…nothing changes, just the branding and the rhetoric.

  4. The administration has also blocked testimony but the UK may get the information out after all:

    “There is a vital development — a new ruling from the British High Court — in a story about which I’ve written many times before: the extraordinary joint British/U.S. effort to cover up the brutal torture which Binyam Mohamed suffered at the hands of the CIA while in Pakistan and while he was “rendered” by the U.S. to various countries. While Mohamed, a British resident, was in American custody, the CIA told British intelligence agents exactly what was done to him, and those British agents recorded what they were told in various memos. Last year, the British High Court ruled that Mohamed — who was then at Guantanamo — had the right to obtain those documents from the British intelligence service in order to prove that statements he made to the CIA were the by-product of coercion.

    The High Court’s original ruling in Mohamed’s favor contained seven paragraphs which described the torture to which Mohamed was subjected. It has been previously reported that those paragraphs contain descriptions of abuse so brutal that not even our own American media could dispute that it constitutes “torture”:

    The 25 lines edited out of the court papers contained details of how Mr Mohamed’s genitals were sliced with a scalpel and other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding, the controversial technique of simulated drowning, “is very far down the list of things they did,” the official said.”

    (from Glenn Greenwald’s column of today)

  5. The hooded torture subject, arms outstretched, should replace the Statue of Liberty. It IS what we stand for. Change? It is the most unbelievable change I could ever have imagined.

  6. Mike Appleton,

    Seeing Obama has embraced nearly all of the constitutionally abusive policies of Bush/Cheney, where pray tell is the rhetoric calling for his impeachment/imprisonment?

  7. I voted for Pres. Obama not because I was convinced he could readily solve our economic problems or bring about an immediate end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but because I believed that he understood that the rule of law is more important than anything else and that he was committed to its restoration. Since taking office the legal positions his administration has asserted on torture and rendition, the rights of detainees, executive privilege and the Bill of Rights have been astonishingly abusive to freedom. The politicization of the First Amendment is disgusting. And any effort to delegate to the executive branch the right to determine the limits of free speech is patently unconstitutional. I now fear as well that he cannot be trusted to with future Supreme Court appointments. This latest absurdity is the final straw for me. Progressives need to start mobilizing to make it clear to the president that he’s on a one-term course.

  8. “and the Democratic base is passive.”

    John Dean: “Leading Democrats is like herding cats”

    Go figure.

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