A stopped clock is right twice a day, so why can’t a stopped Congress get it right once in two years? Suggesting that something good can even come from the reflexive anti-Obamaism of the modern day Republican party, we learn that there is a bi-partisan movement afoot to severely curtail the government’s use of the “state secret” defense, a defense born in fraud, which continues as a device to shield government wrongdoing from public exposure or accountability.
Obama and his successors in the White House would be banned from using false claims of national security to conceal “embarrassing or unlawful conduct” by the government, under new legislation proposed by lawmakers on both sides of the House.
The proposed State Secrets Protection Act, H.R. 5956, introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), would be the first law to rein in the president’s “state secrets privilege,” a nearly limitless power to kill litigation by claiming a lawsuit would expose national security information to the benefit of America’s enemies. First recognized by the US Supreme Court in a McCarthy-era lawsuit in 1953, the privilege has been increasingly and successfully invoked in the post-9/11 era to shield the government and its agents from court scrutiny in cases involving rendition, torture, warrantless wiretapping, and the lethal targeting of U.S. citizens.
“The ongoing argument that the state secrets privilege requires the outright dismissal of a case is a disconcerting trend in the protection of civil liberties for our nation,” Nadler said of the bill, unveiled last week. ”This important bill recognizes that protecting sensitive information is an important responsibility for any administration and requires that courts protect legitimate state secrets while preventing the premature and sweeping dismissal of entire cases.”
Also signing on to the legislation is Tom Petri (R-Wisconsin), John Conyers Jr. (D-Michigan), and Zoe Lofgren (D-California).
If, as the article reports, this act truly has widespread support among Republicans, then the country stands to reap at least some benefit from the Republican penchant for opposing everything Obama does. It goes without saying that this bill would have zero Republican support were George Bush still president, or were Mitt Romney in office. The fact that Obama wields this power at the moment apparently blinds at least some Republicans to the possibility that what they do now could tie the hands of one of their own. But that’s all to the good, as it is a pernicious doctrine, and no one, Obama included (and he’s shown no real inclination to stop the abuse) should have the power to decide when he or his administration can be called to account.
All in all, it’s not much of a return for four years of obstructionism, but it’s not nothing, and if the bill should pass it will be one small step forward.