Sunday, March 01, 2009

National Security Opinion Roundup

By Carol Gee

Retired General James Jones is President Obama's pick to head the National Security Agency. In my opinion it was a brilliant choice of a brilliant man for a crucial position. Policy making, coordination, advice will be the stuff of his days in the West Wing. With what issues has he been dealing in recent weeks?

Secrecy -- "How long will the secret Bush counterterrorism memos stay secret?," was written by Chisun Lee at ProPublica. At the (2/25/09) confirmation hearing for Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel, the nominee evaded flatly saying that the memos would be released. Senator Diane Feinstein was not satisfied with her answer, echoing the opinion of many civil libertarians. Before being nominated Johnsen has called the Bush OLC's secrecy a "terrible abuse of power."

Jameel Jaffer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project, told us, "I would have liked to hear a clearer commitment" to releasing the memos and to the public value of doing so. But, he said, "ultimately what matters is not what Ms. Johnsen says but what she does, and when she does it. We're hopeful that over the next few weeks we'll start to see some of these memos released."

Guantanamo Bay -- Anthony Romero, who heads the ACLU, urged President Obama to let human rights groups examine conditions at Guantanamo Bay. Romero recently said it is not enough that the Pentagon has just issued a report concluding that the prison complies with the humanitarian requirements of the Geneva Conventions. Here is the action link Romero recommends: Ask President Obama to let human rights groups independently examine conditions at Guantánamo Bay.

Detention policy -- "The Obama administration position on detention policy: what he said," according to Christopher Weaver's article at ProPublica (2/23/09), is essentially the same as the old policy. To quote:

But the orders didn't address the broader questions of detention policy that have left the four Bagram prisoners behind bars for years, without due process. The men are basically the same type of prisoners that stirred up fervor over Gitmo. Unlike most of the 600 inmates at Bagram, who were detained in combat on the battlefield, these four were captured outside of Afghanistan or any other war zone, and they've been in custody for years. One detainee, according to his lawyers, was captured on a business trip in Bangkok.

Observers weren't surprised that the Obama administration hasn't developed a sweeping new policy on combating terrorism in the brief period allotted by the court. Jack Balkin, a Yale law professor, told the New York Times, "It may take some time before we see exactly what is going on -- whether this is just a transitory policy or whether this is really their policy."

Central Intelligence Agency -- Old scandals and new beginnings:

  1. "Disgraced senior CIA official heads to prison still claiming he is a patriot," by Marcus Stern, (2/27/09) at ProPublica. Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who held very senior positions at the agency, has been sentenced to over three years in federal prison for defrauding the government. It stemmed from the bribery scandal that involved Randy "Duke" Cunningham a few years ago. Foggo claimed he plead guilty in order to spare the government the cost of a trial where national security secrets might have been revealed.

  2. "Biden says Bush gave Al Qaeda a recruiting tool," Scott Shane reports at the International Herald Tribune (2/20/09). Speaking to the employees of the CIA after swearing in its new director, Leon Panetta, Vice President Biden's words implied criticism of the organization's record under the previous administration. To quote:

    Biden said the new president's actions "reverse the policies that in my view and the view of many in this agency caused America to fall short of its founding principles and which gave Al Qaeda a powerful recruiting tool."

    Such remarks . . . did not appear to dampen the enthusiastic reception from CIA employees. Panetta, 70, a former California congressman and White House chief of staff who has never before worked for an intelligence agency, also made glancing references to the recent history of the CIA, which was blamed for mistaken assessments of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs in the months before the Iraq war.

The Democratic Left/Progressive/Civil liberties wing of our party is sometimes of the opinion that President Obama has given us several disappointments on the Constitutional vs. national security front. At this point I believe that he is feeling his way, trying to avoid making mistakes that he feels might jeopardize his presidential prerogatives or risk national security. It is my hope that some of these decisions will be softened or reversed as time passes and he gains confidence. In order for that to happen, however, he must be kept aware that we expect better things, better support for the place of the Bill of Rights in the decision mix.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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