Increasingly, Obama's Justice Department standing by 'George Bush secrecy'

Stephen C. Webster
Published: Monday February 16, 2009

In the primary election battle between then Senators Obama and Clinton, few opportunities were spared for sniping between the campaigns.

One solid jibe, from President Obama's campaign manager David Plouffe, chided Hillary Clinton for exercises in "George Bush secrecy." The exact quote went, "What the American people don't need is more George Bush secrecy in the White House," uttered Friday, March 7, 2008.

Regardless of what Plouffe felt the American people did or did not need, "George Bush secrecy" is increasingly what they're getting. In a Monday report, the Associated Press notes that President Obama's Department of Justice has already sided with "half a dozen" Bush administration claims of secrecy over spying and interrogations.

"In only one case has the Justice Department agreed to suspend a FOIA lawsuit until the disputed documents can be re-evaluated under the yet-to-be-written guidelines," the wire service reported. "That case involves negotiations on an anti-counterfeiting treaty, not the more controversial, secret anti-terrorism tactics that spawned the other lawsuits as well as Obama's promises of greater openness."

"The signs in the last few days are not entirely encouraging," Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU attorney, told AP.

The ACLU has called on the Justice Department to release Bush administration documentation pertaining to torture, surveillance and other controversial national security policies.

The first signs that President Obama's Justice Department may take up Bush administration secrecy claims came in early February, when the department perpetuated a secrecy claim as a defense against a lawsuit over Bush's "extraordinary rendition" program.

"This case cannot be litigated," Department of Justice attorney Douglas Letter argued. "The judges shouldn't play with fire in this national security situation."

Asked by Judge Mary Schroeder whether the change in the White House had led to any changes in the government's legal arguments in the case, Letter said it "remains the position" of the government that the case should not proceed.

President Obama had promised to "usher in a new era of open government."

"This is not change," ACLU's executive director, Anthony Romero, told AP. "'President Obama's Justice Department has disappointingly reneged' on his promise to end 'abuse of state secrets.'"