No Comment — December 2, 2007, 10:02 am

The Justice Department’s On-Going ‘State Secrets’ Charade

When is information a “state secret” and thus completely exempt from disclosure in legal process, even if its exclusion will produce a manifest injustice? In previous episodes, we have gotten an array of different answers. For instance, we learned that when the Government engages in criminal violations of the FISA statute conspiring with telecommunications companies in the process, with the result that the communications of American citizens are subject to unlawful warrantless surveillance—this is a “state secret.” And likewise, when the Government picks up an innocent man, wrongfully confines him and deprives him of access to counsel and due process, then transports him overseas for the purposes of having him tortured—again a series of criminal acts—this is also a “state secret.” And today we get yet a further installment in what the Bush Justice Department considers to be a “state secret.” It appears that when a convicted felon at the heart of what Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann have labeled the “biggest corruption scandal in American history” pays hundreds of visits to the White House, meeting with the President, the Vice President, and the President’s senior political advisor, and potentially involving them directly or indirectly in his criminal schemes, this, too, is a “state secret” and thus cannot be divulged.

I think we’re detecting a pattern here. “State secrets” it seems has nothing to do with signals intelligence, military planning or armaments—the things traditionally associated with state secrets. No, when the Bush Justice Department uses the term, it means something else: it refers to information which, if disclosed, would be politically embarrassing to the Republican Party, and as to which no other privilege is available. The “state secrets” privilege has literally emerged as the Bush Administration’s new get-out-of-jail-free card.

The AP’s Pete Yost reports:

The Bush administration is laying out a new secrecy defense in an effort to end a court battle about the White House visits of now-imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The administration agreed last year to produce all responsive records about the visits “without redactions or claims of exemption,” according to a court order.

But in a court filing Friday night, administration lawyers said that the Secret Service has identified a category of highly sensitive documents that might contain information sought in a lawsuit about Abramoff’s trips to the White House.

The Justice Department, citing a Cold War-era court ruling, declared that the contents of the “Sensitive Security Records” cannot be publicly revealed even though they could show whether Abramoff made more visits to the White House than those already acknowledged. “The simple act of doing so … would reveal sensitive information about the methods used by the Secret Service to carry out its protective function,” the Justice Department argued.

White House responses to inquiries up to this point have furnished specific evidence of intentional evasion–what in other circumstances (as for instance when it is enforcing rather than subverting the law) the Justice Department would call “obstruction of justice.” For instance, Vice President Cheney gave specific guidance to the Secret Service to destroy records of visits to his office and to stop the practice of recording future visits. President Bush made a number of statements refusing to give a specific account of his meetings with Abramoff, which reportedly have been frequent. As Yost notes, the deceitfulness of the Bush responses was quickly revealed:

Abramoff wrote an e-mail to the national editor of Washingtonian magazine saying that Bush had seen him “in almost a dozen settings, and joked with me about a bunch of things, including details of my kids. Perhaps he has forgotten everything, who knows.” Time magazine reported that its reporters had been shown five photographs of Bush and Abramoff. Most of them, the magazine said, had “the formal look of photos taken at presidential receptions.”

But the motherlode relates to Abramoff’s meetings with Karl Rove and Rove staffers, which likely number into the hundreds—and are matched by hundreds, if not thousands of emails and telephone conversations.

The trail of the Abramoff investigation led several times directly into the White House, but Bush Administration Justice Department investigators, headed by Public Integrity head, Noel Hillman, consistently refused to follow any leads. Hillman was rewarded for keeping things on the right track. He’s now a federal judge.

One likely trail led straight to Alabama and the current controversy surrounding the politically motivated prosecution of former Governor Don E. Siegelman. Abramoff and his sidekick Michael Scanlon, a former assistant to current governor Bob Riley, were deeply involved in advising and representing gambling interests in the Southeast. They turned their clients to support Riley in his campaign against Siegelman, and are linked to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars which flowed into the Riley campaign coffers. It seems likely that Rove knew of or perhaps even had some marginal involvement in these funding and campaign efforts, which sit firmly in the background of the efforts to remove Siegelman from the political process through a corrupt prosecution.

One of Aristotle’s key tests in the definition of forms of government is recited in the Politics: What do you call a state whose ruler, in his conduct of the affairs of state, is enshrouded in secrecy, particularly when the facts, if disclosed, would alert the people to his lawlessness or criminality, but conversely, the same ruler spies constantly upon his people giving them no repose in the conduct of their own personal affairs? Such a ruler, says Aristotle, is called a tyrant, and the quality of his rule is called tyranny. So let’s be clear what the Bush Justice Department is busily constructing. The standards for a democracy are something altogether different.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

December 2014

Poison Apples

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Growing Up

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Gateway to Freedom

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Guns and Poses

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Christmas in Prison

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Beeper World·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The beeper, for a certain kind of Miami teenager in the Nineties, was an essential evolutionary adaptation.”
Photograph by Curran Hatleberg
Article
Hammer Island·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The place could have sprung from someone’s jealous dream about white people.”
Photograph by Emily Stein
Article
Growing Up·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The best coming-of-age stories have a hole in the middle. They pretend to be about knowledge, but they are usually about grasping, long after it could be of any use, one’s irretrievable ignorance.”
Photograph by Ben Pier
Article
Guns and Poses·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“‘It’s open shopping,’ he said. ‘A warehouse. The whole of Libya.’”
Map by Mike Reagan
Article
Christmas in Prison·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Just so you motherfuckers know, I’ll be spending Christmas with my family, eating a good meal, and you’ll all be here, right where you belong.”
Photographer unknown. Artwork courtesy Alyse Emdur

Amount that President Obama has added to America’s “brand value” according to the Nation Brands Index:

$2,100,000,000,000

A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.

A Utah woman named Cameo Crispi pleaded guilty to having drunkenly attempted to burn down her ex-boyfriend’s house by igniting bacon on his kitchen stove.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today