As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Secret Laws

Russ Feingold is doing the Lord's work, trying to get to the bottom on a set of laws that have been passed by executive order that none of us mere citizens have awareness of or ideas about. He calls them secret laws, and apparently the President believes he can create or modify them without informing anyone.

It would appear that this is the direction which the Bush regime is trying to take America. John R. Elwood, the Office of Legal Counsel's deputy assistant attorney general, recently testified at a Senate hearing on "Secret Law and the Threat to Democratic and Accountable Government" and he revealed that the Bush regime believes "that the president could ignore or modify existing executive orders that he and other presidents have issued without disclosing the new interpretation."

In the past, even if you disagreed with the president's executive orders or the administration's interpretation of the laws, at least you'd know what they were — and perhaps challenge them in court, if you thought you had a case. Now, though, you can be potentially be arrested and tossed in jail without charges, without being allowed to contact your family, and for an indefinite period of time... all for violating an order or legal interpretation which you are completely unaware of. You'll be subjected to treatment which might cause you to lose your sanity, but you'll never be told why.

If you were allowed to consult a lawyer (which you wouldn't be), and if you were permitted to challenge your detention in court (not a chance), then not only would the evidence against you be so secret that your non-existent lawyer wouldn't be allowed to see it, but even the charges against you would be too secret for your non-existent lawyer to look at. To be fair, I guess there's no real point in allowing people to know what laws or rules they have broken when there aren't going to be allowed to defend themselves in a court of law. Wouldn't that just serve to make them even more insane?

Usually us librul hippie types are told to take off the tinfoil hat and that we're worried about nonsense. Whatever "secret laws" exist are there for our protection, after all, and we'll be damned happy they're in place when the time comes. Digby takes a look at this article in Radar Magazine which described what may happen when the time comes, particularly in the event of another terrorist attack.

Addressing the nation from the Oval Office in 2005 after the first disclosures of the NSA's warrantless electronic surveillance became public, Bush insisted that the spying program in question was reviewed "every 45 days" as part of planning to assess threats to "the continuity of our government."

Few Americans—professional journalists included—know anything about so-called Continuity of Government (COG) programs, so it's no surprise that the president's passing reference received almost no attention. COG resides in a nebulous legal realm, encompassing national emergency plans that would trigger the takeover of the country by extra-constitutional forces—and effectively suspend the republic. In short, it's a road map for martial law.

While Comey, who left the Department of Justice in 2005, has steadfastly refused to comment further on the matter, a number of former government employees and intelligence sources with independent knowledge of domestic surveillance operations claim the program that caused the flap between Comey and the White House was related to a database of Americans who might be considered potential threats in the event of a national emergency. Sources familiar with the program say that the government's data gathering has been overzealous and probably conducted in violation of federal law and the protection from unreasonable search and seizure guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.

According to a senior government official who served with high-level security clearances in five administrations, "There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived 'enemies of the state' almost instantaneously." He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.

It could be paranoid folly to worry about this, or not. We have no idea, and we're being kept intentionally in the dark. Secret laws like this have no business in a democracy, the legitimacy for which is derived from the consent of the governed. It's pretty clear that the technical apparatus is in place to spy on and detain those who government officials believe constitute an emerging threat to the United States. Whether or not it will be used is an open question, but it may be legal to do so without any of us citizens knowing it.

That is a scary place to be, and a Democratic Administration simply has to eradicate this with the fullest amount of sunshine. Obama can be a reformer just by governing outside the shadows. I'd like a massive bonfire of all that data being collected, perhaps out on the White House lawn.

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