Thanks to Antony Loewenstein for the headline.
The Obama administration, which famously pledged to be the most transparent in American history, is pursuing an unexpectedly aggressive legal offensive against federal workers who leak secret information to expose wrongdoing, highlight national security threats or pursue a personal agenda.
In just over two years since President Barack Obama took office, prosecutors have filed criminal charges in five separate cases involving unauthorized distribution of classified national security information to the media. And the government is now mulling what would be the most high-profile case of them all – prosecuting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
That’s a sharp break from recent history, when the U.S. government brought such cases on three occasions in roughly 40 years.
The government insists it’s only pursuing individuals who act with reckless disregard for national security, and that it has an obligation to protect the nation’s most sensitive secrets from being revealed. Anyone seeking to expose malfeasance has ample opportunity to do so through proper channels, government lawyers say.
But legal experts and good-government advocates say the hard-line approach to leaks has a chilling effect on whistleblowers, who fear harsh legal reprisals if they dare to speak up.
Not only that, these advocates say, it runs counter to Obama’s pledges of openness by making it a crime to shine a light on the inner workings of government – especially when there are measures that could protect the nation’s interests without hauling journalists into court and government officials off to jail.
The New York Times reports:
President Obama reversed his two-year-old order halting new military charges against detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on Monday, permitting a resumption of military trials under rules he said provide adequate rights for defendants but implicitly admitting the failure for now of his pledge to close the prison camp.
Mr. Obama said in a statement he remains committed to closing Guantánamo some day and to charging some terrorist suspects in civilian criminal courts, as occurred throughout the administration of George W. Bush administration and has continued under Mr. Obama. But Congress has blocked the transfer of prisoners from Guantánamo to the United States for trial, undermining at least for the time being the administration’s plan to hold civilian trials for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, and other accused terrorists.
An executive order signed by the president on Monday sets out new rules requiring a review of all detainees’ status within a year and every three years after that to determine whether they remain a threat to Americans. The order also requires compliance with the Geneva Conventions and the international treaty that bans torture and inhumane treatment.
Civil liberties advocates, who had been expecting the moves since they were forecast in an article in The New York Times in January, expressed deeply mixed feelings about the new policies. On the positive side, some said that the executive order may permit detainees imprisoned for years without trial to have their cases heard and potentially settled by plea agreement. In addition, the executive order avoids enshrining a system of indefinite detention in law and is restricted to the 172 prisoners currently held at Guantánamo.
But Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First, said that despite those factors, the continuation of detention at Guantánamo and military commissions more than two years after Mr. Obama took office is a disappointment.
“This is a step down the road toward institutionalizing a preventive detention regime,” Ms. Massimino said. “People in the Mideast are looking to establish new rules for their own societies, and this sends a mixed message at best.”