state secrets

The Civil Liberties Celebration Hangover Wears Off

JusticePicAt the end of last week, I joked a little about privacy and civil liberties advocates having had the “best week ever”. It was indeed a very good week, but only relatively compared to the near constant assault on the same by the government. But the con is being put back in ICon by the Administration and its mouthpieces.

As I noted in the same post, Obama himself has already thrown cold water on the promise of his NSA Review Board report. Contrary to some, I saw quite a few positives in the report and thought it much stronger than I ever expected. Still, that certainly does not mean it was, or is, the particularly strong reform that is needed. And even the measures and discussion it did contain are worthless without sincerity and dedication to buy into them by the intelligence community and the administration. But if Obama on Friday was the harbinger of the walkback and whitewash of real reform, the foot soldiers are taking the field now to prove the point.

Sunday morning brought out former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell on CBS Face the Nation to say this:

I think that is a perception that’s somehow out there. It is not focused on any single American. It is not reading the content of your phone calls or my phone calls or anybody else’s phone calls. It is focused on this metadata for one purpose only and that is to make sure that foreign terrorists aren’t in contact with anybody in the United States.

Morrell also stated that there was “no abuse” by the NSA and that Ed Snowden was a “criminal” who has shirked his duties as a “patriot” by running. Now Mike Morrell is not just some voice out in the intelligence community, he was one of the supposedly hallowed voices that Barack Obama chose to consider “reform”.

Which ought to tell you quite a bit about what Barack Obama really thinks about true reform and your privacy interests. Not much. In fact, Morrell suggested (and Obama almost certainly agrees) that the collection dragnet should be expanded from telephony to also include email. Not exactly the kind of “reform” we had in mind.

Then, Sunday night 60 Minutes showed that fluffing the security state is not just a vice, but an ingrained habit for them. Hot on the heels of their John Miller blowjob on the NSA, last night 60 Minutes opened with a completely hagiographic puff piece on and with National Security Advisor Susan Rice. There was absolutely no news whatsoever in the segment, it was entirely a forum for Rice and her “interviewer”, Lesley Stahl, to spew unsupported allegations about Edward Snowden (He “has 1.5 million documents!”), lie about how the DOJ has interacted with the court system regarding the government surveillance programs (the only false statements have been “inadvertent”) and rehab her image from the Benghazi!! debacle. That was really it. Not exactly the hard hitting journalism you would hope for on the heels of a federal judge declaring a piece of the heart of the surveillance state unconstitutional.

Oh, yes, Susan Rice also proudly proclaimed herself “a pragmatist like Henry Kissinger which, as Tim Shorrock correctly pointed out, is not exactly reassuring from the administration of a Democratic President interested in civil liberties, privacy and the rule of law.

So, the whitewashing of surveillance dragnet reform is in full swing, let the giddiness of last week give way to the understanding that Barack Obama, and the Intelligence Community, have no intention whatsoever of “reforming”. In fact, they will use the illusion of “reform” to expand their authorities and power. Jonathan Turley noted:

Obama stacked the task force on NSA surveillance with hawks to guarantee the preservation of the program.

Not just preserve, but to give the false, nee fraudulent, patina of Obama Administration concern for the privacy and civil liberties concerns of the American citizenry when, in fact, the Administration has none. It is yet another con.

Or, as Glenn Greenwald noted:

The key to the WH panel: its stated purpose was to re-establish public confidence in NSA – NOT reform it.

There may be some moving of the pea beneath the shells, but there will be no meaningful reform from the administration of Barack Obama. The vehicle for reform, if there is to be one at all, will have to come from the Article III federal courts. for an overview of the path of Judge Leon’s decision in Klayman through the DC circuit, see this piece by NLJ’s Zoe Tillman.

Lastly, to give just a little hope after the above distressing content, I recommend a read of this excellent article by Adam Serwer at MSNBC on the cagy pump priming for surveillance reform Justice Sotomayor has done at the Supreme Court:

If Edward Snowden gave federal courts the means to declare the National Security Agency’s data-gathering unconstitutional, Sonia Sotomayor showed them how.

It was Sotomayor’s lonely concurrence in U.S. v Jones, a case involving warrantless use of a GPS tracker on a suspect’s car, that the George W. Bush-appointed Judge Richard Leon relied on when he ruled that the program was likely unconstitutional last week. It was that same concurrence the White House appointed review board on surveillance policy cited when it concluded government surveillance should be scaled back.

“It may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties,” Sotomayor wrote in 2012. “This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks.”

Give the entire article a read, Adam is spot on. If there is to be reform on the surveillance dragnet, it will almost certainly have to be the handiwork of the courts, and Justice Sotomayor planted the seed. The constant barrage of truth and facts coming from the Snowden materials, what Jay Rosen rightfully terms “The Snowden Effect” is providing the food for Sotomayor’s seed to flower. Hopefully.

Federal Court Strikes Down Obama DOJ’s State Secrets Defense

In what can only be described as a significant ruling, Judge Jeffrey White in the Northern California District (CAND) has rejected the federal government’s, via the Obama and Holder Department of Justice, assertion of state secrets privilege in the case of Jewel v. National Security Agency and the related consolidated case of Shubert v. Obama.

The full decision of the court is here, and in the critical active language from the court’s own summary states:

Having thoroughly considered the parties’ papers, Defendants’ public and classified declarations, the relevant legal authority and the parties’ arguments, the Court GRANTS the Jewel Plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary adjudication by rejecting the state secrets defense as having been displaced by the statutory procedure prescribed in 50 U.S.C. § 1806(f) of FISA. In both related cases, the Court GRANTS Defendants’ motions to dismiss Plaintiffs’ statutory claims on the basis of sovereign immunity. The Court further finds that the parties have not addressed the viability of the only potentially remaining claims, the Jewel Plaintiffs’ constitutional claims under the Fourth and First Amendments and the claim for violation of separation of powers and the Shubert Plaintiffs’ fourth cause of action for violation of the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, the Court RESERVES ruling on Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the remaining, non-statutory claims.

The Court shall require that the parties submit further briefing on the course of this litigation going forward.

Now, before too much celebration is made, there are some sobering aspects of this decision as well. As can be told from the quote above, several counts in both complaints have been dismissed based on sovereign immunity, and the court has questions about the continued validity of the remaining counts and has requested further briefing in that regard.

With the ultimate status of the litigation left for another day, the big news today is the negation of the dreaded state secrets assertion. To say this is a rare occurrence is to be too kind. In fact, the main instance where the privilege was overcome was the al-Haramain litigation, also in CAND, where Judge Vaughn Walker found non-classified evidence sufficient to proceed in the face of the state secrets assertion, and even that case was later reversed and dismissed by the 9th Circuit.

The court in Jewel mapped out the consideration process for the privilege challenge:

The analysis of whether the state secrets privilege applies involves three distinct steps. First, the Court must ascertain whether the procedural requirements for invoking the privilege have been satisfied. Second, the Court must make an independent determination whether the information is privileged. In determining whether the privilege attaches, the Court may consider a party’s need for access to the allegedly privileged materials. See Reynolds, 345 U.S. 19 at 11. Lastly, the “ultimate question to be resolved is how the matter should proceed in light of the successful privilege claim.” El-Masri v. United States, 479 F.3d 296, 304 (4th Cir. 2007).

Noting that the assertion of state secrets must not cause “a complete surrender of judicial control over access to the courts”, Judge White wrote:

Here, having reviewed the materials submitted for review and having considered the claims alleged and the record as a whole, the Court finds that Defendants have timely invoked the state secrets doctrine. Defendants contend that Plaintiffs’ lawsuits should be dismissed as a result of the application of the privilege because the state secrets information is so central to the subject matter of the suit that permitting further proceedings would jeopardize national security. Given the multiple public disclosures of information regarding the surveillance program, the Court does not find that the very subject matter of the suits constitutes a state secret. Just as in Al-Haramain, and based significantly on the same set of facts in the record here, the Court finds that although there are certainly details that the government has not yet disclosed,

because of the voluntary disclosures made by various officials since December 2005, the nature and purpose of the [Terrorist Surveillance Program], the ‘type’ of persons it targeted, and even some of its procedures are not state secrets. In other words, the government’s many attempts to assuage citizens’ fears that they have not been surveilled now doom the government’s assertion that the very subject matter of this litigation, the existence of a warrantless surveillance program, is barred by the state secrets privilege.

507 F.3d at 1200; see also Hepting v. AT&T Corp., 439 F. Supp. 2d 974, 986-88, 991 (N.D. Cal. 2006) (holding that the existence of a program of monitoring the contents of certain telephone communications was no longer a state secret as a result of the public statements made by the President and the Attorney General). Accordingly, the Court does not find dismissal appropriate based on the subject matter of the suits being a state secret. See Totten, 92 U.S. at 107.

White went on to note that there were significant items of evidence in the Jewel case tending to confirm or negate the factual allegations in Plaintiffs’ complaints that would be subject to state secrets exclusion. However, White held that, as a matter of law, the FISA procedural mechanism prescribed under 50 U.S.C. 26 § 1806(f) preempted application of the state secrets privilege in the litigation at bar.

Citing one of the interlocutory appellate decisions in al-Haramain and the underlying logic of then trial judge Vaughn Walker), Judge White said:

In its opinion on remand in the Al-Haramain matter, this district court found that “FISA preempts the state secrets privilege in connection with electronic surveillance for intelligence purposes ….” In re National Security Agency Telecommunications Records Litigation (“In re N.S.A. Telecommunication Records Litig.”), 564 F. Supp. 2d 1109, 1111 (N.D. Cal. 2008). The undersigned agrees and finds that the in camera review procedure in FISA applies and preempts the determination of evidentiary preclusion under the state secrets doctrine. Section 1806(f) of FISA displaces the state secrets privilege in cases in which electronic surveillance yields potentially sensitive evidence by providing secure procedures under which courts can consider national security evidence that the application of the state secrets privilege would otherwise summarily exclude.

Section 1806 of the FISA enabling statutes in Title 50 of the United States Code provides, inter alia;

… whenever any motion or request is made by an aggrieved person pursuant to any other statute or rule of the United States or any State . . . to discovery or obtain applications or orders or other materials relating to electronic surveillance . . . the United States district court … shall, notwithstanding any other law, if the Attorney General files an affidavit under oath that disclosure or an adversary hearing would harm the national security of the United States, review in camera and ex parte the application, order, and such other materials relating to the surveillance as may be necessary to determine whether the surveillance of the aggrieved person was lawfully authorized and conducted.

This finding by Judge White reaffirmed at least some control by federal trial courts of sweeping assertions of state secrets privilege by the Executive Branch. That is, better than nothing, for sure. But it is rather small comfort in light of the finding of qualified immunity extended to the government on the Jewel and Shubert plaintiffs’ statutory claims under FISA.

In discussing the intersection of the FISA claims with related claims by plaintiffs under the Stored Communication Act and Wiretap Act, the court did leave several more general counts of the complaints active. However, there is no way to look at the entirety of Jeff White’s opinion and come away believing the plaintiffs have any clear path to victory in the long run. The Jewel and Shubert cases live on to fight another day, for now, but the handwriting is on the wall for either the 9th Circuit or Supreme Court to deal the death blow down the road.

“Liberal” 9th Circuit Deals Death Blow To Al-Haramain Illegal Wiretapping Accountability Case

There is only one substantive case left in litigation with the ability to bring tangible accountability for the illegal and unconstitutional acts of the Bush/Cheney Administration’s warrantless wiretapping and surveillance program. That case is Al-Haramain v. Bush/Obama. Yes, there is still Clapper v. Amnesty International, but that is a prospective case of a different nature, and was never designed to attack the substantive crimes of the previous Administration.

A little over a couple of hours ago, late morning here in the 9th, the vaunted “most liberal of all Circuit Courts of Appeal”, the Ninth Circuit, drove what may be the final stake in the heart of Al-Haramain by declining to conduct an en banc review of its August 7, 2012 opinion. The notice from the court today is brief:

The opinion filed on August 7, 2012, and appearing at 690 F.3d 1089, is hereby amended. An amended opinion is filed concurrently with this order.

With these amendments, the panel has voted to deny the petition for panel rehearing and the petition for rehearing en banc.

The full court has been advised of the petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc and no judge has requested a vote on whether to rehear the matter en banc. Fed. R. App. P. 35.

The petition for panel rehearing and petition for rehearing en banc are DENIED. No further petitions for en banc or panel rehearing shall be permitted.

Before going further with analysis, a word about the “amendments” to the opinion. The “Amended Opinion” is here. You can compare for yourself to the August 7 original opinion linked above, but the difference is pretty slight.

It appears all the court did is delete a few sentences here and there about 18 USC 2712(b). The court did not address, nor change, their erroneous assertion that plaintiffs’ Al-Haramain could have sued under 1806(a), or restore the misleadingly-omitted (by elipsis) language from 1806(a). Nor did the Continue reading

Drone War Secrecy and Kill or Capture

As we stand on the doorstep of President Obama signing into law the new NDAA and its dreaded controversial provisions, there are two new articles out of interest this morning. The first is an incredibly useful, and pretty thorough, synopsis at Lawfare of the new NDAA entitled “NDAA FAQ: A Guide for the Perplexed”. It is co-written by Ben Wittes and Bobby Chesney and, though I may differ slightly in a couple of areas, it is not by much and their primer is extremely useful. I suggest it highly, and it has condensed a lot of material into an easily digestible blog length post.

The second is a long read from the Washington Post on how secrecy defines Obama’s drone wars:

The administration has said that its covert, targeted killings with remote-controlled aircraft in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and potentially beyond are proper under both domestic and international law. It has said that the targets are chosen under strict criteria, with rigorous internal oversight.
….
“They’ve based it on the personal legitimacy of [President] Obama — the ‘trust me’ concept,” Anderson said. “That’s not a viable concept for a president going forward.”

The article goes on to state how the CIA, and the majority of voices in the White House, are fighting tooth and nail for continued utmost secrecy lest any of our enemies somehow discover we are blowing them to bits with our drones. This is, of course, entirely predictable, especially now that the former head of the CIA leads the military and the former military chief for the greater Af/Pak theater which has long been ground zero for the drone kill program, Petraeus, is the head of the CIA.

But then the Post piece brings up our old friend, the OLC:

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has opposed the declassification of any portion of its opinion justifying the targeted killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen this year. Awlaki, a propagandist for the Yemen-based al-Qaeda affiliate whom Obama identified as its “external operations” chief, was the first American known to have been the main target of a drone strike. While officials say they did not require special permission to kill him, the administration apparently felt it would be prudent to spell out its legal rationale.
….
Under domestic law, the administration considers all three to be covered by the Authorization for Use of Military Force that Congress passed days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In two key sentences that have no expiration date, the AUMF gives the president sole power to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against nations, groups or persons who committed or aided the attacks, and to prevent future attacks.

The CIA has separate legal authority to conduct counterterrorism operations under a secret presidential order, or finding, first signed by President Ronald Reagan more than two decades ago. In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed an amendment, called a Memorandum of Notification, overriding a long-standing ban on CIA assassinations overseas and allowing “lethal” counterterrorism actions against a short list of named targets, including Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants. Killing was approved only if capture was not deemed “feasible.”

A week after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration amended the finding again, dropping the list of named targets and the caveat on “feasible” capture.

“All of that conditional language was not included,” said a former Bush administration official involved in those decisions. “This was straight-out legal authority. . . . By design, it was written as broadly as possible.”

This brings us back to the notable October 8, 2011 article by the New York Times’ Charlie Savage on his viewing of the Awlaki targeting memo relied on by the Obama White House for the extrajudicial execution of Anwar al-Awlaki. Marcy, at the time discussed the incongruity of the collateral damage issue and the fact Samir Khan was also a kill in the targeted Awlaki strike.

I would like to delve into a second, and equally misleading, meme that has been created by the self serving and inconsistent secret law Obama has geometrically expanded from the already deplorable Bush/Cheney policy set: the false dichotomy in the kill or capture element of the Continue reading

All Sides Agree There Is Excessive Secrecy Surrounding Targeting Of US Citizens

The targeted execution of Anwar al-Awlaki struck different people along the political spectrum in the United States in many different ways, but it has been heartening most all have recognized it as a seminal moment worthy of dissection and contemplation. Despite all the discussion afforded the execution of Awlaki in the last few days, it cannot be emphasized enough how impossible it is to have a completely meaningful discussion on the topic due to the relentless blanket of secrecy imposed by the United States government. Before I get into the substantive policy and legal issues surrounding the targeting and assassination of American citizens, which I will come back to in a separate post, a few words about said secrecy are in order.

The first to note, and complain of, the strange secrecy surrounding not just the kill listing of Awlaki, but the entire drone assassination program, was Marcy right here in Emptywheel. Within a couple of hours of the news of the Awlaki strike, she called for the release of the evidence and information serving as the Administration’s foundation for the extrajudicial execution of an American citizen and within a couple of hours of that, noted the ironic inanity of the pattern and practice of the one hand of the Obama Administration, through such officials as Bob Gates, James Clapper and Panetta trotting out “state secrets” to claim drone actions cannot even be mentioned while the other hand, through mouthpieces such as John Brennan are out blabbing all kinds of details in order to buck up Administration policy.

Now, you would expect us here at Emptywheel to vociferously complain about the rampant secrecy and hypocritical application of it by the Executive Branch, what has been refreshing, however, is how broad the spectrum of commentators voicing the same concerns has been. Glenn Greenwald was, as expected, on the cause from the start, but so too have voices on the other side of the traditional spectrum such as the Brookings Institute’s Benjamin Wittes, to former Gang of Eight member and noted hawk Jane Harman, and current Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin and Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First.

But if there were any doubt that it was just left leaning voices calling for release of targeting and legal foundation information, or only sources such as Emptywheel or the New York Times pointing out the hypocrisy and duplicity with which the Administration handles their precious “state secret”, then take a gander at what former Bush OLC chief Jack Goldsmith had to say Monday, after a weekend of contemplation of the issues surrounding the take out of Awlaki:

I agree that the administration should release a redacted version of the opinion, or should extract the legal analysis and place it in another document that can be released consistent with restrictions on classified information.

I have no doubt that Obama administration lawyers did a thorough and careful job of analyzing the legal issues surrounding the al-Aulaqi killing. The case for disclosing the analysis is easy. The killing of a U.S. citizen in this context is unusual and in some quarters controversial. A thorough public explanation of the legal basis for the killing (and for targeted killings generally) would allow experts in the press, the academy, and Congress to scrutinize and criticize it, and would, as Harman says, permit a much more informed public debate. Such public scrutiny is especially appropriate since, as Judge Bates’s ruling last year shows, courts are unlikely to review executive action in this context. In a real sense, legal accountability for the practice of targeted killings depends on a thorough public legal explanation by the administration.

Jack has hit the nail precisely on the head here, the courts to date have found no avenue of interjection, and even should they in the future, the matter is almost surely to be one of political nature. And accountability of our politicians depends on the public havin sufficient knowledge and information with which to make at least the basic fundamental decisions on propriety and scope. But Mr. Goldsmith, admirably, did not stop there and continued on to note the very hypocrisy and duplicity Marcy did last Friday:

We know the government can provide a public legal analysis of this sort because presidential counterterrorism advisor John Brennan and State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh have given such legal explanations in speeches, albeit in limited and conclusory terms. These speeches show that there is no bar in principle to a public disclosure of a more robust legal analysis of targeted killings like al-Aulaqi’s. So too do the administration’s many leaks of legal conclusions (and operational details) about the al-Aulaqi killing.

A full legal analysis, as opposed to conclusory explanations in government speeches and leaks, would permit a robust debate about targeted killings – especially of U.S. citizens – that is troubling to many people. Such an analysis could explain, for example, whether the government believed that al-Aulaqi possessed constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth or other amendments, and (assuming the government concluded that he possessed some such rights) why the rights were not implicated by the strike. It could also describe the limits of presidential power in this context.

The Obama administration frequently trumpets its commitment to transparency and the rule of law. The President and many of his subordinates were critical of what they deemed to be unnecessarily secretive Bush administration legal opinions, and they disclosed an unprecedented number of them, including many classified ones. Now is the time for the administration to apply to itself a principle that it applied to its predecessor.

Again, exactly right. From Marcy Wheeler, to Gang of Eight members, to Jack Goldsmith, the voice is both clear and consistent: The Obama Administration needs to come clean with as much of the legal and factual underpinnings as humanly possible short of compromising “means and methods” that truly are still secret. That would be, by almost any account, a lot of information and law with which the American public, indeed the world, could not only know and understand, but use to gauge their votes and opinions on. Doing so would make the United States, and its actions, stronger and more sound.

In the second part of this series, which I should have done by tomorrow morning sometime, I will discuss what we know, and what we don’t know, about the legal and factual underpinnings for targeted killing of US citizens, and sort through possible protocols that may be appropriate for placement of a citizen target and subsequent killing.

UPDATE: As MadDog noted in comments, Jack Goldsmith has penned a followup piece at Lawfare expounding on the need for release of the foundational underpinnings of how an American citizen such as Alawki came to be so targeted. Once again, it is spot on:

First, it is wrong, as Ben notes, for the government to maintain technical covertness but then engage in continuous leaks, attributed to government officials, of many (self-serving) details about the covert operations and their legal justifications. It is wrong because it is illegal. It is wrong because it damages (though perhaps not destroys) the diplomatic and related goals of covertness. And it is wrong because the Executive branch seems to be trying to have its cake (not talking about the program openly in order to serve diplomatic interests and perhaps deflect scrutiny) and eat it too (leaking promiscuously to get credit for the operation and to portray it as lawful). I do not know if the leaks are authorized in some sense or not, or where in the executive branch they come from, or what if anything the government might be doing to try to stop them. But of course the president is ultimately responsible for the leaks. One might think – I am not there yet, but I understand why someone might be – that the double standard on discussing covert actions disqualifies the government from invoking technical covertness to avoid scrutiny.

Second, there is no bar grounded in technical covertness, or in concerns about revealing means and methods of intelligence gathering, to revealing (either in a redacted opinion or in a separate document) the legal reasoning supporting a deadly strike on a U.S. citizen. John Brennan and Harold Koh have already talked about the legality of strikes outside Afghanistan in abstract terms, mostly focusing on international law. I don’t think much more detail on the international law basis is necessary; nor do I think that more disclosure on international law would do much to change the minds of critics who believe the strikes violate international law. But there has been practically nothing said officially (as opposed through leaks and gestures and what is revealed in between the lines in briefs) about the executive branch processes that lie behind a strike on a U.S. citizen, or about what constitutional rights the U.S. citizen target possesses, or about the limitations and conditions on the president’s power to target and kill a U.S. citizen. This information would, I think, matter to American audiences that generally support the president on the al-Aulaqi strike but want to be assured that it was done lawfully and with care. The government could easily reveal this more detailed legal basis for a strike on a U.S. citizen without reference to particular operations, or targets, or means of fire, or countries.

Listen, we may not always agree with Jack here, and both Marcy and I have laid into him plenty over the years where appropriate; but credit should be given where and when due. It is here. And, while I am at it, I would like to recommend people read the Lawfare blog. All three principals there, Ben Wittes, Goldsmith and Bobby Chesney write intelligent and thoughtful pieces on national security and law of war issues. No, you will not always agree with them, nor they with you necessarily; that is okay, it is still informative and educational. If nothing else, you always want to know what the smart people on the other side are saying.

[Incredibly awesome graphic by the one and only Darkblack. If you are not familiar with his work, or have not seen it lately, please go peruse the masterpieces at his homebase. Seriously good artwork and incredible music there.]

Is Anwar al-Awlaki The Unnamed “National of the United States” In Warsame Indictment?

As Marcy noted Tuesday afternoon, and has been large in the news the last two days, there is a new terrorism prosecution announced by Eric Holder and the Obama DOJ. The case concerns Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, and is interesting in that Warsame is alleged to be a member/leader of al-Shabaab, and none of the allegations involve acts of plots against the US or its citizens directly.

In fact, the only significant nexus to the United States contained within the indictment unsealed against Warsame is that he:

…conspires with a national of the United States…

This is unusual as to the complete lack of description and details about the “national of the United States” and the complete absence of any information indicating the nature of conspiracy and/or contact with the “national of the United States. To be fair, a charging document is not legally required to be a “speaking indictment” that fully lays out every minute detail of the jurisdiction, venue and facts; although this one is one of the more silent ones I have seen in a long time from the DOJ.

But, what is really fascinating is this today from Charlie Savage at the New York Times:

Meanwhile, new details emerged about Mr. Warsame’s detention on a Navy ship after his capture in April aboard a fishing skiff between Yemen and Somalia, and about internal administration deliberations on legal policy questions that could have implications for the evolving conflict against Al Qaeda and its affiliates.

A senior counterterrorism official said Wednesday that Mr. Warsame had recently met with Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical cleric now hiding in Yemen. After his capture, he was taken to the Boxer, an amphibious assault ship that was steaming in the region and has a brig, a senior military official said.

While Mr. Warsame is accused of being a member of the Shabab, which is focused on a parochial insurgency in Somalia, the administration decided he could be lawfully detained as a wartime prisoner under Congress’s authorization to use military force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to several officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss security matters. (emphasis added)

So, we have Warsame allegedly “conspiring” with a “national of the United States” in the indictment with the identity and circumstances being unusually and ridiculously guarded and vague; and now we have Warsame having had contact with Awlaki.

Gee, I wonder what the odds are they are one in the same person???

Because, as you may remember, Awlaki is so secret that the US government saw fit to declare state secrets rather than explain to Awlaki’s parents why they feel justified to violently assassinate their son, a US citizen, without so much as a speck of due process. Now, I guess a guy that secret is someone the government might just be really vague about in an indictment of some tangential corollary person, say Warsame, for instance.

So, is it truly the case that Awlaki is indeed the unnamed “national of the United States” here in the Warsame indictment? I don’t know for certain, but it sure as heck fits the facts as we know them and the depraved refusal of the American government to talk about or let the public know its basis for impunity in marking an American citizen for extrajudicial termination with prejudice.

Now, back to the Warsame indictment for one last thought. While I agree with Marcy, Ben Wizner of ACLU and Adam Serwer that the Obama Administration decision to bring Warsame in front of an Article III court for trial was a brave one in relation to establishing credibility of traditional terrorism prosecutions, I wonder if Warsame is really the right case to do that with?

In Warsame, all the overt acts, heck all the acts period, took place outside of the US, and none of them, none, were particularly directed at all, much less with malice, at the US or US citizens. al Shabaab is a nasty group of terrorists to be sure, but is this really the use we want to make of US Article III courts? Shouldn’t the prosecutions the Administration uses to establish credibility have some, even minimal, overt act nexus to the United States and the Southern District of New York?

Vaughn Walker Issues Final al-Haramain Opinion on Damages and Attorney Fees

As you may recall, Chief Judge Vaughn Walker of the Northern District of California (NDCA), who has handled two of the most critical and transcendent litigations of the last decade, Perry v. Schwarzenegger and al-Haramain v. Bush/Obama, is retiring. Today, he has issued his last big opinion left on his table pre-retirement, the ruling on damages to be awarded Plaintiff in al-Haramain, assignment of attorney fees to Plaintiffs, and whether or not to impose punitive damages against the government for their offending illegal conduct.

The government, in its brief objecting to the Plaintiffs’ proposed form of judgment, basically poked the court in the eye with a stick by continuing their obstreperous refusal to accept the court’s jurisdiction over their assertion of state secrets, continued to argue there were no facts competently of record despite Walker’s crystal clear determinations to the contrary, and denied that Plaintiffs were entitled to attorney fees or punitive damages. They just say NO. The Plaintiffs went on to properly lodge their calculation of damages, detailed request for attorney fees and affidavit in support thereof. Plaintiffs al-Haramain, separately, filed a very compelling brief on why the court should award them punitive damages against the government. The government, of course, objected some more.

As lead Plaintiffs counsel Jon Eisenberg stated in the punitive damages brief:

Defendants abused the extraordinary power of the Executive Branch by committing unlawful electronic surveillance of the plaintiffs with full knowledge of, and in flagrant disregard for, determinations by top officials in the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the surveillance lacked constitutional or other legal support. Defendants sought to put themselves above the law, in the manner of a monarch. That is a profound abuse of America’s trust. It calls for strong medicine.

And thus it all comes down to today’s decision by Judge Walker, and here is the full text of his 47 page order.

In short, Walker has ordered that Plaintiffs Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor (a-Haramain’s attorneys wrongfully surveilled) receive $20,400.00 each in liquidated damages. Walker denied damages to al-Haramain itself. In regards to punitive damages, Judge Walker has denied in full Plaintiffs’ request. As to attorney fees, the court grants the motion as to Plaintiffs Ghafoor and Belew only (again, not as to al-Haramain itself, and awards attorney fees and expenses in the amount of $2,537,399.45.

There is a lot to chew on in this order, and both Marcy and I will be coming back to do just that after chewing and digesting it further. But so far, it is clear that the court sided completely with the plaintiffs on compensatory/liquidated damages, giving Belew and Ghafoor every penny they asked for and finding the government’s opposition meritless. This passage by the court is telling: Continue reading

ACLU Appeals 9th Circuit Jeppesen Decision to SCOTUS

When the original three member panel opinion in Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. was issued by the 9th Circuit in late April of 2009, it was a breath of fresh air. Judge Michael Hawkins authored a thoughtful, well reasoned and heartening opinion placing appropriate curbs on the ability of the Executive Branch to silence wronged plaintiffs via the interjection of state secrets. Civil liberties scholars stood up and cheered. Unfortunately, it did not last and thanks to a very unfortunate panel assignment for the en banc review in the 9th, Hawkins was reversed and an erratic and contorted decision put in its stead by Judge Raymond Fisher handing the President and Executive Branch carte blanche to assert state secrets at will, effectively even to hide government illegality and misconduct. Civil liberties adherents jeered.

Now the ACLU, who represents the plaintiffs in Mohamed v. Jeppesen, has appealed from the 9th Circuit en banc decision by petitioning the Supreme Court for certiorari. The ACLU’s full petition is here. The ACLU press release reads, in pertinent part:

The American Civil Liberties Union late last night asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a lower court decision dismissing its lawsuit against a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen DataPlan, Inc., for the company’s role in the Bush administration’s extraordinary rendition program. The ACLU and the ACLU of Northern California filed the lawsuit in May 2007 on behalf of five men who were kidnapped by the CIA, forcibly disappeared to U.S.-run prisons overseas and tortured. Although the federal government was not initially named in the lawsuit, it intervened for the sole purpose of arguing that the case should be dismissed based on the “state secrets” privilege.

“To date, not a single victim of the Bush administration’s torture program has had his day in a U.S. court,” said Ben Wizner, Litigation Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “The government has misused the ‘state secrets’ privilege to deny justice to torture victims and to shield their torturers from liability. The Supreme Court should reaffirm our nation’s historic commitment to human rights and the rule of law by allowing this case to go forward.”

In April 2009, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the government could not invoke the state secrets privilege over the Continue reading

State Secrets Non-Compromise Compromise Architect to Replace Kagan

The great news just keeps coming.

Remember the “new” state secrets policy DOJ announced last year? It basically amounted to a promise that the Attorney General would review any invocation of state secrets to make sure such an invocation was really really secret rather than just sort of secret but really embarrassing, along with a promise that an Inspector General (but not a court) would investigate in case of wrong-doing (at the time, some of the existing state secrets invocations had already been investigated by IGs). Here’s how I described the “new” policy when it was announced.

What the “new” state secrets policy appears designed to do is buy time and limit the legal battlefields on which the Administration tries to stave off a CIPA-like process.

Legislatively, it appears the “new” policy (and presumably some pressure on Leahy directly) has convinced Leahy, at least, to hold off on moving his legislation forward. He seems to be content to wait and see how this new policy plays out. Nadler, on the other hand, seems to want to push forward with legislation (so is Russ Feingold, but he’s not in the same position to push forward Senate legislation as Nadler is). So at the very least, Holder’s “new” policy will buy the Administration time before Congress tries to reel in executive power.

Then there’s Horn. Word is that Holder will use the “new” policy to withdraw the state secrets claim in one case, and by all appearances that one case will be Horn (I don’t know whether that means they will try to settle Horn, or whether they’ll just move forward with what amounts to a CIPA-like process without a state secrets claim behind it.)

Now of the three cases in question (Horn, al-Haramain, and Jeppesen), Horn is the one that was the biggest slam dunk legally to support a CIPA-like process (because of the fraud involved and the Circuit Court’s earlier limitation on the state secrets claim). It’s the one in which the Bush Administration’s claim to state secrets was most bogus. And it’s the least risky one to settle or litigate.

By withdrawing the claim of state secrets in Horn (if that is indeed what will happen), the Administration will avoid having the DC Circuit joining the 9th in supporting some kind of CIPA-process in state secrets, while still giving the Administration hopes of dismissing Jeppesen and al-Haramain based on state secrets.

In other words, this is all a big bureaucratic ploy to try to keep the Bush Administration’s illegal actions on extraordinary rendition and warrantless wiretapping secret.

Well, the guy Obama plans to replace Kagan with is the architect of this “smoke and mirrors” policy.

The White House is poised to name Don Verrilli, an associate White House counsel, as solicitor general after Elena Kagan is confirmed to the Supreme Court. Verrilli joined the Obama administration as an associate deputy attorney general, where he helped his close friend, Attorney General Eric Holder, craft the Justice Department’s new state secrets doctrine guidelines.

[snip]

Verrillii’s trial balloon appointment as SG will be viewed suspiciously by civil libertarians for his authorial role in the state secrets drama and for his record of fighting on behalf of industry against tech entrepreneurs.  But he’s got the trust of Holder, Bauer, and President Obama.

I can’t wait to see what Obama has in store next to whittle away at the rule of law.

The Brits Refuse Secret Trials Even as Obama Doubles Down

As bmaz reported last night, the Obama Administration has refused to accept Vaughn Walker’s ruling in al-Haramain–in fairly spectacular fashion (and yes, bmaz, Mary, MadDog and others did tell me this was going to happen).

Meanwhile, across the pond, the folks from whom we got our legal system are refusing the very concept that the government could avoid its legal liability by claiming its crimes were all a secret. The British Court of Appeals refused the British government’s attempt to respond to a suit from Binyam Mohamed and other former Gitmo detainees by claiming only the government and the judge could see the evidence–effectively the stance the Obama Administration has now doubled down on.

British residents held at Guantánamo Bay could be offered millions of pounds in compensation for wrongful imprisonment and abuse after the court of appeal today dismissed an attempt by MI5 and MI6 to suppress evidence of alleged complicity in torture.

The judges ruled that the unprecedented legal move by Britain’s security and intelligence agencies – which the attorney general and senior Whitehall officials backed – to suppress evidence in a civil trial undermined the principles of common law and open justice.

[snip]

In the appeal court ruling, Lord Neuberger, master of the rolls, Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Lord Justice Sullivan said that accepting the argument of the security and intelligence agencies would amount to “undermining one of [the common law's] most fundamental principles”. One of those principles was that “trials should be conducted in public, and the judgments should be given in public”.

The judges gave the attorney general, MI5 and MI6 28 days to appeal to the supreme court. But government officials have told the Guardian that the former detainees are now likely to be offered compensation of millions of pounds in out-of-court settlements as that would be preferable to having embarrassing evidence of the security and intelligence agencies’ complicity in abuse being exposed.

In other words, if the government refuses to share evidence of its own involvement in the torture of British residents and citizens, then they are going to have to settle with those men, rather than just dismissing the suit altogether by saying the plaintiffs can’t see the most crucial evidence in question. Had the government accepted Walker’s judgment in al-Haramain, they would have paid millions, but would have managed to keep evidence of their precious illegal wiretap program (a program both Obama and Holder have said was illegal) secret. (The Times has more, including some excellent quotes from the plaintiffs’ lawyer.)

How quaint the old country looks from this distance!

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz Oops: After Threatening Hacker With 440 Years, Prosecutors Settle for a Misdemeanor | WIRED http://t.co/BjOkNbK7p5
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bmaz @PatrickCToomey @csoghoian @WSJ @dannyyadron Jeebus, the All Writs Act?? Owsley is right though, notable that magistrate issued opinion.
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bmaz RT @DavidBerthold: Huge storm rages through Brisbane flooding shopping centres and pushing sharks into the CBD. #brisbanestorm #bnestorm ht…
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bmaz @arcsine @mirriam71 @LisaBloom From another prosecution? No.
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bmaz I love that Richard Sherman is sitting there eating Madden turkey on Harbaugh's logo. Couldn't happen to a bigger turkey than Harbaugh.
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bmaz @arcsine @mirriam71 @LisaBloom Since he voluntarily appeared, yes. Even if he later refused, his GJ testimony likely admissible against him.
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bmaz RT @LisaBloom: Wilson at station right after shooting says he told cops he'd been punched in the face. Their response: "where?" Bc they cdn…
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bmaz .@mirriam71 @LisaBloom No, and neither Wilson nor any other defendant owes that. But Bob McCulloch sure does. He and Nixon owe many answers.
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emptywheel RT @EFF: We're thankful to Senator @MarkUdall, for years of defending digital rights on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. We'll …
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emptywheel Confession: reading abt struggles of shitty airports makes me thankful. http://t.co/4quSITgumg Next up? All NYC airports!
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emptywheel @NC_Prime Brady and I pretty much coincided (if that can happen w/backup) tho only year I got tx was 99. @attackerman
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emptywheel @attackerman It's okay. I come from an extended family of 5 PSU grads and 1 PSU prof, but do okay.
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