It began with one document. On Sept. 17, 2001, six days after the terrorist attacks in Washington, D.C., President George W. Bush sent a 12-page Memorandum of Notification to his National Security Council. That memorandum, we know now, authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to set up and run secret prisons. We still don’t know exactly what it says: CIA attorneys have told a judge the document is so off-limits to the courts and the American people that even the font is classified. But we do know what it did: It literally opened a space for torture.
To answer my title: They do it because the Executive branch not only did it 10 years ago but it continues to do it. It no longer matters who is in charge.
I think the degradation of our legal system began with our torture program, which many people knew was not legal and broke international law. The Executive Branch simply ignored this. And silenced anyone whose views were different.
And it did not end with the previous Administration. Obama has done little to support those who dissent to its clandestine activities or who wish malfeasance to be known. It has tried more people using the espionage act than all the previous Presidents together.
Whistleblowers who leak information about waterboarding to journalists have been charged with espionage. The Obama administration encourages aggressive reporting of other country’s secrets but wil charge and imprison people who do it here.
Some in its administration believe that reporters who print this information should be tried and imprisoned also. Instances of whistleblowing, where the information deals with administrative secrecy, not national security, result in being charged as a spy.
In the most recent case, John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. officer who became a Democratic staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was charged under the Espionage Act with leaking information to journalists about other C.I.A. officers, some of whom were involved in the agency’s interrogation program, which included waterboarding.
Yep, the guys who were involved in breaking international law and torturing people are off scott-free. But anyone who releases that information get charged with espionage. And their life damaged often beyond repair.
How about this case, which started out with frightening jail time and ended up a misdemeanor:
In one of the more remarkable examples of the administration’s aggressive approach, Thomas A. Drake, a former employee of the National Security Agency, was prosecuted under the Espionage Act last year and faced a possible 35 years in prison.
His crime? When his agency was about to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a software program bought from the private sector intended to monitor digital data, he spoke with a reporter at The Baltimore Sun. He suggested an internally developed program that cost significantly less would be more effective and not violate privacy in the way the product from the vendor would. (He turned out to be right, by the way.)
He was charged with 10 felony counts that accused him of lying to investigators and obstructing justice. Last summer, the case against him collapsed, and he pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor, of misuse of a government computer.
What he was eventually charged with does not matter to them. What is important is the example.
That is how things have become degraded and why, I think, other legal authorities believe they can simply ignore the law and rewrite their own.
The example is the most important think. Make sure anyone who stands up gets shot down.
It worked before so why not continue. The only people ever punished are those who are those who have some morals, not those whose lack of morals allows them to simply ignore the law.
So now we not only have Federal officials retaliating in sometimes extralegal ways against those they do not like but also see local authorities doing the same thing – hurting people who are acting legally in order to demonstrate who really holds power.
I see absolutely nothing to indicate that either party will change this. Both have too many authoritarian leaders who feel the ends justify the means.
Perhaps in another 20-30 years we will be able to recognize just how twisted this has made us – just as we eventually realized that interning American citizens was not proper.