Obama Channels Cheney in Regards to Presidential Powers

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WALL STREET JOURNAL– The Obama Administration this week released its predecessor’s post-9/11 legal memoranda in the name of “transparency,” producing another round of feel-good Bush criticism. Anyone interested in President Obama’s actual executive-power policies, however, should look at his position on warrantless wiretapping. Dick Cheney must be smiling.

In a federal lawsuit, the Obama legal team is arguing that judges lack the authority to enforce their own rulings in classified matters of national security. The standoff concerns the Oregon chapter of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a Saudi Arabian charity that was shut down in 2004 on evidence that it was financing al Qaeda. Al-Haramain sued the Bush Administration in 2005, claiming it had been illegally wiretapped.

At the heart of Al-Haramain’s case is a classified document that it says proves that the alleged eavesdropping was not authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. That record was inadvertently disclosed after Al-Haramain was designated as a terrorist organization; the Bush Administration declared such documents state secrets after their existence became known.

In July, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the President’s right to do so, which should have ended the matter. But the San Francisco panel also returned the case to the presiding district court judge, Vaughn Walker, ordering him to decide if FISA pre-empts the state secrets privilege. If he does, Al-Haramain would be allowed to use the document to establish the standing to litigate.

The Obama Justice Department has adopted a legal stance identical to, if not more aggressive than, the Bush version. It argues that the court-forced disclosure of the surveillance programs would cause “exceptional harm to national security” by exposing intelligence sources and methods. Last Friday the Ninth Circuit denied the latest emergency motion to dismiss, again kicking matters back to Judge Walker.

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© WALL STREET JOURNAL 2009

Photo by flickr user US Army

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