Bhutan’s Missing Pillar of Happiness: The Truth

Bhutan by Anja DisseldorpOn March 20, the world celebrated International Day of Happiness, a day initiated by the Kingdom of Bhutan at the United Nations in 2012. The small Himalayan country of about 730,000 people became famous for introducing to the world Gross National Happiness (GNH), a holistic development index that goes beyond the solely economic focus of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to measure the emotional and spiritual well being of Bhutan’s people. It was a revolutionary idea by the fourth Dragon King Jigme Singye Wangchuck that continues to resonate in the West.

March 24 is the United Nations International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims. This day honors the important work of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980 after years of denouncing violations of human rights in El Salvador. More broadly, the purpose of the day is “to promote the importance of the right to truth and justice” for victims of gross and systematic human rights violations.

I live in the contradiction between these two United Nations observances. I am a victim of gross human rights violations and I am from Bhutan, land of Gross National Happiness.

It may be the West’s long-standing tendency to romanticize the East as Shangri-La, the cloud-shrouded utopic counterpart to its own well-lit capitalistic world, that has made it so easy for otherwise critically-minded skeptics to accept Bhutan’s GNH campaign without much question. However, behind this government-proclaimed happiness lurks a reality of ethnic purging, property confiscation and redistribution, and a systematic erasing of history, all in the name of the government’s “One Nation, One People” policy. In fact, the last three decades have brought little happiness to my Nepali-speaking people, known as Lhotsampas, who have inhabited Bhutan’s southern foothills since the times of British India.

Beginning in the late eighties, the Bhutanese government’s “One Nation, One People” campaign led to a violent ethnic cleansing of its southern population. According to the Global Post:

“By the end of 1990, the ‘Bhutanization’ campaign had escalated to harassment, arrests and the burning of ethnic Nepali homes. Many fled, but the army also expelled tens of thousands, forcing them to sign forms renouncing any claims to their homes and homeland.”

All of this happened to my people. My 60-year-old father and several brothers were beaten publicly, one imprisoned and tortured for five years. In total, the Royal Government’s harsh campaign created an estimated 108,000 Lhotsampa refugees, evicting a staggering one-sixth of Bhutan’s total population. Lhotsampas who remain in Bhutan today continue to endure treatment as second-class citizens, while their history is being erased before their eyes. For example, after the redistribution and resettlement of northern Bhutanese in the lands of Bhutanese refugees, the names of the villages, towns and landmarks are changed. Thus, my little village known as “Surey” since the first settlement of Lhotsampas is now rechristened as “Jigmecholing” like thousands of others.

While many, like myself, have found refuge in other countries, thousands more still languish in refugee camps, and none have been allowed to return to their homes. Even those who have settled into new lives in the United States and elsewhere are rankled by what they perceive as the government’s concerted effort to erase the facts from the world’s collective memory and to rewrite history in such a way as to frame Lhotsampas as recent immigrants to a country that had been their homeland for generations.

The other tactic used by the government to discredit Lhotsampas is to frame them all as terrorists. Indeed, in response to the government’s brutal and relentless policies of ethnic purging, groups associated with Lhotsampas youths have carried out violent activities along Bhutan’s border with India. Extremists have staged protests, burnt the national dress, tried to destroy bridges, and have even killed people. However, the overwhelming majority of Lhotsampas, who hold up Gandhi as a hero of nonviolence, condemn these activities. Such violent behavior does not represent the Southern Bhutanese community, and the government has a duty to decipher right from wrong. Instead, it branded all of its southern citizens as anti-nationals, distributing images of violence carried out by fringe groups to foreign visitors in order to portray a democratic uprising as a terrorist movement. But where are the pictures of the police killing Lhotsampas on the streets?

We are calling for the international community to urge a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in order to reveal the human rights abuses of the Bhutanese government against the Lhotsampa people. The world has a right to know our stories as Bhutan refugees and to keep our true history in Bhutan even if they cast a shadow on Bhutan’s well-loved policy of “Gross National Happiness.”

Sign the petition for a Congressional Hearing about Bhutan: Ethnic Cleansing vs Gross National Happiness.

Written by Dick Chhetri, who can be reached at [email protected]

Photo by Flickr User Anja Disseldorp

Cenk Uygur Tells Abby Martin That Her Network’s More Tolerant than MSNBC

MEDIAITE – The Young Turks host Cenk Uygur appeared on RT recently with anchor Abby Martin where he was asked about the ongoing controversy surrounding the network’s coverage of Russia’s invasion of Crimea and press freedom in the United States. Uygur said that the distinction between the two countries was evident in the fact that he lost his job on MSNBC for criticizing President Barack Obama while Martin retained her job after criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Uygur told Martin that he lost his MSNBC show because the White House was not “happy” with his criticism of Obama from the left.

“People give RT a lot of flak for toeing the line of the Russian foreign policy perspective, but here we have a media apparatus entirely funded by corporations that toeing the line of the U.S. government,” Martin opined.

Martin added that CNN is moving to “reality TV” and entertainment journalism. “I think a lot of people on TV are good people and they don’t even quite realize that they’re part of this machine,” Uygur said. “But, what happened was, they got promoted because they toe the line.”

Both Martin and Uygur criticized CNN further for what they said was their “soap opera” coverage of the missing Malaysian passenger plane.

“It seems like this network is constantly in the crosshairs of the U.S. media,” Martin later opined. She asked if Uygur was surprised by that. Uygur replied by saying an “honest” discussion about the funding of cable news networks would also include criticism for networks like CNN and Al Jazeera.

“CNN has lost so much credibility all across the world because everybody knows they cater to the government,” Uygur said. “You criticized the Russian actions in Crimea, you’re still on RT. I criticized the Obama administration and the U.S. government on MSNBC, I’m no longer on MSNBC.”

“So, who has the freer media?” he concluded.


MR Original – Obama’s War on Whistleblowers

Obama’s Normalization of Neo-Conservatism Part 4 of 4: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers. Read Part 1 of Obama’s Normalization of Neo-conservatism: Drones. Read Part 2 of Obama’s Normalization of Neo-conservatism: Continuing Coverup of Torture  Read Part 3 of Obama’s Normalization of Neo-conservatism: Obama Evokes State Secrets

MEDIA ROOTS – “Protect Whistle blowers: …Such acts of courage and patriotism….should be encouraged rather than stifled.  Barack Obama will strengthen whistle blower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud and abuse of authority in government.  Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistle blower claims and whistle blowers have full access to courts and due process.” – from the official Obama / Biden campaign website posted in 2008.

In 1917, during World War I, the Espionage Act was passed in the United States.  Since the inception of the Espionage Act up until 2012, this law has been used on 9 people, 6 of whom were charged between 2008-2012, all under the direction and oversight of President Obama.

How has something so seemingly draconian and Bush-like been used so excessively by an administration that promised change and an end to “Scooter Libby justice”?  Is the Obama administration simply trying to ‘plug all the leaks’?  After all the research for Media Roots’ series of ‘Obama’s normalization of neoconservatism,’ it is clearer than ever that Obama has gone above and beyond any other president in US history to protect a prior administration from investigations, repercussions and criminal punishment.

Amidst the Watergate scandal, Nixon resigned after being faced with criminal charges and impeachment.  He was later pardoned by Gerald Ford, who ascended unelected to the presidency in the wake of Nixon’s resignation before he went to trial.  A president, even an unelected one, always has the legal right to pardon someone for any reason he deems necessary. In the case of Obama, he would not and could not allow the justice system to function organically as he put up road blocks at every opportunity so that no one from the Bush administrations could face prosecution or charges.  Worse and even more insulting to the law than even a pre-emptive pardon was blanket retroactive immunity for any and all blatant crimes committed by Bush and his administration

In a few of the cases against whistle blowers, the government has dropped most of the charges long after making a public spectacle of the event.  One might think that the government was simply trying to get to the bottom of the the matter and dropped charges in certain instances once no evidence of guilt was found.  Studying each whistle blowing investigation individually, it becomes clear that intimidation was the primary goal regardless if the charges stuck or not.  Sucking mainstream journalists into a vortex of potential litigation and prosecution, the government sends a message to all interested in true investigative journalism in the United States. 

The writer of the infamous NSA wiretapping story in the NY times was subpoenaed over three times in an effort to reveal his sources. The delay in the NY times releasing the article (almost a year after they got the scoop) could possibly be explained by their fear of disrupting the 2004 election results with negative press. Perhaps if they caused too much of a ruckus, the governments’ intimidation would have been much worse, possibly resulting in the journalist’s arrest.  Interestingly, this scandal was leaked four years before Obama came into office.  When Obama took office and the investigation went into full force, his Justice Department went after the journalists and government employees involved in the leak.

The US government claimed that former Justice Department lawyer, Thomas Tann, was the source of the leak, and was under investigation for over five years until the charges were eventually dropped.  One may say ‘no harm no foul’ without taking into account that during this investigation the US government made a point to drag his name through the mud in the form of a public smear campaign.

Thomas Drake is another NSA employee who found out about an NSA no bid contract of 1.2 billion dollars when the same services could be provided in house for merely 2 million.  When he leaked this information, he was fired and investigated then subsequently charged with espionage.  “It is now apparently a federal crime to report illegalities, malfeasance, broad waste and abuse perpetrated by our own government, but now government is making whistle-blowing a crime. They are making dissent a crime, especially when it embarrasses the government and calls the government to account.”…”speaking truth to power makes one the enemy of the state” – Thomas Drake.  Under Obama’s new law, reporting extreme government waste is seen as one of the highest threats against national security, espionage.  Eventually all charges were dropped except “exceeding authorized use of a computer” for which he pleaded guilty and received a misdemeanor.

Jeffery Sterling is a former CIA agent who is alleged to have told the New York times about the identity of an ‘asset’ who was involved in an embarrassing botched covert attempt to thwart Iran’s nuclear program.  The reporter who wrote the article, James Risen, was subpoenaed to reveal his source.  Risen refused to give up his sources and later revealed in court via his lawyers that the US government under the authority of Eric Holder and Michael Mukassey (effective continuity between Bush’s and Obama’s Justice Department) spied on him and gained personal information such as bank records and airline travel schedules. For what purpose? The government will not say. Acts like this, regardless of the official reasoning, can again be seen as acts of intimidation.  If a journalist knows a whistle blower wanting to reveal a juicy story about government negligence, crimes, waste or just outright ineptness, they should be very careful because the government might start spying on them if they even consider publishing the information.  The Espionage Act was also used against dual US-Israeli citizen and FBI translator, Shamai Leibowitz, who was sentenced to twenty months in prison for leaking information to a blogger about a proposed disastrous Israeli strike on Iran.  The blogger in response to the charges told the New York Times that Leibowitz was an “American Patriot”.

John Kiriakou is the CIA’s former director of counter terrorism operations in Pakistan who was charged under the Act for allegedly leaking to reporters the names of two agency operatives involved in the interrogation of terrorism detainees under the George W. Bush Administration.  Besides evoking state secrets and squelching potential investigations into one of the most egregious Bush war-crimes, torture, Obama’s Justice Department was willing to use the Espionage Act to stop one of it’s own from going public with even more incriminating information about Bush law breaking.  Eventually a reporter or a blogger might need to proxy to escape criminal prosecution, just like the whistle blower in which he is basing his story.  Twenty-four year old US soldier  Private First Class Bradley Manning thought he had a proxy in the form of Wikileaks when he allegedly smuggled out of military intelligence thousands of diplomatic cables and classified videos, one in particular showing the US military killing two unarmed journalists and injuring a small girl from an Apache helicopter.  The video later named Collateral Murder’ by Wikileaks is chilling.  As the soldiers in the helicopter realize they’ve shot a young child, they callously scoff “shouldn’t of brought your kids to battlefield.” 

Of all the whistle blowers under the Obama administration, Manning was the subject of the loudest public smear campaign initiated by none other than hip technology magazine Wired after an FBI informant, Adrian Lammo, turned him into the authorities for his supposed role in leaking the famous “Collateral Murder” video.  Before Manning was even charged with a crime (which would later officially be the Espionage Act), President Obama proclaimed Manning’s guilt on national television.  Regardless if he were guilty of the leak or not, the message was clear.  A person will be thrown in jail and never heard from again if they leak something of this magnitude and the most powerful man in the country will deem you guilty to hundreds of millions of Americans.   Private Manning has been kept in solitary confinement on ‘suicide watch’, forced to strip naked daily with no bed sheets for the first 200 days of his detention.  To date, he has spent over 850 days in a tiny jail cell, at least 730 days longer than legally allowed in the united states.  The normal legal limit is four months or 120 days until you are required to face a judge and go to trial. 

Bradley Manning was inspired by the International organization Wikileaks to do what he was alleged to have done.  Wikileaks is headed by an Australian citizen, Julian Assange, who up until recently has managed to continue the organization’s work unscathed.   Assange argues, as does Wikileaks supporters, that to punish Wikileaks itself would be the equivalent to punishing actual mainstream journalistic outlets like the NY times or Washington Post.  The reason being that once wikileaks publishes information handed over to them from insider whistle blowers, the information becomes public domain over the internet. What is technically the difference between Wikileaks publishing information given to them by whistle blowers and the NY Times for instance publishing the same information?  The answer is none, that the distinction between the two acts does not exist.  The real difference is that an outlet like the NY times would be far more careful in upsetting the status quo in order to be equally as unfiltered of an outlet like Wikileaks.

In a government CIA document titled “ – an online reference to foreign intelligence services, insurgents or terrorist groups” (which was ironically leaked by Wikileaks itself) it states, “Web sites such as use trust as a center of gravity by protecting the anonymity and identity of the insiders, leakers, or whistle blowers. The identification, exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistle blowers could potentially damage or destroy this center of gravity and deter others considering similar actions from using the Web site.”  “The possibility that a current employee or mole within DOD or elsewhere in the US government is providing sensitive information or classified information to cannot be ruled out. claims that the leakers or whistle blowers of sensitive or classified DOD documents are former US government employees.  These claims are highly suspect, however, since states that the anonymity and protection of the leakers or whistle blowers is one of its primary goals.”

The heat against Wikileaks peaked in late 2010 when the ‘Collateral Murder’ video made them a household name in the United States.  Many independent civil liberties focused media outlets and reporters such as Glenn Greenwald (one of wikileaks earliest and most high profile supporters) encouraged people who strongly believed in freedom of the press and the 1st amendment to donate money to Wikileaks using Paypal or credit card.  The next noteworthy leaks by Wikileaks included thousands of internal diplomatic cables from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Again Wikileaks was dominating the news and Julian Assange had become so well known at this point that they parodied him on Saturday Night Live.  Then the government unexpectedly announced that they have a suspect who they knew provided the classified snuff film about the Iraq murders to Wikileaks, namely Bradley Manning.  At this point, the reality of the situation was undeniable, that Wikileaks was generating a serious threat against the PR apparatus of the United States.  As clearly stated in US government documented about Wikileaks, “The disclosure of sensitive or classified information involving a foreign government or corporation will eventually result in the increased accountability of a democratic, oppressive, or corrupt the government to its citizen.”  Shortly after Bradley Manning was arrested, Wikileaks’ web host suddenly discontinued service., their web provider,  pulled the site within 24 of hours of an apparent phone call from the chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Joe Lieberman.  The day after Amazon pulled the plug, its domain-name service provider, EveryDNS, stopped resolving, after the DNS provider was battered by the DOS attacks.

On December 7th, 2010, Forbes Magazine wrote that Visa suspended payments to WikiLeaks… MasterCard told Cnet that it would also attempt to block payments to WikiLeaks, arguing that its “rules prohibit customers from directly or indirectly engaging in or facilitating any action that is illegal.”  And only one day later writes, “In the latest in a series of blows to Wikileaks, PayPal says it will no longer support money transfers to the whistle blower site.”  Although these companies have said that their terms of service forbid the support or facilitation of illegal activity, such pronouncements about Wikileaks are debatable. While it is a crime to leak classified information, receiving and publishing it is not.

Whether it was actually a crime or not was of no consequence to the State Department and apparently not to the corporations who strategically blocked Wikileaks’ efforts.  Over 95% of all online payments are in the form of Visa, Mastercard or Paypal. This was a genuine conspiracy of government and corporations to squelch Wikileaks from receiving funding from a now exponentially growing supportive group of donors. The US government effectively intimidated journalists, whistle blowers and now private corporations into submission.   Julian Assange found ways around these problems, switching web hosts and encouraging people to donate with American Express and Bitcoin. These companies, luckily did not cave to US pressure.

If there was any doubt left that corporations and government work together to suppress the free flow of information, there is no longer.  It was now right out in the open that once the US government felt threatened by a force who are technically breaking no laws, they will do anything and everything to lessen and suppress that threat.  This all came to a head when Julian Assange was wanted for questioning in Sweden on suspicion of rape charges.  At this point in time, it became clear to Julian that the US was going to try and find a way to take him back to the US and detain him.  Mainstream media outlets were suspicious about the rape accusations and Julian Assange agreed to go in for questioning if Swedish authorities promised they would not extradite him to the US.   They could not make such a promise, so he refused to go in for questioning.  He now stays indefinitely inside the Ecuadorian embassy inside the UK and has been there for over 4 months.  If he leaves the UK, authorities will immediately arrest him, and after that the US will do everything in their power to take him into custody.  Legally speaking they would use the Espionage Act and he would suffer the same fate as Private Manning most likely never seeing the light of day in his lifetime.  Most legal experts warn that if Assange can be charged under the act, that any US journalist who also shared Wikileaks information could be charged as well.  This is a legal slippery slope that sends an immense chilling effect to working journalists.  It sends the message if sensitive information is published, even information available publicly on the internet, criminal charges could proceed.

Most average citizens might feel totally unaffected by the US government’s battle to stop whistle blowers and journalists from revealing embarrassing information, just as most Americans feel unaffected by the marginalization of Muslims and Arabs in this country in the wake of 9/11 but there is a dangerous trickle down effect as a result of these intimidation tactics.  When the US government goes after suspicious Muslims, whistle blowers, journalists, activists or political radicals, it affects us all whether we realize it or not.  The next time a journalist receives private information that might be in the public interest, they may not want to act on it out of fear of aiding a criminal.  The next time someone wants to say something controversial on the internet about the US government, they might think twice out of fear.  If someone feels compelled to donate to Wikileaks or another outspoken human rights organization like the ACLU, they might think twice out of concern of ‘showing up on some government list’.  This is the chilling effect which insidiously sneaks up on all Americans.  Unfortunately, this has been historically the best deterrent for keeping a populace in check, stopping citizens from even thinking about challenging the power structure.  The strategy is to eliminate potential challenges to the power structure through the power of fear and intimidation.  Since the war on terror has already been waged for over a decade, and the recently revealed ‘disposition matrix’ reveals it will go on for at least another two decades, is there a chance that American journalists, activists and average citizens will stand up and seize whatever power the 1st amendment still grants them?  Let us all hope so. 


Written by Robbie Martin for Media Roots

Photos provided by Dick Swanson, White House photographer used under public domain based on works by the US government

Israel Launches Aggressive Attack In Gaza

MEDIA ROOTS – Netanyahu otherwise known as ‘BB’ alleges that Hamas has committed a “double war crime” by firing out-dated rockets out of self defense at the Israeli aggressors. Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, who predicted the aftermath of 9/11 with his amazing prophetic psychic abilities, says that Israel intends to “systematically destroy” anywhere in Gaza where rockets are being produced.

Wouldn’t it be ridiculous if someone in Detroit fired rockets outside of Michigan and Washington D.C. responded with an ariel bombing of Detroit? At Media Roots we think firing on a population contained in your own country with military force is beyond ridiculous. Once again it evokes mass surrealism how biased the media is, including CNN in justifying these events. 

Robbie Martin for Media Roots

Ehud Barak’s psychic abilities on display


CNN – “We are defending ourselves,” he said, arguing that Benjamin Netanyahu was looking to cement support in advance of an election in two months. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak denied that any politics are involved in the decision.

Speaking to CNN, Barak said Israel has destroyed most of the “heavy long range rockets” used by militants in Gaza and is working to “systematically destroy” installations in which other rockets are produced. “It will take some time,” he said, “and we are not going to stop until the whole thing will dramatically change” — with an end to the attacks from Gaza, he said.

Israeli forces are going after Hamas weapons, storage bunkers, weapons labs and workshops, an Israeli official told CNN. The official has direct knowledge of Israeli plans but declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the information. The Israeli army is moving nearly a division’s worth of troops — perhaps 1,500 to 2,000 — to the border, the official said.


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MR Original – Obama Evokes State Secrets as Much as Bush

Obama’s Normalization of Neo-Conservatism Part 3 of 4: State Secrets Privilege. Read Part 1 of Obama’s Normalization of Neo-conservatism: Drones. Read Part 2 of Obama’s Normalization of Neo-conservatism: Continuing Coverup of Torture 

MEDIA ROOTS –  As cloaks of legal strategy currently shield President Obama from investigation, criminals of the previous administration remain legally unscathed after having clearly flaunted international law.

‘State secrets’ privilege was heavily criticized under George W. Bush. But with Obama’s reluctance – and later refusal – to let investigations continue of Bush law-breaking, many citizens have had no recourse after being tortured or indefinitely detained unlawfully.

In the United Kingdom, Australia, Canadian, Italy, and Spain, lawsuits were filed by citizens of those countries who claimed that their country worked with the U.S. to rendition them. Many settlements and pay-outs were issued by countries abroad who admitted complicity in a violation of that person’s rights. Not only were lawsuits filed outside of the U.S., but actual criminal proceedings moved forward in SpainItaly, and the United Kingdom.  However, in the U.S., no such payouts or settlements have occurred due to the continued legal shielding and censorship that has taken place. 

In April 2009, Spanish courts decided to move forward with a criminal investigation of Alberto Gonzales and others who were complicit in the torture regime including John Yoo and Jay Bybee, authors of the torture memos. The case revolved around five Spanish citizens who were tortured at Guantanamo Bay.  Spain made clear in public statements that they would cease their investigation immediately if the United States decided to launch an inquiry of their own. But the U.S. has no intention of doing so.

After a Wikileaks diplomatic cable leak showed that after the fact, the U.S. had issued a veiled threat of intimidation saying the investigation “would not be understood or accepted in the U.S. and would have an enormous impact on the bilateral relationship,” Spain caved and dropped the case. The Spanish government made a compromise to remain allies with the United States, not wanting any disruption in the relationship between the two nations. 

In November of 2009, a court in Italy found twenty two CIA agents guilty of the 2003 kidnapping of an Italian citizen. He was sent to Egypt by the CIA, after being essentially kidnapped to be tortured by Egyptian authorities, infamously referred to as the art of ‘rendition’ aka exporting torture. One CIA agent in particular was sentenced to an eight year prison term by the Italian judges.  The United States refused to extradite any of the CIA agents who were found guilty, and instead the White House expounded with “we are disappointed by the verdicts against the Americans”.. “for their alleged involvement”. Currently in Italy the subpoenas are still legally viable, so surely none of the accused CIA agents will ever be safe stepping foot into Italian territory. 

In mid 2009, Binyan Mohammed of Great Britain spent six years at Guantanamo. He claims to have incurred genital mutilation among other forms of physical abuse, and was successful in appealing to a British court to hand over documents proving his claims; documents that were in the possession of UK intelligence that showed notes taken by British authorities detailing his ‘enhanced interrogations.’  Right before the British court was to publicly release a summary of the notes in question, they were threatened by the British government not to do so. It was learned later that the British government received a direct threat of sanction from the US government under Obama. The U.S. specifically told them that if the notes were released and the trial was allowed to move forward, the U.S. would withhold vital intelligence information to the UK that could harm their national security. The British judges released a statement saying, “we did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence contained in reports by its own officials or officials of another state where the evidence was relevant to allegations of torture … politically embarrassing though it might be.”

According to the Obama / Biden campaign website, they claim to have a Plan to Change Washington in which “the Bush administration has invoked a legal tool known as the ‘state secrets’ privilege more than any other administration to get cases thrown out of court.” Surprisingly, during Obama’s first years as president, his lawyers evoked the state secret privilege just as much if not more than the previous administration to get cases (mostly involving torture and law breaking under George W. Bush) thrown out of civilian and criminal courts. 

Since the NSA wiretapping scandal, the only legal immunity on paper was for the private corporations that took part in it. They could not be sued due to Obama’s ‘telecom immunity‘ bill. However, this still left open the possibility that the U.S. government could still be sued for its illegal surveillance activities, so the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online activist group, brought forward a lawsuit. The first response to the lawsuit from Obama’s lawyers amounted to a duplication of the Bush evocation of state secrets. To what can only be described as Kafka-esque circular logic, they said the entire NSA program was a vital state secret that could not be examined in a court and that no government officials could be held accountable even if the spying was knowingly illegal because they would have to willfully disclose what they know. 

In reaction to Obama throwing the EFF’s lawsuit out of court, the EFF wrote “Obama’s DOJs new arguments are worse than Bush.”

Indeed, Obama’s use of the State’s Secret Privilege has not just been to continue covering up Bush crimes, but also to his own ‘bending’ of U.S. law. In September of 2010, Anwar Alwaki’s father, when he was informed that his son was due for ‘extra judicial’ assassination tried to file a lawsuit against the US government with the help of the ACLU. Obama once again evoked the states secret privilege and had the case thrown out of court on the grounds that it would “require the disclosure of highly sensitive national security information concerning alleged military and intelligence actions overseas.”

A little over a year later, Anwar Awlaki was unlawfully assassinated in a drone strike along with his 16 year old son. 

Since Obama took office, two courts ruled that the NSA policy of wiretapping without a court order was illegal. When the cases gained notoriety in the press, the Obama administration evoked state secrets yet again. In one instance, the court rejected the excuse. Regardless, the Obama administration’s Justice Department refused to hand over documents in violation of a court order.

While writing this article, oral arguments were heard in Clapper v. Amnesty, a new Supreme Court case that involves the ACLU vs the U.S. government NSA program that removes the need for a court order previously required to conduct surveillance.  Good news has come out of the proceedings so far, where many Justices have spoken out against the circular logic the government has used in its defense. The argument being that the ACLU and no American citizens have ‘standing’ since they cannot prove they have been the target of NSA surveillance. The inherent problem with this logic is that nobody can prove it since the government keeps it completely secret. This is the very point Justice Sotomayor raised when she interrupted Solicitor General Donald Verril by asking “General, is there anybody who has standing?”

The answer is technically no, since no one can get the government to admit its role in said surveillance even if asked to do so by a court.  The case goes back into court on December 14th, and Media Roots will be in the thick of it to report on the verdict once it’s announced. 


Written by Robbie Martin for Media Roots

Photos provided by Dick Swanson, White House photographer used under public domain