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An Open E-Mail To President Obama on State Secrets and Illegal Wiretaps

After thinking about Attorney General Eric Holder’s unfathomable court filing defending the Bush-wacked “states secret” defence and a claim of “sovereign immunity” in lawsuits involving illegal wiretapping, I sent this e-mail to The White House.


TO: President Barack Obama
FROM: Charley James
DATE: April 8, 2009
SUBJECT: Where Did Change To Believe In Go?

Dear President Obama,

I’ve admired you since your speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, was ecstatic when you announced your candidacy in 2007, and supported you with time, money, volunteering and enthusiasm ever since. When you won on Election Night, I sat in front of the television watching you speak at Grant Park and cried. When you were inaugurated, I cried again. They were tears of joy, relief, renewal and, well, hope.

After eight dark years of turning the American body politic into an open, festering, oozing sore, George Bush and Dick Cheney finally were history. In their place stood a man who promised to heal and renew America, and all who sail in her.

Your first two-plus months have gone so well.

The stimulus package will put us back to work, a budget that offers a grand design for an America that reinvents itself yet again, closing Guantanamo and promising no more torture, a start on universal healthcare, an energy policy that finally stops the US from destroying the earth, a reality-based Middle East policy, your stupendous reception in Europe began restoring the nation’s standing in the world, and you resolved seemingly-intractable differences between governments rather than bullying them.

Then, for some reason, this week Eric Holder started channelling David Addington, John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Alberto Gonzales and Michael Mukasey all at once by going into federal court to try blocking a civil suit against the government over its illegal wiretapping during the Bush years. Rather than argue the merits, Mr. Holder trotted out the Bushian notion of everything being a “secret of state” – the phrase itself conjures up memories of the KGB and being tossed in a cell in the Lubyanka – even though all of the details and nuances of the actions prompting the lawsuit have been in the public record for years.

Even worse, Mr. Holder is claiming an archaic right of ancient Crown heads to “sovereign immunity,” asserting the government cannot be sued by its citizens when fundamental civil liberties are trampled or ignored.

Mr. President, when you campaigned you promised to put “state secrets” and all of the rest of these Bush notions in the past. You promised to end secrecy and restore civil liberties. You promised transparency in government.

Sir, I’m not suggesting that you order the CIA and NSA to open their files to anyone who wants to drop by for a peek or to take a few documents with them to Starbucks for quick read (as interesting as the material might be). But I am very disappointed that you’ve allowed your Justice Department to fall back on legal concepts espoused by the DoJ under its previous, highly contaminated, mis-management. The “state secret” argument did not hold water in the past and its position is even worse when argued in court by your administration.

Beyond this, Mr. President, it is all but unheard of in our history for the United States to claim “sovereign immunity” from a lawsuit filed by a citizen. As a legal concept, it is so broad and sweeping that it effectively removes the right of anyone to challenge anything the government did, does or might do. I cannot understand how a Constitutional scholar, a man who tutored young law school students in the framework of our government, could even consider invoking such a privilege. It smacks of The Divine Right of Kings and Papal Infallibility, and has no place in a Republic founded on the bedrock of Constitutional government.

Sir, please instruct your Attorney General to reconsider Tuesday’s filing before he goes too far down a road that George Bush roughed out but dared not pave. You offered us hope for change and we, all Americans, took you at your word. Please do not disappoint and disillusion us.

Respectfully yours,

Charley James

Charley James

The Progressive Curmudgeon

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