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Two Bills in One Day: State Secrets Fix on the Horizon

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February 13, 2009

We were all a little shocked and dismayed on Monday when we heard that the Obama administration declared it was full steam ahead with the Bush administration’s state secrets privilege claim in our extraordinary rendition case against Jeppesen Dataplan.

Perhaps even more shocking, but in a most pleasant way, was Congress—a body more known for accomplishing things at speeds more often compared to glaciers—followed Monday’s most depressing events by reintroducing the most excellent State Secrets Protection Act of 2009, which never got to a vote in the last Congress, on Wednesday. Cheers to Congressmen John Conyers (D-Mich.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Thomas Petri (R-Wis.), William Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) for acting so swiftly.

Then Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) followed up by reintroducing the bill in the Senate! Two bills in both chambers of Congress in one day. That’s change we can believe in! Nadler told The Boston Globe:

The administration’s decision this week to adopt its predecessor’s argument that the state secret privilege requires the outright dismissal of a case challenging rendition to torture was a step in the wrong direction and a reminder that legislation is required to ensure meaningful review of the state secret privilege.

We couldn’t agree more. This is what our framers had in mind when they wrote the separation of powers into the Constitution.

Glenn Greenwald wrote in Salon:

A President who seeks to aggrandize his own power through wildly expansive claims of executive authority ought to be vigorously criticized. But the ultimate responsibility to put a stop to that lies with the Congress (and the courts). More than anything else, it was the failure of the Congress to rein in the abuses of the Bush presidency (when they weren’t actively endorsing those abuses) that was the ultimate enabling force of the extremism and destruction of the last eight years.

Is it too optimistic to say that Congress might reassert its authority with President Obama? Fingers crossed. A check on executive power, no matter who’s in the White House, is, in the words of Martha Stewart, a good thing.

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