Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Good and the Bad

First, the good. Paul Krugman's fears aside, it appears that the Obama administration is determined to maintain the focus on health care reform even in the midst of battles over stimulus packages and an economy in crisis (h/t Adam):

The Obama administration’s health care czar may be gone, but here is one hint that its commitment to pursuing major health care legislation in 2009 remains in place. On Sunday, a senior administration official told me that health care would be a “central focus” of Obama’s first budget proposal.

The official didn’t specify precisely what that meant: Would the administration be asking for funds to make sure every American has insurance, or just a portion? Would there be major reforms of the way medical care is delivered? But even with that ambiguity, the statement seems to signal that Obama still takes health care seriously and hopes to pass significant legislation in the next year.


...in interviews over the past week, administration officials have said repeatedly that the dobuts about Obama’s commitment are unfounded. They say Obama himself has indicated health care is a top priority, to be pursued shortly after the debate over the economic stimulus package is over.

They also say he believes it is important to make sure everybody (or almost everybody) has insurance, because it’s not possible to control costs while so many people lack health benefits. "I've been in meetings with him and it's clear this guy is committed to getting health care and getting coverage to everybody," says one high-ranking member of the administration. "There's no question in my mind."

And now, the bad:

In the first major national security case of the Obama administration, lawyers representing the government took the exact same position as the Bush administration. Government attorneys asked a judge to throw out a torture case, citing the need to preserve state secrets. Some human rights activists now say they feel betrayed by an administration that had promised greater openness and transparency.

Five former terrorism detainees brought the lawsuit, Mohammed et al. vs. Jeppesen DataPlan Inc. The men accuse Jeppesen, a Boeing subsidiary, of providing logistical support to the CIA for "torture flights" to overseas prisons.

Bush administration lawyers had argued there was no way to try this case without revealing state secrets. Activist groups and newspaper editorial pages hammered the Justice Department for taking that position, but a trial judge agreed and threw the case out.

As the government prepared to argue the case again before three judges at an appeals court Monday, observers wondered whether the Justice Department would change course now that there is a new president and a new attorney general. The government did not change course.

ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, who represents the detainees, said in a phone interview after arguments, "The Obama administration, which came to office on a promise of greater transparency — on a promise of ending these practices — stood up and made exactly the same arguments that were made by Bush lawyers to throw out torture victims' lawsuits. And that's a profound disappointment."


Many senior Obama nominees for national security positions have not yet been confirmed. Robert Raben, a former U.S. assistant attorney general during the Clinton administration, believes the administration's position on state secrets may evolve once those people arrive. "I just don't think there's been enough time," Raben said. "I don't think every computer has been turned on in the executive branch, I don't think every seat has been warmed by the smarties that will sit down and figure out what the policy will be.

"I think people need to stay calm," said Raben.

One of those "smarties" is Georgetown Professor of Law Marty Lederman, who has repeatedly denounced the Bush administration for years on matters of detention and torture over at the law blog Balkinization and who has now signed up to be part of the Obama admin's OLC. His colleague at Balkinization, David Luban, castigates the Obama administration in a post entitled "You Cover It Up, You Own It" (he's joined by Glenn Greenwald in flaying the administration.) For my part I detest the state secrets doctrine, I detest that it's been used to cover up government wrongdoing, that anyone in government can possibly argue that even hearing a case threatens national security, and I detest the manner in which our supposedly independent judiciary rolls over to government misfeasance whenever anyone whispers the word terrorism or Al Qaeda. I sincerely hope Raben is right, but I honestly would be surprised. It seems only natural for government to presume that we have no reason to know exactly what it is they're up to when it comes to national security.

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