One Nation Under Surveillance, Part… Oh, Make Up A Number

From the FAS Secrecy Blog:

Senate Intel Committee Blocks Report on “Secret Law”

August 2nd, 2011 by Steven Aftergood

The Senate Intelligence Committee rejected an amendment that would have required the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence to confront the problem of “secret law,” by which government agencies rely on legal authorities that are unknown or misunderstood by the public.

The amendment, proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Mark Udall, was rejected on a voice vote, according to the new Committee report on the FY2012 Intelligence Authorization Act.

“We remain very concerned that the U.S. government’s official interpretation of the Patriot Act is inconsistent with the public’s understanding of the law,” Senators Wyden and Udall wrote.  “We believe that most members of the American public would be very surprised to learn how federal surveillance law is being interpreted in secret.”

The Senators included dissenting remarks, along with the text of their rejected amendment, in the Committee report.

I have noted before an ACLU report on secret law; the FAS post considers Reps. Senators Wyden and Udall’s attempt to bring to light just how secret laws are being interpreted in the realm of surveillance of the public, to a point at which an ordinary American can understand what leads to surveillance of him/her. And the intelligence committee swatted their proposal like a fly on a bar mirror. A one-way mirror, of course.

I’m sorry, but I find the whole notion of secret law offensive, damaging to the very foundation of government in an allegedly free and open society. You can try to explain it to me if you want, but I’ll never get past the fact that keeping any law secret permits a citizen to violate it unknowingly… and a tyrant to apply it as a tool of oppression. If I am guilty of something, I damned well insist on the right to know in advance just what is illegal. If I am to be surveilled, I demand to know why, and to be informed in advance of the surveillance.

(OT, WordPress just blew away some of my subcategories under Rights/Liberties. I hope they reappear at some point… UPDATE: they came back upon my opening a new post.)

ADDENDUM: David Dayen’s post, The Rise of Secret Wars, on the increase in the use of secret special ops rather than conventional military force, is worth your time.

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  • MandT  On Sunday August 7, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    “–a tyrant to apply it as a tool of oppression. If I am guilty of something, I damned well insist on the right to know in advance just what is illegal.” One of the least understood ‘secret laws’ is that Habeaus Corpus (right to a jury trial ) is now the sole discretion of the president, who now has absolute power of life and death. One wonders just when this power extends to dissenting citizens.

    • Steve  On Sunday August 7, 2011 at 9:52 pm

      Actually, MandT, habeas corpus is the first right of a person who is arrested, the right to appear before a judge to challenge the validity of his/her incarceration. But the demise of habeas is the demise of British legal tradition of over 800 years, and American tradition since the nation’s beginning. It is difficult in these times to persuade Americans just how very much is at stake in the arbitrary procedural changes made in the Bush administration and then the Obama administration. We could all end up behind bars with not one shred of due process to put us there… facing indefinite detention at the President’s “pleasure.” Unfortunately, I think he actually does enjoy it.

  • MandT  On Sunday August 7, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    It amazed me that during the Bush administration virtually no reportage about this appeared, except for the frequent articles by Paul Craig Roberts, who is also quite informed about changes in legal procedural at the local level. Fascism comes waving a Bible and a subpoena.

    • Steve  On Monday August 8, 2011 at 8:20 am

      Another good source is New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer. Start with her book on the Cheney administration’s adventures in torture: The Dark Side. There’s an hour-long interview of her by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now which you can google and watch if you wish.

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