2008.03.15: March 15, 2008: Headlines: Figures: COS - Somalia: Politics: Congress: The Capital Times: John Nichols writes: Tom Petri challenges abusive secrecy

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John Nichols writes: Tom Petri challenges abusive secrecy

John Nichols writes: Tom Petri challenges abusive secrecy

Petri has joined three key lawmakers -- Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich.; Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.; and Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., a respected former prosecutor -- to sponsor the State Secret Protection Act of 2008, which is designed to ensure that a responsible jurist will make a determination whenever the administration seeks to invoke the state secrets privilege. That judicial oversight requirement is essential to curbing abuse of the privilege while providing protection for valid state secrets. Striking the proper balance is essential if we are to maintain a society that is both safe and free. "Imagine the government locks you up but says you can't see the evidence for reasons of national security," says Petri. "I'm sure there are cases where national security is truly at risk, and that information must be protected. But we shouldn't have to simply take the executive branch's word for it. Shouldn't an independent, responsible party apart from the executive branch review the material to determine when and how national security really necessitates restricting the use of sensitive material? The answer is, quite obviously, yes." Congressman Tom Petri of Wisconsin served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Somalia in the 1960's.

John Nichols writes: Tom Petri challenges abusive secrecy

John Nichols: Tom Petri challenges abusive secrecy

John Nichols 3/15/2008 6:05 am

Not all Republicans are at war with the Constitution.

While there is no question that President Bush and Vice President Cheney disrespect -- and, for the most part, disregard -- the document, there are still a few Republicans on Capitol Hill who take seriously their oath of office, which commits them to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic."

Wisconsin Republican Tom Petri is one such Republican.

He has broken with the White House and its amen corner in Congress -- as well as a ridiculously unquestioning media -- to challenge abuses of national security claims that keep secret information that should legitimately be available to the American people.

Petri has joined three key lawmakers -- Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich.; Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.; and Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., a respected former prosecutor -- to sponsor the State Secret Protection Act of 2008, which is designed to ensure that a responsible jurist will make a determination whenever the administration seeks to invoke the state secrets privilege.

That judicial oversight requirement is essential to curbing abuse of the privilege while providing protection for valid state secrets.

Striking the proper balance is essential if we are to maintain a society that is both safe and free.

"Imagine the government locks you up but says you can't see the evidence for reasons of national security," says Petri. "I'm sure there are cases where national security is truly at risk, and that information must be protected. But we shouldn't have to simply take the executive branch's word for it. Shouldn't an independent, responsible party apart from the executive branch review the material to determine when and how national security really necessitates restricting the use of sensitive material? The answer is, quite obviously, yes."

"The current administration has too frequently used the state secrets privilege to cloak its activities involving rendition, torture, and warrantless surveillance," explains Conyers. "While matters of national security require the protection of classified information, our court system is clearly capable of handling this information with the appropriate discretion and care. The executive branch should not be able to escape accountability in the courts and congressional oversight by abusing the state secrets privilege, and an independent judge would ensure that does not happen."

It is important to understand, while Bush and Cheney are abusively secretive, the abuses did not start with them. Unless Congress acts, the abuses will continue after this administration finishes its tenure.

"When a tool designed to protect vital national security information is overused and abused, it undermines the credibility of legitimate claims," says Nadler. "Our bill would bring an independent judge into the process to ensure that claims of secrecy are not misused to shield illegal, embarrassing or questionable conduct."

America is in the midst of a historic struggle over whether the Constitution will be anything more than what Bush calls it -- "just a piece of paper" -- in the 21st century. It ought not be a partisan fight. And Tom Petri deserves high marks for recognizing this essential truth.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times, Wisconsin's progressive daily news source, where his column appears regularly.




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Headlines: March, 2008; RPCV Tom Petri (Somalia) ; Figures; Peace Corps Somalia; Directory of Somalia RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Somalia RPCVs; Politics; Congress; Wisconsin





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Story Source: The Capital Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Figures; COS - Somalia; Politics; Congress

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