All posts by James Bovard

Julian Assange Deserves a Medal of Freedom, Not a Secret Indictment

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Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been secretly indicted by the Trump administration’s Justice Department, “a drastic escalation” of the feds’ efforts against him, the New York Times reported. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has denounced Wikileaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service” and labeled Assange a “fraud,” “coward,” and “enemy.” But rather than a federal indictment, Assange deserves a tweaked version of one of Washington’s hottest honorifics.

Wikileaks has been in the federal crosshairs since it released scores of thousands of documents exposing lies and atrocities regarding the Afghan and Iraq wars, thanks to leaks from Army corporal Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Wikileaks released emails from the Democratic National Committee showing that its nominating process was rigged to favor Hillary Clinton. During the final month of the campaign, Wikileaks disclosed emails from Clinton campaign chief John Podesta.

Trump loved WikiLeaks when it was convenient

In the final month of the presidential campaign, Donald Trump declared, “I love WikiLeaks” and mentioned it more than a hundred times. However, since Trump took office, he is following Washington protocols and viewing whistleblowers as public enemies.

The Assange indictment is far more threatening than Trump tweets snarling at CNN. The ACLU warns that prosecuting Assange for Wikileaks’ publishing operations would be “unconstitutional” and sets a “dangerous precedent for U.S. journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public's interest.” Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation declared: “Any charges brought against WikiLeaks for their publishing activities pose a profound and incredibly dangerous threat to press freedom.”

It is difficult to appreciate Wikileaks without recognizing how federal secrecy has become far more pervasive and dangerous since 9/11. If someone had massively leaked U.S. government documents on Iraq in January 2003, the Bush administration campaign for war might have been thwarted. The federal government made almost 50 million decisions to classify information last year. Politicians and federal agencies have long recognized that “what people don't know won't hurt the government.”

“Truth will out” is the biggest fairy tale in Washington. U.S. troops are now fighting in 14 foreign nations: will the Pentagon tell us all about it? The National Security Agency illegally tracked every citizen’s phone calls: no federal official disclosed the system that a federal judge castigated as an “almost Orwellian” surveillance scheme. And what are the betting odds of Americans seeing the dirt on the U.S. government’s long-term collusion with the Saudi regime (despite its atrocities at home and abroad)?

On the same day the Assange indictment scored headlines, Trump awarded seven Presidential Medals of Freedom. No controversy greeted posthumous awards to Babe Ruth and Elvis Presley — unlike the ruckus regarding Miriam Adelson, wife of Republican super-donor Sheldon Adelson. Public Citizen, a liberal nonprofit, howled that the Adelson award “is just the latest sign of [Trump’s] ability to corrupt and corrodeall aspects of the government.” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman caterwauled that it was “ludicrous” and “and an insult to people who received the medal for genuine service.”

Update the freedom awards to kill coverups

In reality, Presidential Medals of Freedom have routinely been exploited to buttress the political establishment, with bevies of awards for political operators, members of Congress, and pliable foreign leaders. President Lyndon Johnson distributed a bushel of Medals of Freedom to his Vietnam War architects and enablers, perhaps as consolation prizes for losing the war. (The medal awarded to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, whose lies about the war making progress cost thousands of Americans and Vietnamese their lives, fetched $40,625 at an auction a few years ago.) President George W. Bush conferred Medals of Freedom on his Iraq war team, including CIA chief George “Slam Dunk” Tenet,  Iraq viceroy Paul Bremer, and ambassador Ryan Crocker, whom Bush called “America’s Lawrence of Arabia.” Some of the biggest fabulists of the modern era — including Henry Kissinger and Dick Cheney — also pocketed the award.

The controversies over Assange and Adelson provide a serendipitous opportunity to update the freedom awards. Because few things are more perilous to democracy than permitting politicians to coverup crimes, there should be a new Medal of Freedom category commending individuals who have done the most to expose official lies. This particular award could be differentiated by including a little steam whistle atop the medal — vivifying how leaks can prevent a political system from overheating or exploding.  

Assange would deserve such a medal — as would Thomas Drake and Edward Snowden (who revealed NSA’s abuses), John Kiriakou (who revealed CIA torture), and Daniel Ellsberg (who leaked the Pentagon Papers). Admittedly, there may be no way to stop presidents from giving steam whistle freedom awards to political donors’ wives.

Organizations like Wikileaks are among the best hopes for rescuing democracy from Leviathan. Unless we presume politicians have a divine right to deceive the governed, America should honor individuals who expose federal crimes. Whistleblowers should be especially welcome by anyone riled up over Trump’s lies.

James Bovard is author of "Attention Deficit Democracy."

Reprinted with author's permission from USA Today.

Beltway BS on ‘Speaking Truth to Power’

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Lying and piety go together in Washington like ham and eggs. After 9/11, a profusion of government falsehoods on Iraq and other topics ravaged official credibility. The political class responded with an endless profusion of promises to “speak truth to power.” Unfortunately, there are far more Washingtonians praising honesty than there are honest politicians.

According to Wikipedia, “Speaking truth to power is a nonviolent political tactic, employed by dissidents against the received wisdom or propaganda of governments they regard as oppressive or authoritarian.” Ironically, that phrase has become one of the favorite accolades in the least trusted city in America.

When seven-term congressman and low-watt Republican functionary Porter Goss was nominated in 2004 to become CIA chief, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) endorsed him after he promised to “always speak truth to power.” Fat chance: after he was confirmed, Goss speedily sent a memo to CIA employees muzzling them, declaring that their job was to “support the administration and its policies in our work.” Goss bungled the CIA so badly that the Bush administration heaved him out less than two years later. Columnist Walter Shapiro observed, “Normally under Bush, promoted-above-your-abilities incompetence is not a firing offense unless, of course, you drown an entire city.”

“Speaking truth to power” had a starring role in the 2005 Senate coronation of John Negroponte, America’s first director of National Intelligence. While working as Reagan’s ambassador to Honduras, Negroponte perennially denied that the Honduran regime was committing vast atrocities, despite its killing of tens of thousands of its own citizens. (Honduras was aiding the Nicaraguan Contras at the time.)

Yet, when the Senate Intelligence Committee held his confirmation hearing, he was treated as if he were Diogenes waiting to carry his lamp into the White House. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) talked about Negroponte’s record breeding “a tough and disciplined man with self-esteem and with the willingness to make decisions and to tell truth to power, which I think is key in all of this.” Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) filibustered: “It seems to me that it is almost imperative that the director of national intelligence — what’s the term? — speak truth to power or whatever the phrase is will be absolutely a requirement.” Senator Mikulski also recycled the “speak truth to power” bromide while kowtowing to the nominee. The Democrats on the committee approved Negroponte at the same time they permitted Republicans to thwart their investigation into whether the Bush administration deceived the nation regarding intelligence on Iraq. (Negroponte was confirmed by the full Senate in a 98-2 squeaker.)

Mike McConnell, a retired admiral and prominent defense contractor, took Negroponte’s place in early 2007. McConnell never wearied of proclaiming in congressional testimony and TV interviews, “My job is to speak truth to power.” This claim was rarely challenged, allowing McConnell to preen to greater credibility. In reality, his job was to frighten Americans who sought the truth about government. McConnell helped frighten Congress into submission with bizarre tall-tales, as when the Bush officials falsely claimed that al-Qaeda could imminently attack Capitol Hill — coincidentally when Congress was considering legislation to expand and extend NSA wiretaps on Americans.

When Michael Hayden was nominated as CIA chief in 2006, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) vouched that Hayden would “speak truth to power.” But Hayden profoundly misled Congress regarding the CIA’s torture program, and his credibility was demolished in the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on the enhanced-interrogation program.

From 2010 to 2016, James Clapper served as director of National Intelligence. He scored a “speaks truth to power” honorific when Defense Secretary Ash Carter awarded him the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal. He is much better known for his false 2013 congressional testimony denying that the National Security Agency collected data on millions of Americans. Legal experts marked the day earlier this year when the statute of limitation expired for indicting Clapper for perjury. Law professor Jonathan Turley observed, “The problem is not that the perjury statute is never enforced. Rather it is enforced against people without allies in government.”

The torture scandal

When James Comey was nominated as FBI chief in 2013, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch protested his role providing legal buttressing for Bush-era torture. But Comey worked the media so well that people probably thought he copyrighted “speaks truth to power.” But, from misrepresenting the FBI’s ability to crack an Apple iPhone encryption, to falsely promising transparency after the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre, to perpetuating often deceptive FBI interview practices, he failed to live up to his hype.

The “speaks truth to power” surge hit new high-water marks this spring with the nomination of Gina Haspel to be CIA chief. Haspel was notorious for her role in the Bush-era torture scandal. She was perhaps best known for sending out an order to destroy 92 videotapes of waterboarding. As an ACLU analysis noted, “In 2004, one year before the tapes’ destruction, a judge ordered the CIA to ‘produce or identify’ records relating to the treatment of detainees in CIA custody. That order came as a result of a legal challenge by the ACLU. One year later, a federal judge in a separate case ordered the government to search for video or audio recordings of detainee interrogations. In clear defiance of the courts, the CIA destroyed the tapes.”

As acting CIA chief, Haspel had discretion to determine exactly what details from her 33-year CIA career would be disclosed to Congress. The public heard about her meeting Mother Teresa but details on her linchpin role in the torture scandal were sparse.

Many of her supporters recited the “speaks truth to power” accolade as if they were trained seals waiting to earn a treat. At the brief Senate Intelligence Committee hearing to confirm Haspel, Sen. Roy Blount (R-Mo.) threw Haspel a soft ball: “Talk about your sense of obligation to present those facts and to speak truth to power at a moment when it matters.” Haspel replied, “Truth to power is one of CIA’s most important missions.” (She also assured senators and the television audience that “my parents gave me a very strong moral compass.”) Haspel initially dodged making criticisms of the torture program but eventually conceded that “the program ultimately did damage to [CIA] officers.” After the committee hearing, she sent a letter to senators assuring them, “I have spent my life speaking truth to power.”

Shortly before the vote on her nomination, the Senate Intelligence Committee “restricted access to a classified memo that Democratic staff put together, detailing Haspel’s role in advocating for torture and later destroying related evidence,” The Intercept reported. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) complained of an “A to Z” coverup of Haspel’s torture record.

There was an uproar by liberal activists, libertarians, and others about the CIA’s withholding of Haspel’s record. That did not stop Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, from announcing during the Senate confirmation vote, “Gina has also the courage to speak truth to power, and she has demonstrated that courage time and again.” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking Democrat whose public support for Haspel clinched her confirmation, portrayed himself as an innocent victim of Haspel’s stonewalling: “I wish she had been more open with the American public during this process.” Then he declared, “Most importantly, I believe she is someone who … will speak truth to power.” Perhaps Haspel will speak truth after she finishes destroying all the evidence of federal criminality.

Actual truth-speakers

Praising nominees’ candor seeks to make Americans believe that honesty has a snowball’s chance in hell inside the Beltway. But people who speak truth to power tend to end up fired, exiled, shafted, or imprisoned:

Lawrence Lindsay was George W. Bush’s economic advisor — until he predicted that Bush’s war on Iraq could cost $200 billion. (The actual costs of the war far exceeded $1 trillion.)

Eric Shinseski was US Army chief of staff — until he testified to Congress in 2003 that “several hundred thousand soldiers” would be necessary to occupy Iraq after Bush invaded that nation. The shortfall in the occupying army quickly turned Iraq into a catastrophe.

Valerie Plame’s career as a covert CIA operative was torpedoed by leaks by Bush administration officials in retaliation against her husband, ambassador Joseph Wilson, who publicly criticized Bush’s falsehoods on the Iraqi regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons material.

CIA agent John Kiriakou disclosed that the CIA was waterboarding detainees and was prosecuted by the Obama administration Justice Department — the only CIA official to be sent to prison for the torture scandal. (Kiriakou led the charge in the media against Haspel, whom he nicknamed “Bloody Gina.”)

Former NSA staffer Edward Snowden exposed a vast NSA illegal surveillance network and remains living in exile in Russia, perhaps because a top congressman and former intelligence agency chief publicly joked about putting him on a “kill list.” Snowden’s experience illustrates that exposing federal crimes is the ultimate unforgiveable sin in Washington.

The notion that some official will stalwartly tell the truth is supposed to spur Americans’ faith that Washington can be redeemed — as if we are only two or three nominations away from honest government. This is why “speaks truth to power” is lathered onto almost any nominee without multiple felony convictions. But it remains the political equivalent of a used-car dealer’s swearing a vehicle was previously owned by a grannie who only drove on Sunday afternoons.

“Truth delayed is truth defused” is a much better guide on how most political appointees will behave. But, as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg declared in a recent commencement address, “When we tolerate dishonesty, we get criminality.” Bloomberg labeled “our own willingness to tolerate dishonesty in service of party, and in pursuit of power” as “the greatest threat to American democracy.” Unfortunately, there is no reason to expect this threat to subside anytime soon.

Promising to “speak truth to power” encourages Americans to view political life as a fairy tale — or perhaps a variation of the old story of a young George Washington confessing to his father about axing a cherry tree. But this wishful storyline obscures the profound damage to the Constitution and to Americans’ rights and liberties that both parties have inflicted for decades. As Haspel’s case illustrates, political appointees receive far more career boosts from covering up atrocities than from speaking truth to power.

Reprinted with permission from JimBovard.com.

We Need a #MeToo Movement for Political Consent

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The #MeToo movement is spurring millions of Americans to reconsider the meaning of consent in sexual relations. But there is another realm where far too much has been presumed because of often token gestures. Political consent is defined radically differently than the consent that people freely give in their daily lives.

The Declaration of Independence enshrined the notion that government must possess “the consent of the governed.” Unfortunately, winning politicians often claim blank checks to define the hidden meaning behind citizens’ ballots. “Consenting” on Election Day is portrayed as pre-approving anything politicians dictate in the following years.

Regardless if your candidate campaigned on a peace platform, you “consented” to any wars he might subsequently start or support . Regardless if your candidate promised to end federal crackdowns on marijuana, you “consented” to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s raids on medical cannibis cooperatives. Regardless if your candidate promised to end deficit spending, you “consented” to trillions of dollars of additional federal debt. Regardless if your candidate promised transparency and honesty, you consented to the government keeping millions of secrets and shrouding its worst abuses.

Government agencies structure their policies to make even more absurd presumptions of “consent” in daily life.

Because you traveled abroad, you supposedly consented to Department of Homeland Security agents examining and copying all the records on your cell phone or computer when you return to the United States. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups are fighting this policy in federal court but this Obama-era policy remains the law of the land.

Because you bought an airline ticket, you supposedly consented to being pawed by a Transportation Security Administration agent, including an “enhanced patdown” that often includes vigorously groping Americans’ groins (regardless of TSA’s incompetence at discovering actual threats).

Because you chose to use the Washington or New York subway, you have consented to a warrantless search of your backpack or purse by local police who receive a federal grant to conduct security theater performances.

Because you drive on government roads, you supposedly consented to federally-funded license plate scanners compiling a dossier of when and where you travel. And for anyone who objects to federal, state, and local agencies tracking them at almost all times (including when they visit gun shows ), remember that “those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear.”

Presumed consent entitles government to do as politicians please. Because Americans “consented” to George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s presidential candidacies, their appointees authorized the National Security Administration to create massive databases compiling details on all the phone calls they made or received. In millions of cases, NSA also vacuumed up Americans’ emails and web browsing history . Even though presidents denied they were illegally spying on Americans, voters still presumably “consented.” Americans may be shocked in the coming months and years to learn of illegalities they purportedly “consented” to when Trump was elected.

Political consent is defined these days as rape was defined a generation or two ago: people consent to anything which they do not forcibly resist. Anyone who does not stone city hall presumably consented to everything the mayor does. Anyone who does not jump the White House fence and try to storm into the Oval Office consents to all executive orders. Anyone who doesn't assail the nearest federal office building consents to the latest edicts in the Federal Register. And if people do attack government facilities, then they are terrorists who can be justifiably killed or imprisoned forever.

Ironically, the Founding Fathers proffered a notion of political consent much closer to what #MeToo activists are championing nowadays. The Bill of Rights provided bright lines which politicians were prohibited from crossing regardless of vote counts. The Bill of Rights was a sacred pledge that politicians admitted they had no right to censor the press, confiscate private firearms, suppress religion, or inflict cruel and unusual punishment on citizens. The fact that politicians routinely often violate Americans’ constitutional rights does not make the Bill of Rights any less binding.

Regardless of the outcome of the midterm congressional elections, we should remember that members of Congress and the president took oaths promising to honor and defend the Constitution. In the same way that consenting to a dinner date does not entitle someone to bind and beat another person, consenting in a voting booth does not entitle politicians to ravage Americans’ rights. A strict adherence to the Bill of Rights is the surest way to reduce perils after Election Day.

Reprinted with permission from Mises.org.

Believe women: Apply Congress’ Christine Blasey Ford test to TSA’s female victims

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In the uproar over Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, many members of Congress declared that women have a “right to be believed.” Unfortunately, Congress is ignoring legions of women who have been sexually abused thanks to the immunity Congress provides to federal agents. But a federal appeals court may grant relief despite Washington's negligence.

Congress gives the Transportation Security Administration almost $8 billion a year and does nothing to constrain how TSA’s 43,000 screeners treat American travelers. A Justice Department lawyer insisted last year that there's no law "establishing a specific degree of permissible intrusiveness of a (TSA) security screening pat-down." Americans have no legal recourse regardless of how TSA’s screeners treat them, thus explaining why TSA pat-downs become more intrusive.  Many women have shared vivid allegations of TSA abuses on Twitter:

Dr. Jenn complained on Sept. 8: “Is it common practice for TSA agents to forcefully slide their hand up my (15-year-old) daughter's inner leg and ending at her vagina? Literally slamming their hand into my daughter's vagina.”

Melissa Emmal, whose Twitter header page shows a banner calling for impeaching Trump, tweeted on Aug. 28: “A @tsa agent at DCA told me the scanner had ‘alarmed’ at my groin. She then searched me from my knee up ‘until she met resistance’ (her words). She met resistance when she made contact with my labia FOUR times (front and back pat up of each leg). Felt like a sexual assault.”

Emily White complained on Aug. 26: “I was sexually assaulted by the @TSA on August 1 @LGAairport's Marine Terminal at around 11:50 am. ... If you don't want your vagina paddled multiple times, I recommend avoiding that crew.”

Valerie Knees groused on Aug. 14: “Was prepared to be a beacon of light and happy airport travel person this morning. Until the @TSA needlessly felt up my labia. 19 months into Trump’s presidency is apparently the length of time it takes for the government to grab my p---y.”

Dev, a New York author, complained on Aug. 8: “Having someone move their hands from your ankle all the way up until they karate chop your f---ing vulva while your skirt is already removed is not okay. It is not casual, it is not necessary and I’m going to war with the TSA and their poor training.”

Liz Groeschen tweeted on July 10 that she almost missed her flight at JFK Airport thanks to “an invasive hand pat-down that should be relabeled ‘tsa hands in your vagina’ to be completely accurate” and which was “an absolute embarrassment to America.”

Marina Modela complained on July 9: “Dear @TSA, At #seatac , 2 agents groped my labia in the name of ‘security’ and falsely accused me of having something in my pants. How does groping female genitalia promote security, especially when your agents are too incompetent to know the difference between labia and bombs?”

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, a Reason magazine editor, complained on June 7: “My ‘right groin area’ was suspicious to TSA so the agent just groped my ass & ran her hands under my waistband, between my thighs and all over my crotch in the middle of the airport. … It’s really unsettling to have an armed agent of the state rubbing your vulva while everyone watches.” 

Congress must hold the TSA accountable

It gets worse. The ACLU recently filed a complaint charging that TSA agents took Zainab Merchant, a Harvard grad student and mother of three, to a private room and compelled her to "open her pants" and show her bloody menstrual pad after an enhanced pat-down.

Congress has never held a hearing featuring a panel of TSA victims whose complaints against the agency are documented, captured on video, and at least momentarily legendary on social media. Nor has Congress ever required the TSA chief to attend a hearing and specifically respond to individuals his agency pointlessly traumatized.

A federal appeals court recently declared that it falls "squarely in the realm" of Congress to amend federal law to curtail the blanket immunity that TSA agents enjoy. After initially effectively siding with TSA agents, the appeals court based in Philadelphia this month agreed to rehear a TSA’s victim’s challenge that could radically reduce the amount of power that TSA screeners enjoy.  

Do members of Congress care about any sexual assault that does not permit them to politically grandstand? Capitol Hill’s selective indignation is not worth a plug nickel as long as politicians fail to rein in federal agents. As CNN political commentator Angela Rye wrote after her grueling experience with airport security, “Dear TSA: The country is not safer because you grab vaginas.”

Reprinted with author's permission from USAToday.

James Comey and the Unending Bush Torture Scandal

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The vast regime of torture created by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks continues to haunt America. The political class and most of the media have never dealt honestly with the profound constitutional corruption that such practices inflicted. Instead, torture enablers are permitted to pirouette as heroic figures on the flimsiest evidence.

Former FBI chief James Comey is the latest beneficiary of the media’s “no fault” scoring on the torture scandal. In his media interviews for his new memoir, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, Comey is portraying himself as a Boy Scout who sought only to do good things. But his record is far more damning than most Americans realize.

Comey continues to use memos from his earlier government gigs to whitewash all of the abuses he sanctified. “Here I stand; I can do no other,” Comey told George W. Bush in 2004 when Bush pressured Comey, who was then Deputy Attorney General, to approve an unlawful anti-terrorist policy. Comey was quoting a line supposedly uttered by Martin Luther in 1521, when he told Emperor Charles V and an assembly of Church officials that he would not recant his sweeping criticisms of the Catholic Church.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, and other organizations did excellent reports prior to Comey’s becoming FBI chief that laid out his role in the torture scandal. Such hard facts, however, have long since vanished from the media radar screen. MSNBC host Chris Matthews recently declared, “James Comey made his bones by standing up against torture. He was a made man before Trump came along.” Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria, in a column declaring that Americans should be “deeply grateful” to lawyers such as Comey, declared, “The Bush administration wanted to claim that its ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were lawful. Comey believed they were not…. So Comey pushed back as much as he could.”

Martin Luther risked death to fight against what he considered the scandalous religious practices of his time. Comey, a top Bush administration policymaker, found a safer way to oppose the worldwide secret US torture regime widely considered a heresy against American values: he approved brutal practices and then wrote some memos and emails fretting about the optics.

Losing sleep

Comey became deputy attorney general in late 2003 and “had oversight of the legal justification used to authorize” key Bush programs in the war on terror, as a Bloomberg News analysis noted. At that time, the Bush White House was pushing the Justice Department to again sign off on an array of extreme practices that had begun shortly after the 9/11 attacks. A 2002 Justice Department memo had leaked out that declared that the federal Anti-Torture Act “would be unconstitutional if it impermissibly encroached on the President’s constitutional power to conduct a military campaign.” The same Justice Department policy spurred a secret 2003 Pentagon document on interrogation policies that openly encouraged contempt for the law: “Sometimes the greater good for society will be accomplished by violating the literal language of the criminal law.”

Photos had also leaked from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq showing the stacking of naked prisoners with bags over their heads, mock electrocution from a wire connected to a man’s penis, guard dogs on the verge of ripping into naked men, and grinning US male and female soldiers celebrating the sordid degradation. Legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh published extracts in the New Yorker from a March 2004 report by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba that catalogued other US interrogation abuses: “Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape … sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.”

The Bush administration responded to the revelations with a torrent of falsehoods, complemented by attacks on the character of critics. Bush declared, “Let me make very clear the position of my government and our country…. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being.” Bush had the audacity to run for reelection as the anti-torture candidate, boasting that “for decades, Saddam tormented and tortured the people of Iraq. Because we acted, Iraq is free and a sovereign nation.” He was hammering this theme despite a confidential CIA Inspector General report warning that post–9/11 CIA interrogation methods might violate the international Convention Against Torture.

James Comey had the opportunity to condemn the outrageous practices and pledge that the Justice Department would cease providing the color of law to medieval-era abuses. Instead, Comey merely repudiated the controversial 2002 memo. Speaking to the media in a not-for-attribution session on June 22, 2004, he declared that the 2002 memo was “overbroad,” “abstract academic theory,” and “legally unnecessary.” He helped oversee crafting a new memo with different legal footing to justify the same interrogation methods.

Comey twice gave explicit approval for waterboarding, which sought to break detainees with near-drowning. This practice had been recognized as a war crime by the US government since the Spanish-American War. A practice that was notorious when inflicted by the Spanish Inquisition was adopted by the CIA with the Justice Department’s blessing. (When Barack Obama nominated Comey to be FBI chief in 2013, he testified that he had belatedly recognized that waterboarding was actually torture.)

Comey wrote in his memoir that he was losing sleep over concern about Bush-administration torture polices. But losing sleep was not an option for detainees, because Comey approved sleep deprivation as an interrogation technique. Detainees could be forcibly kept awake for 180 hours until they confessed their crimes. How did that work? At Abu Ghraib, one FBI agent reported seeing a detainee “handcuffed to a railing with a nylon sack on his head and a shower curtain draped around him, being slapped by a soldier to keep him awake.” Numerous FBI agents protested the extreme interrogation methods they saw at Guantanamo and elsewhere, but their warnings were ignored.

Comey also approved “wall slamming” — which, as law professor David Cole wrote, meant that detainees could be thrown against a wall up to 30 times. Comey also signed off on the CIA’s using “interrogation” methods such as facial slaps, locking detainees in small boxes for 18 hours, and forced nudity. When the secret Comey memo approving those methods finally became public in 2009, many Americans were aghast — and relieved that the Obama administration had repudiated Bush policies.

When it came to opposing torture, Comey’s version of “Here I stand” had more loopholes than a reverse-mortgage contract. Though Comey in 2005 approved each of 13 controversial extreme interrogation methods, he objected to combining multiple methods on one detainee.

The torture guy

In his memoir, Comey relates that his wife told him, “Don’t be the torture guy!” Comey apparently feels that he satisfied her dictate by writing memos that opposed combining multiple extreme interrogation methods. And since the vast majority of the American media agree with him, he must be right.

Comey’s cheerleaders seem uninterested in the damning evidence that has surfaced since his time as a torture enabler in the Bush administration. In 2014, the Senate Intelligence Committee finally released a massive report on the CIA torture regime — including death resulting from hypothermia, rape-like rectal feeding of detainees, compelling detainees to stand long periods on broken legs, and dozens of cases where innocent people were pointlessly brutalized. Psychologists aided the torture regime, offering hints on how to destroy the will and resistance of prisoners. From the start, the program was protected by phalanxes of lying federal officials.

When he first campaigned for president, Barack Obama pledged to vigorously investigate the Bush torture regime for criminal violations. Instead, the Obama administration proffered one excuse after another to suppress the vast majority of the evidence, pardon all US government torturers, and throttle all torture-related lawsuits. The only CIA official to go to prison for the torture scandal was courageous whistleblower John Kiriakou. Kiriakou’s fate illustrates that telling the truth is treated as the most unforgivable atrocity in Washington.

If Comey had resigned in 2004 or 2005 to protest the torture techniques he now claims to abhor, he would deserve some of the praise he is now receiving. Instead, he remained in the Bush administration but wrote an email summarizing his objections, declaring that “it was my job to protect the department and the A.G. [Attorney General] and that I could not agree to this because it was wrong.” A 2009 New York Times analysis noted that Comey and two colleagues “have largely escaped criticism [for approving torture] because they raised questions about interrogation and the law.” In Washington, writing emails is “close enough for government work” to confer sainthood.

When Comey finally exited the Justice Department in August 2005 to become a lavishly paid senior vice president for Lockheed Martin, he proclaimed in a farewell speech that protecting the Justice Department’s “reservoir” of “trust and credibility” requires “vigilance” and “an unerring commitment to truth.” But he had perpetuated policies that shattered the moral credibility of both the Justice Department and the US government. He failed to heed Martin Luther’s admonition, “You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.”

Comey is likely to go to his grave without paying any price for his role in perpetuating appalling US government abuses. It is far more important to recognize the profound danger that torture and the exoneration of torturers pose to the United States. “No free government can survive that is not based on the supremacy of the law,” is one of the mottoes chiseled into the façade of Justice Department headquarters. Unfortunately, politicians nowadays can choose which laws they obey and which laws they trample. And Americans are supposed to presume that we still have the rule of law as long as politicians and bureaucrats deny their crimes.

Reprinted with permission from Future of Freedom Foundation.

James Comey and the Unending Bush Torture Scandal

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The vast regime of torture created by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks continues to haunt America. The political class and most of the media have never dealt honestly with the profound constitutional corruption that such practices inflicted. Instead, torture enablers are permitted to pirouette as heroic figures on the flimsiest evidence.

Former FBI chief James Comey is the latest beneficiary of the media’s “no fault” scoring on the torture scandal. In his media interviews for his new memoir, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, Comey is portraying himself as a Boy Scout who sought only to do good things. But his record is far more damning than most Americans realize.

Comey continues to use memos from his earlier government gigs to whitewash all of the abuses he sanctified. “Here I stand; I can do no other,” Comey told George W. Bush in 2004 when Bush pressured Comey, who was then Deputy Attorney General, to approve an unlawful anti-terrorist policy. Comey was quoting a line supposedly uttered by Martin Luther in 1521, when he told Emperor Charles V and an assembly of Church officials that he would not recant his sweeping criticisms of the Catholic Church.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, and other organizations did excellent reports prior to Comey’s becoming FBI chief that laid out his role in the torture scandal. Such hard facts, however, have long since vanished from the media radar screen. MSNBC host Chris Matthews recently declared, “James Comey made his bones by standing up against torture. He was a made man before Trump came along.” Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria, in a column declaring that Americans should be “deeply grateful” to lawyers such as Comey, declared, “The Bush administration wanted to claim that its ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were lawful. Comey believed they were not…. So Comey pushed back as much as he could.”

Martin Luther risked death to fight against what he considered the scandalous religious practices of his time. Comey, a top Bush administration policymaker, found a safer way to oppose the worldwide secret US torture regime widely considered a heresy against American values: he approved brutal practices and then wrote some memos and emails fretting about the optics.

Losing sleep

Comey became deputy attorney general in late 2003 and “had oversight of the legal justification used to authorize” key Bush programs in the war on terror, as a Bloomberg News analysis noted. At that time, the Bush White House was pushing the Justice Department to again sign off on an array of extreme practices that had begun shortly after the 9/11 attacks. A 2002 Justice Department memo had leaked out that declared that the federal Anti-Torture Act “would be unconstitutional if it impermissibly encroached on the President’s constitutional power to conduct a military campaign.” The same Justice Department policy spurred a secret 2003 Pentagon document on interrogation policies that openly encouraged contempt for the law: “Sometimes the greater good for society will be accomplished by violating the literal language of the criminal law.”

Photos had also leaked from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq showing the stacking of naked prisoners with bags over their heads, mock electrocution from a wire connected to a man’s penis, guard dogs on the verge of ripping into naked men, and grinning US male and female soldiers celebrating the sordid degradation. Legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh published extracts in the New Yorker from a March 2004 report by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba that catalogued other US interrogation abuses: “Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape … sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.”

The Bush administration responded to the revelations with a torrent of falsehoods, complemented by attacks on the character of critics. Bush declared, “Let me make very clear the position of my government and our country…. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being.” Bush had the audacity to run for reelection as the anti-torture candidate, boasting that “for decades, Saddam tormented and tortured the people of Iraq. Because we acted, Iraq is free and a sovereign nation.” He was hammering this theme despite a confidential CIA Inspector General report warning that post–9/11 CIA interrogation methods might violate the international Convention Against Torture.

James Comey had the opportunity to condemn the outrageous practices and pledge that the Justice Department would cease providing the color of law to medieval-era abuses. Instead, Comey merely repudiated the controversial 2002 memo. Speaking to the media in a not-for-attribution session on June 22, 2004, he declared that the 2002 memo was “overbroad,” “abstract academic theory,” and “legally unnecessary.” He helped oversee crafting a new memo with different legal footing to justify the same interrogation methods.

Comey twice gave explicit approval for waterboarding, which sought to break detainees with near-drowning. This practice had been recognized as a war crime by the US government since the Spanish-American War. A practice that was notorious when inflicted by the Spanish Inquisition was adopted by the CIA with the Justice Department’s blessing. (When Barack Obama nominated Comey to be FBI chief in 2013, he testified that he had belatedly recognized that waterboarding was actually torture.)

Comey wrote in his memoir that he was losing sleep over concern about Bush-administration torture polices. But losing sleep was not an option for detainees, because Comey approved sleep deprivation as an interrogation technique. Detainees could be forcibly kept awake for 180 hours until they confessed their crimes. How did that work? At Abu Ghraib, one FBI agent reported seeing a detainee “handcuffed to a railing with a nylon sack on his head and a shower curtain draped around him, being slapped by a soldier to keep him awake.” Numerous FBI agents protested the extreme interrogation methods they saw at Guantanamo and elsewhere, but their warnings were ignored.

Comey also approved “wall slamming” — which, as law professor David Cole wrote, meant that detainees could be thrown against a wall up to 30 times. Comey also signed off on the CIA’s using “interrogation” methods such as facial slaps, locking detainees in small boxes for 18 hours, and forced nudity. When the secret Comey memo approving those methods finally became public in 2009, many Americans were aghast — and relieved that the Obama administration had repudiated Bush policies.

When it came to opposing torture, Comey’s version of “Here I stand” had more loopholes than a reverse-mortgage contract. Though Comey in 2005 approved each of 13 controversial extreme interrogation methods, he objected to combining multiple methods on one detainee.

The torture guy

In his memoir, Comey relates that his wife told him, “Don’t be the torture guy!” Comey apparently feels that he satisfied her dictate by writing memos that opposed combining multiple extreme interrogation methods. And since the vast majority of the American media agree with him, he must be right.

Comey’s cheerleaders seem uninterested in the damning evidence that has surfaced since his time as a torture enabler in the Bush administration. In 2014, the Senate Intelligence Committee finally released a massive report on the CIA torture regime — including death resulting from hypothermia, rape-like rectal feeding of detainees, compelling detainees to stand long periods on broken legs, and dozens of cases where innocent people were pointlessly brutalized. Psychologists aided the torture regime, offering hints on how to destroy the will and resistance of prisoners. From the start, the program was protected by phalanxes of lying federal officials.

When he first campaigned for president, Barack Obama pledged to vigorously investigate the Bush torture regime for criminal violations. Instead, the Obama administration proffered one excuse after another to suppress the vast majority of the evidence, pardon all US government torturers, and throttle all torture-related lawsuits. The only CIA official to go to prison for the torture scandal was courageous whistleblower John Kiriakou. Kiriakou’s fate illustrates that telling the truth is treated as the most unforgivable atrocity in Washington.

If Comey had resigned in 2004 or 2005 to protest the torture techniques he now claims to abhor, he would deserve some of the praise he is now receiving. Instead, he remained in the Bush administration but wrote an email summarizing his objections, declaring that “it was my job to protect the department and the A.G. [Attorney General] and that I could not agree to this because it was wrong.” A 2009 New York Times analysis noted that Comey and two colleagues “have largely escaped criticism [for approving torture] because they raised questions about interrogation and the law.” In Washington, writing emails is “close enough for government work” to confer sainthood.

When Comey finally exited the Justice Department in August 2005 to become a lavishly paid senior vice president for Lockheed Martin, he proclaimed in a farewell speech that protecting the Justice Department’s “reservoir” of “trust and credibility” requires “vigilance” and “an unerring commitment to truth.” But he had perpetuated policies that shattered the moral credibility of both the Justice Department and the US government. He failed to heed Martin Luther’s admonition, “You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.”

Comey is likely to go to his grave without paying any price for his role in perpetuating appalling US government abuses. It is far more important to recognize the profound danger that torture and the exoneration of torturers pose to the United States. “No free government can survive that is not based on the supremacy of the law,” is one of the mottoes chiseled into the façade of Justice Department headquarters. Unfortunately, politicians nowadays can choose which laws they obey and which laws they trample. And Americans are supposed to presume that we still have the rule of law as long as politicians and bureaucrats deny their crimes.

Reprinted with permission from Future of Freedom Foundation.

Don’t count on the FBI to clear up the Kavanaugh-Ford mess. Its record is flawed.

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After last week’s explosive congressional hearing, the Senate and the Trump administration agreed to reopen the FBI background check into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Former FBI chief James Comey wrote Sunday that “the FBI is up for this” because it is “full” of "people who just want to figure out what’s true." 

But truth has often been a scarce commodity in FBI investigations. Consider these cases stretching back decades:

- The chief of the FBI’s violent crimes section was sent to prison in 1997 for destroying a report criticizing FBI conduct in a 1992 showdown at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. A federal judge lambasted the FBI and Justice Department for misleading testimony and withholding key evidence in that landmark case.

- When a 1993 FBI tank assault against the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, ended in an inferno, FBI officials emphatically denied that they had any link to the fire. After it was revealed six years later that the FBI tanks had fired pyrotechnic devices during the assault, Attorney General Janet Reno sent US Marshals to seize Waco-related evidence at FBI headquarters.

A history of FBI screw-ups and bias

- Solid investigations by FBI agents can vanish. A few days after the 9/11 attacks, FBI chief Robert Mueller declared that there were “no warning signs” of suspicious Arabs receiving pilot training in America — despite pre-9/11 reports by FBI agents in Phoenixand Minneapolis. Though the FBI is often venerated nowadays, a 2002 congressional report concluded that FBI incompetence and negligence helped make the United States “a sanctuary for radical terrorists.”

- After the worst terrorism attack since 9/11 left 49 people dead at an Orlando nightclub, FBI chief Comey promised in 2016 to "leave no stone unturned" and to work "in an open and honest way, and be transparent about it." But the federal case against the killer's widow collapsed this March after jurors belatedly learned that the killer's father was anFBI informant, and that there was a key falsehood in the confession produced by the FBI.

- Last January, federal Judge Gloria Navarro slammed the FBI and Justice Department for withholding important evidence in the Bundy Ranch case (including the deployment of FBI snipers around the Bundy property), leading her to dismiss all federal charges.

- In June, an inspector general report revealed that the FBI gave deference (including disregarding false statements) to Hillary Clinton's aides during the investigation of her email server. The FBI delayed speaking to Clinton until the end of the investigation and planned to absolve her “absent a confession from Clinton.” This Looney Tunes standard for resolving the controversy might have been partly the result of visceral anti-Trump bias by some FBI officials handling the probe. 

The FBI has perennially exaggerated the quality of its evidence, almost always to the benefit of prosecutors. A 1997 inspector general report found that FBI lab experts provided court testimony "that appeared tailored to the most incriminating result" involving "speculation beyond (their) scientific expertise.” A 2004 National Academy of Sciences report concluded that decades of FBI court testimony matching bullets to specific firearms in thousands of homicide cases was “unreliable” and “misleading under federal rules of evidence." 

The Washington Post reported in 2015 that flawed FBI trial testimony might have helped sentence 32 people to death. And the FBI helped convict a teenager for murder based on a DNA hair match; the defendant was released from prison 28 years later after a re-examination showed it was the hair of a dog.

FBI won't be voice of God on Kavanaugh

Despite past pratfalls, FBI agents might be able to take the Kavanaugh controversy slightly beyond its “he said, she said” and “somebody heard something” level. Exposing contradictions between witnesses and charges could smite a few of the many doubts permeating this case. But it would be naive to view an FBI executive summary of a stack of memos recapping FBI interviews as the voice of God. 

Americans should blame bipartisan shenanigans for this FBI rush job. The Trump White House wrongfully withheld from the Senate thousands of pages of Kavanaugh’s records from the Bush White House, while Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office may have leaked Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation just before the Senate vote on the nomination. Such chicanery almost ensures greater disdain for the Senate and the Supreme Court, regardless of the outcome of the Kavanaugh brouhaha.

Reprinted with author's permission from USA Today.

The Supreme Court: The Dog that Didn’t Bark

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The furor over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh is spurring many commentators to bewail that the Supreme Court has become too powerful. But the real problem is that the Court is now often little more than a fig leaf to provide legitimacy for a Leviathan that would have mortified the Founding Fathers. The Court’s betrayal of its constitutional role has vastly increased the stakes for the current and any future Justice nomination.

Kavanaugh’s owes his credibility as a nominee to the Supreme Court dodging key issues in recent decades. Kavanaugh worked as a White House associate counsel after 9/11 when Justice Department lawyers asserted that the president had a right to violate the law and the Constitution, the most brazen assertion of absolutism in modern times. Kavanaugh avidly supported nominating John Yoo as a federal judge despite a Yoo memo asserting that President Bush had a right to declare martial law and deploy US troops in American cities. The Supreme Court never forthrightly condemned the Bush administration’s torture program that Yoo legally enabled.

The Supreme Court also shirked ruling on the National Security Administration illegal wiretapping, instead rejecting a challenge in 2013 because the defendants could not prove the feds secretly spied on them. The Court was shamed a few months later when Edward Snowden released a deluge of documents proving vast illicit surveillance of millions of Americans. But because the Court never stood up for Americans’ constitutional rights, Kavanaugh could get away with a 2015 appeals court decision in which he declared that “the Government’s metadata collection program is entirely consistent with the Fourth Amendment.”

The Court’s post-9/11 docility fits a long pattern of rulings which have practically defined “outrageous government conduct” such as entrapment out of existence. For practically a century, the Supreme Court has been “the dog that didn’t bark” when the executive and legislative branches trampled the Constitution.

In 1990, in the case of Michigan vs. Sitz , the Supreme Court upheld drunk driving checkpoints because the searches were equally intrusive on all drivers, so no individual had a right to complain. This stood the Bill of Rights on its head, requiring government to equally violate the rights of all citizens. The same legal mindset sanctifies Transportation Security Administration enhanced patdowns which pointlessly grope groins as long as the feds treat all travelers like terrorist suspects.

In 2001, in the case of Atwater vs. Lago Vista , the Court upheld the arrest of any citizen accused of violating any picayune local, state, or federal ordinance. This case involved a Texas woman who was driving slowly in a residential area; because her children were not wearing seatbelts, she was handcuffed and taken away. The Court declared that police can arrest anyone believed to have “committed even a very minor criminal offense.” This ignores the criminalization of everyday life that has occurred at every level of government, thus giving law enforcement pretexts to detain almost anyone they choose. (Police boast that they can find a reason to pull over almost any driver.)

In 2005, in the case of Kelo vs. New London , the Supreme Court approved local politicians confiscating private property as long as they believe that some other private use of the land would generate more tax revenue. Scuttling the Fifth Amendment’s Takings clause (which restricted the use of eminent domain), the Court instead empowered governments to commandeer any land for almost any purpose so long as government officials promised net benefits to society sometime in the future. This sweeping decision makes private property rights contingent on political candor - the shakiest of foundations.

Court decisions do occasionally throw a penalty flag on government abuses but the Justices are akin to a football referee that notices only every tenth clip or roughing of the quarterback. Unfortunately, the Court has consistently ruled that government officials are personally immune regardless of how they abuse private citizens.

If the Supreme Court had not long devoted itself to concocting judicial rationales for political power grabs, there would not be so much hatred and fear surrounding the Kavanaugh nomination. Because of the deference Court decisions receive, citizens view court nominees as the ultimate czars of whether they will be forcibly disarmed, stripped of their property, treated like prisoners when traveling, or denied sovereignty over their own bodies. Recent bitter experience confirms the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson’s 1820 warning that permitting judges to be “the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions” is “a very dangerous doctrine indeed.”

Rather than focusing on whether Kavanaugh or his accusers consumed excessive alcohol, we should recognize that the current frenzy is the result of a political class long since drunk with power. Regardless of the outcome of the Kavanaugh nomination, the Supreme Court should return to its long-lost role as a bulwark against tyranny. Unfortunately, there are not any mobs in the Washington streets howling for that salutary outcome.

James Bovard is the author of ten books, including 2012’s Public Policy Hooligan, and 2006’s Attention Deficit Democracy. He has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Playboy, Washington Post, and many other publications.

Reprinted with permission from Mises.org.

Barack Obama’s Return Just Reminds Us How He Fueled the Distrust That Led to Donald Trump

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Former president Barack Obama is back. He kicked off a series of campaign appearances last week with a blistering attack on the Trump administration and said the Republican Party had “embraced a rising absolutism.” President Donald Trump deserves plenty of harsh criticism, but Obama’s indictment is akin to the kid who killed his parents and then sought mercy from the judge because he was an orphan.

Obama declared that “the biggest threat to our democracy is cynicism.” He also called for “a restoration of honesty and decency and lawfulness in our government.” But his eight years as president fueled the distrust of Washington that Obama now condemns.  

How can Obama blame Americans for being cynical after repeating dozens of times his false promise that “If you like your doctor, you’ll be able to keep your doctor,” despite the dozens of mandates in Obamacare? How can he blame Americans for being cynical after his 2015 assertion that “it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book”? How can he castigate cynics after he campaigned in 2008 on a peace platform and then proceeded to bomb seven nations? How can he complain about distrust after he flip-flopped on illegal surveillance and unleashed the National Security Administration to target anyone “searching the web for suspicious stuff”?

Obama created the problems he lists

Obama declared Friday that Americans are “supposed to stand up to bullies, not follow them.” But Trump won in 2016 in part because many Americans considered the federal government the biggest bully in the land. Obama relied on “bureaucratic bulldozing rather than legislative transparency,” according to The New York Times, issuing 50% more “major regulations” than the George W. Bush administration.

“Most of you don’t remember a time before 9/11, when you didn’t have to take off your shoes at an airport,” Obama told the students. Did they realize that the Transportation Security Administration became far more punitive and intrusive during Obama’s presidency? Obama appointees brought in Whole Body scanners across the nation and entitled TSA agents to aggressively touch travelers’ genitals and breasts. But despite all that additional power, TSA remained the poster boy for incompetence and TSA checkpoints still failed to detect 95% of smuggled guns and bombs.

“Democracy depends on transparency and accountability,” Obama said, and “It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say that we don’t threaten the freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories we don’t like.” But, despite boasting of “the most transparent administration ever,” Obama expanded federal secrecy and prosecuted more journalists and whistleblowers than any previous administration.

When Obama took office, the United States had the 20th-most-free press in the world, according to the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index. By 2016, it had fallen to 41st — worse than South Africa and barely ahead of Botswana. Obama appointees severely undermined the Freedom of Information Act.

“It should not be a partisan issue to say that we do not pressure the attorney general or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel,” the former president said. Trump’s declarations about federal prosecutions are appalling. But while the FBI was investigating the legality of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, Obama repeatedly publicly declared that she had committed no crime.

The Inspector General report released in June revealed that, after a half-hearted probe, the FBI planned to absolve Clinton unless she openly confessed to wrongdoing when FBI agents finally talked to her. The stifled investigation of her email shenanigans helped assure her the Democratic Party presidential nomination and, indirectly, paved the way to a Trump presidency.

Obama handed Trump a loaded weapon

Obama is correct that Americans should be on guard against any “absolutism” from the Trump administration. But don’t forget that Obama administration lawyers asserted a right to kill US citizens who it labeled terrorist suspects without trial, without notice, and without any chance for the marked individuals to legally object. Drone strikes increased tenfold under Obama, and he personally chose who would be killed at weekly “Terror Tuesday” White House meetings which featured PowerPoint parades of potential targets. 

Americans should be alarmed at Trump’s power grabs. But Obama helped establish an Impunity Democracy in which rulers pay no price for their misdeeds. As the New York Times noted after the 2016 election, the Obama administration fought in court to preserve the legality of defunct Bush administration practices such as torture and detaining Americans arrested at home as “enemy combatants.” “Obama’s failure to rein in George Bush’s national security policies hands Donald Trump a fully loaded weapon," ACLU executive director Anthony Romero lamented.

Who cares if an ex-president belatedly cheers for transparency and accountability? Obama has never admitted how his policies made the federal government more dangerous at home and abroad. Nothing that Trump can do or say should be permitted to expunge Obama’s derelictions.

James Bovard is author of "Attention Deficit Democracy." Follow him on Twitter: @JimBovard.

Reprinted with author's permission from USAToday.

Have you gained or lost weight? Congrats, TSA is now tracking you for suspicious activity.

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If you fall asleep or use the bathroom during your next flight, those incriminating facts could be added to your federal dossier. Likewise, if you use your laptop or look at noisy children seated nearby with a “cold, penetrating stare,” that may be included on your permanent record. If you fidget, sweat or have “strong body odor” — BOOM! the feds are onto you.

Welcome to the latest profiling idiocy from the Transportation Security Administration. TSA’s Quiet Skies surveillance program is spurring federal air marshals to target dozens of Americans each day on the flimsiest of pretexts. The secret program, first exposed by Jana Winter in The Boston Globe, is security theater at its best. 

What does it take to become a Quiet Skies target? “The criteria for surveillance appear fluid. Internal agency emails show some confusion about the program’s parameters and implementation,” The Globe noted. 

Anyone who has recently traveled to Turkey can apparently be put on the list — as well as people “possibly affiliated” with someone on a terrorist watchlist (which contains more than a million names). The program is so slipshod that it has targeted at least one airline flight attendant and a federal law enforcement agent.

After a person makes the Quiet Skies list, a TSA air marshal team is placed on his next flight. Marshals receive “a file containing a photo and basic information” and carefully note whether the suspect’s “appearance was different from information provided” — such as whether he has “gained weight,” is “balding” or “graying,” has a beard or “visible tattoos” (bad news for Juggalo fans of the Insane Clown Posse). Marshals record and report any “significant derogatory information” on suspects.

Unjust targeting of innocent Americans

TSA air marshals follow travelers targeted by this program, even writing down their license plates. Marshals must ascertain whether a “subject was abnormally aware of surroundings.” Does that include noticing the undercover G-men who are stalking them in the parking lot? No wonder the president of the Air Marshal Association, John Casaretti, considers the program unjustified.

Unfortunately, Americans have no idea how many other secret profiling programs TSA is conducting. The New York Times recently revealed that TSA has a covert watchlist for troublesome passengers, including anyone whose behavior is “offensive” to TSA agents. Anyone who “loitered” near a TSA checkpoint could make that list, as could any woman who pushes a screener’s groping hands away from her breasts. In reality, anyone who refuses to kowtow to any command a TSA agent issues could be labeled a troublemaker.

TSA’s previous secret profiles have spurred agents to unjustifiably target legions of innocent Americans and disrupt their travel. Thousands of TSA behavior detection officers have lurked in airports, seeking to detect would-be terrorists by their yawning, hand-wringing and gazing down. A secret TSA list of terrorist warning signs included anyone who expresses "excessive complaints about the (TSA) screening process.” 

More than 30 TSA agents complained in 2012 that the behavior-detection program at Boston’s Logan International Airport had become “a magnet for racial profiling, targeting not only Middle Easterners but also blacks, Hispanics and other minorities,” The Times reported. The agents relied on “terrorist profiles,” such as black guys wearing baseball caps backward or Hispanics traveling to Miami.

In Honolulu, TSA agents were nicknamed “Mexicutioners” for harassing Mexican travelers, while TSA agents in Newark, New Jersey, were derided as “Mexican hunters” by their colleagues.

Americans shouldn't have to forfeit dignity

The Government Accountability Office walloped the Behavior Detection Program last year, scoffing at the notion that TSA agents could spot terrorists by “assessing the way an individual swallows or evaluating the degree to which an individual’s eyes are open.”

TSA insisted the program was justified because agents watched for “unusual exposed wires or electrical switches on a person” seeking to board a plane. The agency assumes would-be terrorists are as boneheaded as TSA policymakers.

Unfortunately, few people in official Washington are willing to recognize or admit TSA’s most absurd terrorist profile: the assumption that average Americans are so perilous that they must forfeit their privacy and dignity at TSA checkpoints. Then-TSA chief John Pistole admitted in 2014 that “the vast majority of people pose little to no threat to aviation.”

This has not deterred the TSA from endlessly concocting lists of terrorist warning signs that fail the laugh test. To justify its $7.9 billion budget and its 43,000 federal screeners waiting to peruse shoes, belts and carry-on snacks, the TSA must continue the fable that every grandmother in a wheelchair and every child poses a dire threat that justifies endless pawing.

After nearly 17 years of follies and floundering, TSA has forfeited its right to domineer the American people. 

James Bovard, author of Attention Deficit Democracy, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @JimBovard.

Reprinted with permission from USA Today.