Attorney General Eric Holder recently complained in the wake of his congressional contempt citation – the first ever for an Attorney General – that Republicans are using him as a proxy for Obama in an election year.
In his first interview since Thursday’s vote, Holder said lawmakers have used an investigation of a botched gun-tracking operation as a way to seek retribution against the Justice Department for its policies on a host of issues, including immigration, voting rights and gay marriage. He said the chairman of the committee leading the inquiry, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), is engaging in political theater as the Justice Department tries to focus on public safety.
I agree that in the political theater of the contempt citation, Holder is being used as a proxy for Obama. However, Holder has done plenty in his tenure as Attorney General to upset both sides of the aisle, and ought to take some responsibility for the actions the Justice Department has taken under his watch.
Obama might have ordered the assassination of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki without charge or trial, but it was Holder's Justice Department that drafted the legal memo "authorizing" the killing. It is also Holder's Justice Department that continually asserts absurd secrecy claims to keep the memo from the public and the drone program from court oversight.
Under Holder, the Justice Department has
- endorsed indefinite preventative detention and targeted assassination of Americans,
- continued to use the state secrets privilege to shut down lawsuits challenging torture and extraordinary rendition, and
- maintained pro-secrecy positions in high-profile Freedom of Information Act suits.
To say nothing of the fact that Holder's Justice Department has waged a war on whistleblowers, bringing twice as many Espionage Act prosecutions for alleged mishandling of classified information against so-called "leakers" – who are usually whistleblowers – than all past administrations combined. It is the whistleblowers who are the real "proxies" for the sins of the G.W. Bush administration.
Under Holder, two of the biggest scandals of the G.W. Bush-era were left completely unpunished: torture and warrantless domestic surveillance. (Although, Congress is partly responsible for the lack of accountability for warrantless domestic spying, having given the telecommunications companies who gave customers' private data to the government retroactive immunity in the FISA Amendments Act of 2008).
Nonetheless, our nation's chief law enforcement agent has chosen only to prosecute whistleblowers, rather than the perpetrators of torture and warrantless surveillance.
The Justice Department made National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake a proxy for the government officials who authorized and organized NSA's domestic spying programs and the telecommunications companies who received immunity in the FISA Amendments Act.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) whistleblower John Kiriakou is a proxy for all of the torturers Holder's Justice Department declined to prosecute, despite the fact that Kiriakou refused to participate in torture and helped expose the CIA's torture program. (To support Kiriakou, go here or "like" the Defend John K Facebook page).
Holder's gripe about that he is being made a proxy would mean more if Holder took some personal responsibility for the actions his Justice Department has taken against whistleblowers and the accountability actions his Justice Department has failed to take against wrongdoers.
Meanwhile, three NSA whistleblowers (and GAP clients) who have already been the targets of federal criminal investigations and blown more whistles than I have ever seen, have continued to speak out against NSA's domestic surveillance. Drake, Bill Binney, and Kirk Wiebe filed affidavits supporting a lawsuit challenging NSA's domestic spying programs:
In a motion filed today, the three former intelligence analysts confirm that the NSA has, or is in the process of obtaining, the capability to seize and store most electronic communications passing through its U.S. intercept centers, such as the "secret room" at the AT&T facility in San Francisco first disclosed by retired AT&T technician Mark Klein in early 2006.
If only Holder's Justice Department would stand up for accountability as bravely as the whistleblowers.
Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.