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State Secrets: Maybe It’s a Setback for the Obama Administration, and Maybe It Isn’t

The Atlantic tells us that a recent court decision in California is a setback for the Obama Administration:

The Obama administration suffered a bit of a legal setback this afternoon: a federal judge in California rejected the administration’s assertion of the state secrets privilege in the civil suit brought by an Islamic charity that was allegedly subjected to illegal NSA surveillance.  The order, in Al-Haramain v. Bush, requires the government to come up with a way to safeguard the classified information it plans to present in the NSA’s defense by May 8.

That depends upon how you look at it.

It’s the endless dilemma for liberal administrations.  When they’re out of power, they rail endlessly (and have done so since the days of wine and Frank Church) about how awful all of of these state secrets, and alleged violations of human rights, and shows of military power, are.  When they’re in power, they fret that, if they really put their idea of open government under strict international law into practice, they themselves will be its victims.  That’s what the Obama Administration faces in, for example, the Spanish move to prosecute Bush officials (to say nothing of what some in Congress would like to do.)

In this case, the “principled” thing (from a purely liberal standpoint) to do would be to just blow the secrets out into the open and be done with it.  But if they did, then they would weaken themselves vis à vis the “right wing extremists” they’re fingering.

Two years ago, I described this conundrum as “Dzerzhinskii’s Dilemma“:

To understand this, we must first realise that the Democrat party today is the party of the 60’s radical. That includes just about every major player in the party. At the heart of sixties radicalism is rebellion against authority, especially the military and the police. When they’re not worried about what authority can do to them at the present, they worry what it might do to them in the future. That’s why the ACLU constantly attempts to undermine anti-terror efforts by the government.

As a practical matter, one would think that they would realise that, if they ever did gain power, the police and military would be essential elements in their ability to maintain it. And sometimes they do know this; the Clintons have never been shy about using the power of law to protect them personally and to advance their own proper interests. But in general the Democrats are reflexively unable to empower the military and police to protect us out of a fear they will repress us, even in the face of Islamicists who would wipe out their way of life more surely than anything else…

So the Democrats are stuck. They simply cannot bring themselves to allow our military and intelligence services to do what they have to do. So the vote to keep them weak in the face of public opinion to the contrary. The Democrat Party and the American left is trapped in Dzershinskii’s Dilemma, where if they neglect national security we lose and if they beef it up they get wiped out. They never will find a way out. We vote for such people at our own peril.

What we protest for in the streets is always fun until we have to implement it in the halls of power.


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