Obama Hints At Change To "State Secrets" Privilege

(CBS)


President Barack Obama has suggested that his administration might back away from its controversial decision to adopt a Republican legal strategy aimed at derailing lawsuits alleging government wrongdoing.

During a press conference held to mark his 100th day in office, Mr. Obama said that Attorney General Eric Holder and White House Counsel Greg Craig were reviewing the use of the so-called state secret privilege.

"But searching for ways to redact -- to carve out certain cases -- to see what can be done so that a judge in chambers can review information without it being in open court, you know, there should be some additional tools so that it's not such a blunt instrument," Mr. Obama said.

Aggressive invocation of the state secret privilege -- which is what the Obama administration has chosen to do -- has led to charges of hypocrisy and outrage from some liberal commentators. As a candidate for president, Mr. Obama blasted Republicans for "ignoring" existing rules and misusing the so-called state secrets privilege to derail lawsuits alleging government wrongdoing.

But as soon as Mr. Obama took office in January, his administration adopted the same Bush administration policies that he had criticized just a few months earlier.

That led Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald to write that "what was abusive and dangerous about Bush's use of the State Secrets privilege was the preemptive, generalized use of this privilege to force dismissal of entire lawsuits in advance, even where the supposed secret to be concealed was the allegedly criminal activity itself. And that is exactly the usage that the Obama administration is now defending."

A few weeks later, the Obama administration made even more extreme claims in court about presidential authority than its predecessor ever did. (Fellow Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold awarded the president a barely-passing grade of a "D" as a result.)

In his remarks on Wednesday, Mr. Obama partially blamed lack of time to review the cases. "We come in to office -- we're in for a week, and suddenly we've got a court filing that's coming up," he said. "And so we don't have the time to effectively think through, what exactly should an overarching reform of that doctrine take? We've got to respond to the immediate case in front of us."



  • Declan McCullagh On Twitter»

    Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.

Comments