One of the hallmarks of President Obama’s time in office has been a relentless crusade against those who have blown the whistle on illegal activity by the government. Now with a classic Bush-style signing statement, he has continued that pattern of ensuring that the public never knows what is really going on. Mother Jones has the details:
Obama signed a new law expanding whistleblower protections for some government employees in November, and onJanuary 2, he signed the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which extends similar protections to defense contractors who expose waste and corruption. But the NDAA signing came with a caveat that blindsided the bill’s backers and has some in the whistleblower community up in arms: In a signing statement, Obama wrote that the bill’s whistleblowing protections “could be interpreted in a manner that would interfere with my authority to manage and direct executive branch officials,” and he promised to ignore them if they conflicted with his power to “supervise, control, and correct employees’ communications with the Congress in cases where such communications would be unlawful or would reveal information that is properly privileged or otherwise confidential.”
“12 million contractors are going to be out in the cold because of this,” warns Jesselyn Radack, the national security and human rights director for the Government Accountability Project and a former whistleblower. “Asking employees to go to their boss before going to Congress defeats the purpose of blowing the whistle.” Radack adds that presidents “use signing statements to direct their subordinates on how to interpret and administer a law, and it can have substantial legal impact.” She points to George W. Bush’s signing statements on torture and the USA PATRIOT Act as examples, both of which allowed the former president to dodge parts of those laws.
“The language Obama used wasn’t defined, it’s completely ambiguous, and it’s already led to confusion,” says Angela Canterbury, director of public policy at the Project on Government Oversight. “I can imagine contractors claiming that disclosures made by whistleblowers are ‘confidential,’ and I think it could likely have a chilling effect.”
Peter Van Buren, a former foreign service officer who wrote a book exposing contracting waste in Iraq (and was hassled by the State Department as a result) tells Mother Jones the signing statement “is merely another expression of [the Obama] administration’s hostile policy toward all whistleblowers…It disappoints me, and devalues my own efforts to bring transparency to the government.”
Under Obama, not a single Bush administration official, intelligence or military operative has been prosecuted for their role in the torture of detainees or the flagrant violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or the 4th Amendment. He has, in fact, done everything in his power to make sure no one has been held accountable for their crimes against the Constitution and the Convention Against Torture. But anyone who has revealed those crimes has been prosecuted to the hilt. I can think of few things as illiberal and regressive.