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Ace Up Its Sleeve | The Nation

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Ace Up Its Sleeve

Note to Alberto Gonzales: there is a reason it's the FIRST Amendment. Nevertheless, on Sunday the attorney general played the ever-reliable ace up the administration's sleeve to throw even freedom of the press into question.

Gonzales stated on ABC's This Week, "… it can't be that that right trumps over the right that Americans would like to see, the ability of the federal government to go after criminal activity."

When in doubt, scare the bejeezus out of the American people.

The only way to beat the bad guys is to [fill in the blank]… torture… engage in domestic spying… use black sites… and now, perhaps, prosecute journalists who uncover the truth about the Bush administration's programs that are laying waste to our constitutional rights and freedoms. By this logic, what can't the executive branch do?

Gonzales commented on going after reporters who publish leaked classified information, "There are some statutes on the books which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility…. We have an obligation to enforce those laws."

Seems the entire administration was taught to read by George Bush.

The statute Gonzales obliquely alludes to is the 1917 Espionage Act. James Goodale, one of the leading First Amendment lawyers in the nation, writes that in order to indict journalists under this law, "[It] would require activating a relic from the Espionage Act…. The law is meant to prevent the publication of how the U.S. breaks codes…. It is so broad, in fact, it is probably unconstitutional. For this reason and others, the NSA or CIA has never used it against the press."

But the Bush Administration has other ideas, as Nation columnist Eric Alterman recently pointed out: "As its poll numbers fall, the Bush Administration is ratcheting up its war against the media to hide its massive failure to defend the nation's security and uphold the laws of its Constitution." An added absurdity is that, "… Administration officials decide which classified information they, personally, are entitled to leak and which information they can try to suppress, even to the point of threatening jail."

So, when the administration wants to leak the name of a covert CIA operative to the press, that's fine and dandy. And if it wants to prosecute reporters who are exposing dangerous abuses of power– nothing troubling about that either.

The bottom line is this: to the Bush administration, our rights and freedoms are a matter of convenience subject to their review. And they simply don't want the press meddling in their affairs. But if we are to preserve our rights and liberties, then meddle we must.

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