Every political system involving some sort of centralized power has so far led to attempts by the central power to gain control. Since the cannon set kings and princes above mere lords, centralization has been the trend.
That trend continues in our increasingly centralized power structure.
A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that former prisoners of the C.I.A. could not sue over their alleged torture in overseas prisons because such a lawsuit might expose secret government information.
The sharply divided ruling was a major victory for the Obama administration’s efforts to advance a sweeping view of executive secrecy powers. It strengthens the White House’s hand as it has pushed an array of assertive counterterrorism policies, while raising an opportunity for the Supreme Court to rule for the first time in decades on the scope of the president’s power to restrict litigation that could reveal state secrets.
The case reveals — or reiterates — the continuing stance of the executive branch of the current form of government. Regardless of party or ideology, every President has tried to accumulate power. As our economic system concentrates wealth, the political system designed by the founders tends to concentrate power.
On the plus side, our system concentrates power more slowly than, say, a monarchy or a dictatorship, whether of the elite or the proletariat. But late-stage empires, regardless of ideology, have already concentrated wealth so heavily that politics cannot fail to be deflected by the private interests of a very few. Suppose we in the US decided to free ourselves of the oil industry, or hedge funds; how would we accomplish that?
One thing we’ve hopefully learned is that electing a chief executive on the promise of change isn’t guaranteed to produce any.
While the alleged abuses occurred during the Bush administration, the ruling added a chapter to the Obama administration’s aggressive national security policies.
Its counterterrorism programs have in some ways departed from the expectations of change fostered by President Obama’s campaign rhetoric, which was often sharply critical of former President George W. Bush’s approach.
The crowning touch on the 6-5 ruling that state secrets trump human rights, that the state can decide which legal cases are allowed to proceed, is the court’s admission that the plaintiffs had a legitimate case.
There were signs in the court’s ruling that the majority felt conflicted. In a highly unusual move, the court ordered the government to pay the plaintiffs’ legal costs, even though they lost the case and had not requested such payment.