The President’s Ironic Defense

Clinton’s lawyers complain he is being denied a fair trial, but his administration has been chipping away at civil liberties for years.


Throughout the impeachment hearings, Democrats and their hired lawyers have complained that Republicans are ignoring the Constitution in their zeal to punish the president. At the outset, Clinton’s special counsel Gregory Craig proclaimed, “[L]ike any American, the president deserves and has the right to know precisely what the charges are against him [and] what the standards are that are going to be used to judge his conduct.”

Unfortunately, like any American, President Clinton’s civil liberties have eroded over the past six years, thanks to his own administration. From the right to privacy to the right to a fair and open trial, the rights accorded to Americans have taken a dive. Says Laura Murphy, national director for the ACLU, “In many important civil liberties areas the Clinton administration has been disastrous.” How so? The MoJo Wire gives you a peek at the recent history of scuttled rights:

  • The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996: Signed into law one year after the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, it created a Secret Evidence Court for aliens. The court, in certain circumstances, allows the government to detain and charge foreigners without revealing the evidence against them. This act also diminished habeas corpus (translation: “you shall have the body”) rights to petition a court over issues of innocence or fairness of a trial.

  • The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996: Strips the courts of the ability to review deportation orders. That may impede due process, which is included in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. This act also expands the allowable use for secret evidence.

    Why isn’t that a good thing? Just ask Mr. Craig, one of Clinton’s lawyers: “Without fair notice of what these charges are, we will have no fair chance to represent our client…adequately…. It’s like attacking a man who is blindfolded and handcuffed.”

    Tell that to Nasser Ahmed, an Egyptian immigrant who has been detained for 16 months on secret evidence under the supervision of Attorney General Janet Reno, according to Gail Pendleton, coordinator of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.

  • The Communications Decency Act of 1996: The law that spawned a thousand ugly blue ribbons and censored free speech on the Internet was overturned by the Supreme Court. But its child, called the Child Online Protection Act but better known as CDA II, was signed by Clinton in 1998. That bill also limits free speech on the Internet.

  • The Intelligence Authorization Act of 1999: The White House cried when Bill’s and Monica’s rights to privacy were abused. Books she bought were released to federal prosecutors; Secret Service agents were investigated; phone conversations were taped. But Clinton himself recently signed the Intelligence Authorization Act (a.k.a. the roving wiretap law) making it legal for law enforcement authorities to tap not just a specific phone, but any phones a suspect comes near. The result is what Greg Nojeim, legislative counsel of the ACLU considers a “floating no-privacy zone.” Sound familiar, Bill?