Sudha Setty is a professor of law and associate dean at Western New England University School of Law. Her book, National Security Secrecy: Comparative Effects on Democracy and the Rule of Law, was recently published by Cambridge University Press.
For decades, the balance of national security power has become progressively unmoored from the basic democratic premise that the power to decide what the government does resides with the people through their representatives. Yet post-September 11 national security-related policies have distorted both of these concepts of democracy: exceptionalism and emergency are consistently invoked in the national security context to justify programs that would otherwise be viewed as outside of the legal, structural, and value constraints that society places on government—like extraordinary rendition, torture, and the targeted killings of Americans overseas. On top of that, the secrecy with which certain programs are conducted inverts the democratic structure of transparency in ways that undermine the effectiveness of our governmental structures and lessens our commitment to a society based on the rule of law.