The Bush Administration's War Against Open Government

by TChris

It is axiomatic that Supreme Court decisions are a matter of public record. If they weren't, they would be useless as precedent. Why, then, did the Justice Department classify as secret "a four-line quotation of a published Supreme Court decision"?

The culture of secrecy in government has flourished in the Bush administration. The NY Times reports that federal departments are "classifying documents at the rate of 125 a minute." What is it the Bush administration doesn't want you to know about its governance? Pretty much everything.

A record 15.6 million documents were classified last year, nearly double the number in 2001, according to the federal Information Security Oversight Office. Meanwhile, the declassification process, which made millions of historical documents available annually in the 1990's, has slowed to a relative crawl, from a high of 204 million pages in 1997 to just 28 million pages last year.

The administration's effort to avoid public scrutiny of its actions is so outrageous that even some Republicans are starting to complain.

"You'd just be amazed at the kind of information that's classified - everyday information, things we all know from the newspaper," [9/11 Commission Chair Thomas] Kean said. "We're better off with openness. The best ally we have in protecting ourselves against terrorism is an informed public."

Even right wing Senator John Cornyn gets it: "The people should get the information they need to see if government is doing what they want," he said.

< Time's Decision: The Rule of Law Trumps Confidentiality | Rove's Lawyer Denies Rove Leaked to Cooper >
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    Re: The Bush Administration's War Against Open Gov (none / 0) (#1)
    by jarober on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:49 PM EST
    I hope the tinfoil hat is working out for you. What you ascribe to conscious action and conspiracy has a far, far better explanation - simple inertia.

    Re: The Bush Administration's War Against Open Gov (none / 0) (#2)
    by Peter G on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:49 PM EST
    Hey, TL, Happy Declaration of Independence Day! (Wasn't it the Third on which the convention actually voted for the Declaration in final form? IIRC, the Fourth was when it was released to the public by being read out from a balcony of what is now called Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Someone correct me if I'm wrong.) Anyway, the actual Supreme Court quote that the Ashcroft DOJ tried to censor is this: "The danger to political dissent is acute where the Government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect 'domestic security.' Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent." The quote is from the majority opinion in United States v. U.S. District Court, 407 U.S. 297, 214 (1972), which was authored by a conservative Republican Justice from Virginia, appointed by Nixon, named Louis Powell. (Not one member of the Supreme Court dissented in that case, which rejected the Nixon Justice Dept's assertion that the President could authorized "domestic security" surveillance without scrutiny under the Fourth Amendment. The underlying investigation was of a "domestic terrorist" group in Ann Arbor called the "White Panthers," who were accused of bombing a local CIA office there.) The attempted "redaction" by the Bush DOJ was of a letter (serving as a memorandum of law) written to the judge by attorney Ann Beeson of the ACLU in the case of [name of first plaintiff censored] & ACLU v. Ashcroft, in May 2004. Ironically, the letter was written in opposition to the government's proposed redactions of four other documents in the case. As it turned out, that case was the first to hold a provision of the PATRIOT Act unconstitutional (the grant of authority to the FBI to issue "National Security Letters," with no prior judicial approval, which would have the same authority as a court subpoena). I know this story well, as I use it (and show a copy of the blacked out letter) when I debate Justice Dept flacks over the PATRIOT Act before local civic groups on behalf of ACLU. You can see it yourself here.

    Re: The Bush Administration's War Against Open Gov (none / 0) (#3)
    by scarshapedstar on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:49 PM EST
    JR, methinks thou dost protest too much. Not surprising; maybe you honestly believed Bush when he fed you that BS about restoring trust to the White House. Let it go.