July 06, 2009

Keeping the Truth from Us for Our Own Good

I can recall that during the darkest days of the Bush Administration, various liberal pundits (Paul Krugman comes to mind) used to console themselves by imagining that golden era when all of the fetid secrets of the Bush years would be revealed by a new, Democratic Administration, and then all the guesswork about what had actually been going on behind the scenes would be made...what's the word?..transparent. I've been following three stories relevant to that fantasy. The first is the 2004 CIA Inspector General's Report detailing the uses of torture, and the effectiveness thereof. The second concerns the notes taken by the FBI during its interrogation of Dick Cheney in the middle of the Valerie Plame investigation. And the third concerns the second set of photos of Iraqi detainee abuse.

All of these records, documents, photos are the subject of Freedom of Information Act requests. The government does not voluntarily give up anything damaging to its "image," although one might faintly argue (just for the record) that technically in a democracy, that government and that image belong to us. The United States has various secrecy doctrines and classified records statutes, but it does not actually have, as Great Britain does, an explicit Official Secrets Act which allows the government to throw a blanket over virtually everything. Still, nothing gets released without the work of various watchdog agencies, chief among them CREW (Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington) and the ACLU (the American Civil Liberties Union). I think it's reasonable to say that without the FOIA litigation of these two organizations (and a handful of others), we would know next to nothing about what has really been going on over the last nine years or so.

On the IG-CIA report on torture from 2004, Obama's Justice Department, having inherited a FOIA lawsuit which the Bush Justice Department had essentially already lost, is seeking to extend the deadline for producing the main report and its supporting documentation from June 30 to August 31, 2009. The letters back and forth to the court on this issue are interesting only if you're a lawyer and enjoy watching other semi-sincere practitioners trying to run numbers on the court. It's evident that all the Obama DOJ is doing is buying time in which to redact the hell out of the 200+ page report.

The Cheny notes are probably the most interesting situation. CREW is after these. Obama's DOJ is stonewalling the release of the FBI notes on a ground it memorized from watching Bush's DOJ do the same thing; to wit, if the notes are released, then "in the future," other high-ranking Executive Branch officials would be deterred from cooperating fully because their responses might wind up as fodder on Jon Stewart's Daily Show. I mean, they actually said that. One might think, if one were naive enough, that a high government official, having taken an oath promising to uphold the Constitution and to faithfully execute the laws of the United States, would already operate under the principle that he or she must cooperate with an authorized investigation. Apparently, this is not the case. If it's embarrassing, or maybe incriminating, or can simply be satirized, then you don't get to see it.

This is really too bad in the case of these notes. Cheney had already been spared the indignity of a grand jury session or testimony at trial, although Patrick Fitzgerald probably knew that an incomplete trial would result from the coddling treatment he afforded Cheney. If the FBI did its job (and I assume it did), then they would have gone into all the various people Cheney talked to about the decision to blow Valerie Plame's cover in retaliation for Joe Wilson's unflattering Op-Ed in the New York Times. Realistically speaking, one of those people Cheney talked to in the summer of 2003 must have been none other than the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush. So that against those months when Bush feigned ignorance of the identity of the leakers, and answered questions openly at a few press conferences about his ignorance and determination to "get to the bottom of the leak," we would have Cheney's notes as a means to test the veracity of those protestations of innocent ignorance.

Which is why the Obama DOJ is fighting tooth-and-nail to keep the notes secret. I hope they fail. It's obvious in all three of these cases that the underlying rationale behind Obama's decision to stonewall is to avoid public incitement against his predecessor. The photos, of course, would be highly inflammatory; the CIA-IG Report could be very prejudicial for the architects of our torture regime and stir up renewed calls for war crimes investigations; and the Cheney notes could actually expose Bush to criminal prosecution for obstruction of justice.

I read over the weekend that Obama has expressed his "deep concern" about various "left wing" attacks against those centrist Democrats in the Senate who are the chief impediment to a real reform of health care. Huh? How else does he think the American populace is going to break through the stranglehold of medical insurance lobbying, which is said to reach $1.4 million per day in the current hyped-up climate. Should we wait and just allow corruption to work its legislative magic?

Yet it all seems of a piece. Everyone should be nice. Anything that happened in the past, even in the last 15 seconds, should be allowed to stay there. Everyone was just doing their job, the best way they knew how.

I don't frigging get it.

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