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Intro: "The Obama administration should rethink its outrageous proposal that would allow the government to lie to citizens about whether documents exist."

Litter, after an Obama-Biden train stop in Baltimore days before the 2009 inauguration. (photo: Todd Heisler/NYT)
Litter, after an Obama-Biden train stop in Baltimore days before the 2009 inauguration. (photo: Todd Heisler/NYT)



Obama's Secrets

By Los Angeles Times | Editorial

01 November 11

 

The Obama administration should rethink its outrageous proposal that would allow the government to lie to citizens about whether documents exist.

ne of the most disappointing attributes of the Obama administration has been its proclivity for secrecy. The president who committed himself to "an unprecedented level of openness in government" has followed the example of his predecessor by invoking the "state secrets" privilege to derail litigation about government misdeeds in the war on terror. He has refused to release the administration's secret interpretation of the Patriot Act, which two senators have described as alarming. He has blocked the dissemination of photographs documenting the abuse of prisoners by US service members. And now his Justice Department has proposed to allow government agencies to lie about the existence of documents being sought under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.

At present, if the government doesn't want to admit the existence of a document it believes to be exempt from FOIA, it may advise the person making the request that it can neither confirm nor deny the document's existence. Under the proposed regulation, an agency that withholds a document "will respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist."

This policy is outrageous. It provides a license for the government to lie to its own people and makes a mockery of FOIA. It also would mislead citizens who might file an appeal if they knew there was a possibility that the document they sought was in the possession of a government agency. Such an appeal would allow a court to determine whether the requested document was covered by an exemption in FOIA.

Even without the new rule, federal law enforcement agents have denied the existence of important documents. In a lawsuit involving surveillance of Muslim organizations in Southern California, the FBI was reprimanded by a federal judge. "The Government cannot, under any circumstance, affirmatively mislead the court," wrote Judge Cormac J. Carney. The FBI justified its misrepresentation by citing national security.

An appeal to national security underlies many of the Obama administration's decisions to withhold information of public interest. But, as with past presidents, a stronger motive seems to be to protect the government from embarrassment. Take the case of a lawsuit against an aircraft services company accused of helping the George W. Bush administration transport suspected terrorists to other countries for interrogation. In invoking the state secrets privilege, the administration told the court that proceeding with the case would be "play[ing] with fire." Yet the details of the rendition program had long been public.

FOIA doesn't provide a blanket right to public access to government documents. It's reasonable to have exceptions for certain classified national security or foreign policy documents if their release would damage American interests. The government should be free to withhold those documents, subject to review by the courts, but it would be unacceptable - and deeply undemocratic - to pretend they don't exist. The Justice Department should discard the rule and start over. And Obama should reread his pronouncements about transparent government.

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+21 # Uranus 2011-11-01 22:18
"...a stronger motive seems to be to protect the government from embarrassment." Indeed, and pesky allegations of crimes against humanity. In addition to human rights violations, governments sweep up technology, sequester it, spend public money for R&D and violate the public trust with nondisclosure.

Buying expensive things that aren't delivered gives everyone true privation. The White House doesn't want to talk about it. My wh.gov petition is still stuck on 11 signatures. The good readers here and others told me the site won't let them sign. You won't get the next industrial revolution without what I'm asking them to return to us. It's ours. Give it back! http://wh.gov/2DH: expires Nov. 5.

This is what started this screed: http://sayit-sayit-sayit.blogspot.com/2011/10/hes-laying-in-cold-cold-ground.html. Yep, I guess it'd be embarrassing to talk about that, too. No more secrets—open source everything, exonerate Assange and Manning.
 
 
+3 # wjodon 2011-11-02 07:35
The Tesla petition won't let me sign. I helped with his campaign and I voted for him only to find that his administration is a sham.
 
 
+1 # Helen 2011-11-02 12:29
I just signed the Tesla petition. I'm number 14. Maybe some people don't realize you have to establish a log-in password first.
 
 
0 # Uranus 2011-11-03 00:14
Thanks, everyone. I suppose it disappears after Nov. 5. I'll create another one if they let me. They need some suggestions, and I'll send a few. You can use a fake name and zip code on your wh.gov account, but you must give them a working e-mail address and sign in with the password they give you.
 
 
+30 # mwd870 2011-11-01 22:28
In contrast to the outpouring of optimism and good faith from the millions who cheered Obama on election night and again on the day of his inauguration, the disappointments of his administration feel soul crushing. The proclivity for secrecy, the broken promises for transparency, the continued war-mongering, the huge donations from Wall Street, the failure to lead in Washington, the unpalatable compromises behind almost every accomplishment based on campaign promises have all led to loss of faith in this presidency. Now the administration has decided to withold information of public interest by denying its existence because it can. What else is new?
 
 
+29 # maddave 2011-11-02 00:00
Re Text, above: "He (Obama) has refused to release the administration' s secret interpretation of the Patriot Act, which two senators have described as alarming.

Let me see if i understand this: We The People are not allowed to know the specifics of laws for which we may be held accountable and for violation of which our Habeas Corpus may be revoked . . . and all this in a Democracy in which "Ignorance of the law is no excuse"?

Is this the United States of America or the movie "Animal House" wherein an outrageous administration levied unannounced "secret sanctions" on supposed violators?
 
 
+1 # Suavane 2011-11-02 10:17
"Is this the United States of America or the movie "Animal House" wherein an outrageous administration levied unannounced "secret sanctions" on supposed violators?" Are you referring to the Obama Administration?
 
 
+3 # maddave 2011-11-02 14:49
Suavane: I intended my comment as a broad metaphor of the secrecy situation vis-a-vis the secret interpretation of our Patriot Act. This would necessarily include Homeland Security, the DOJ, the FBI & CIA. In retrospect, however, it applies doubly because where but in an Animal House-like scenario could an entire sector of our economy - the banks, brokerages & mortgage companies - brazenly steal hundreds of billions of dollars and thumb their noses at the We The People as they receive their seven-, eight- & nine-figure bonus checks, all of which were written shamelessly against TARP bailout funds that were intended to ease OUP f*****g economic plight!

Steal $10,000 and go to jail. Steal $1,000,000,000 and become a member of the President's Council of Economic Advisors!
 
 
+5 # sandyboy 2011-11-02 00:34
Obama is the most disappointing President ever, because he made folks believe he was different. Impeach him! If only it were possible. Are the voters allowed to know if their leader's conscience exists?
 
 
+1 # Suavane 2011-11-02 10:44
Quoting sandyboy:
Obama is the most disappointing President ever, because he made folks believe he was different. Impeach him! If only it were possible. Are the voters allowed to know if their leader's conscience exists?

I say, then vote for the Rethuglican and when your ass is justifiably hurting, you'll rejoice in the knowlege, that this is what you voted for! After all, you must reject the dissapointing credit card protections; the fact that we're not in the worse depression in our history; a national health- care program that, admittedly is just a start; saving our auto industry; being on the winning side of two rebellions in which there have been no reported casualties of our american soldiers, and finished within six months, all without spending trillions of dollars; wall street reform; the addressing of our tax code so that millionaires and billionaires pay more of their fair share towards the taxes collected by our government; ending "don't ask, don't tell;" helping college students to pay off their student loans in a more affordable way; helping homeowners with their mortgage payments - allowing them to refinance at more affordable rates; fighting hard to put Americans back to work via the "American Jobs Act." Yeah....he has no conscience. Get your head out of the sand, reeking of foul smelling tea!
 
 
+1 # Erdajean 2011-11-02 12:16
So, let's get this straight: timid half-measures, quarter-measure s, NO measures,good intentions -- following such BOLD promises that got him elected; inaction that (YES!) cost us the House, in 2010 -- such concessions as Obama has made have come from his full awareness that his VOTING base will carry (at least) SOME weight in 2012. So throw us a bone? Is that our best hope?
We can be sure that he won't go so far as to seriously anger the fat cats he thinks really love him. Their money enthralls him far more than any loyalty from us. He forgets and ignores the power WE entrusted to HIM, so dazzled he has been by the plutocrats'.
And no, loyal BO fan -- the only alternative is NOT necessarily Republican! It just takes the faith of wise people to look for someone better.
 
 
0 # maddave 2011-11-02 15:31
Suavane: Bravo . . . or is it Brava? Either way what you say is true. Obama has been saddled with a destructive GOP Senate minority from day one - aided by such jerks as Lieberman, Bacucus and other Dem-caucusing oligarchs. That he got ANYTHING past a viciously filibustering-G OP Senate minority is a wonder.
Yes, he did back down and lose in three major head-to-head encounters, but this looks like a new day when he is - albeit 2.5 years too late - using his bully pulpit and Executive Orders to end-run the as*****s who are trying to ruin him (and us - and our economy) by by blocking jobs bills and stifling badly-needed & already-passed provisions of banking reform legislation.

Final note: Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg is not likely to last on the court for another five years - ditto for Justice Bryer; consequently, a vote-not-cast-f or Obama is a vote-cast-FOR a court skewed 6-3 in favor of Corporate America. "Why?", you ask? Because what-else and who-else would a GOP president nominate? You got it: another Scalia, Thomas or the like!

You done good, Suavane!
 
 
0 # maddave 2011-11-02 15:54
Erdajean:

Read Suavane's remarks above. Read the newspapers. Watch MSNBC. Check my second comment above!

Granted Obama has strove in vain for consensus with orthodox, racist, Corporate American fascists. You & I knew that it wouldn't work, but he had to find out. So now he knows: he is now playing hardball with the GOP jerks - FOR JOBS. Give Barrack a chance, because even the most disappointed and disillusioned of us HAS NO OPTION other than Obama! YOU MUST VOTE! Failure to do so WILL cause irreparable damage to WE THE PEOPLE - We who comprise non-oligarchic, non plutocratic, Democratic AMERICA.

You, Sir or Ma'am, ar DAMNED IMPORTANT! Never forget that!
 
 
+2 # charsjcca 2011-11-02 00:37
The problem here is that once the genie is out of the bottle we can never get it back in-you can not un-ring a bell.
 
 
+10 # James Marcus 2011-11-02 01:56
We are no longer a Government Of the People, By the People & for the People; only historically. Currently, in our mis-perception, and endless deceit, have we seen The Enemy; and it is Us.
Will we, Collectively, awaken? and reclaim the Nation from the Den of Thieves and Lawless lawyers?
Occupy the Nation!
 
 
+2 # Nominae 2011-11-02 23:25
Quoting James Marcus:
We are no longer a Government Of the People, By the People & for the People; only historically.


Absolutely correct, James. The very notion that "We The People" have so much as a thimbleful of actual power is now just so naive as to have become "perfectly precious".

We have had zero power, certainly at the Federal level, for at least three decades. We have less and less power at the State level, and retain the most only in local elections, and that is dwindling in actual meaning.

This is why OWS is working diligently to imagine, test and implement ideas for a totally new paradigm world wide. Ideas that have noting to do with the current system that is already *so* spectacularly *not* working !
 
 
+13 # futhark 2011-11-02 05:06
If "progressives" fail to hold Barack Obama to the same standards that they held Cheney/Bush, then the ethical failure is monumental and undermines any legitimacy they may have as a political movement.

Demand that the President stop the XL pipeline, junk the drone aircraft, and move to repeal the PATRIOT Act. And that's only the first step.
 
 
0 # maddave 2011-11-02 16:14
FUTHARK:

Unfortunately - or fortunately, as the case may be - we don't have a dictatorship. Progress requires compromise & cooperation! The president CANNOT repeal any law unilaterally; the XL pipeline is still in the talking & planning stage; and the drone strikes - thought probably imprudent - are popular in the USA because they save American lives & they are successful.

So, let's take one fight at a time. The most important job right now is geting people back to work - jobs - and the second is to get our economy churning again. Let's judge him on how he performs in this arena & with the new set of rules that he has adopted! I'm optimistic.
 
 
+1 # Nominae 2011-11-02 23:41
Quoting maddave:
"the drone strikes - thought probably imprudent - are popular in the USA because they save American lives & they are successful."


Those same people may become a bit less enthusiastic re: drone technology when they have read the fact that DHS has given drones to various Police Departments in Texas and San Diego, (to name a few) along with the Flight Training to operate them domestically.

At present these are not weaponized drones, but they can quickly become so.

We have the "promise" of the Texas Police Forces (at least in Houston) that the drones will be "used right". How much more comforting assurance could we possibly ask for than that ?

I am assuming that this domestic use of the drone technology might be that to which FUTHARK is objecting.

While we are fighting "other fights", local police forces are quickly becoming militarized. By the time we "get around to" attending to this problem, it will be solidly entrenched in stone. Your back yard barbeque will become a lot less private than you are used to, so dress appropriately for the cameras, and no hanky-panky behind the lilac bushes.
 
 
+7 # fredboy 2011-11-02 06:34
If denial becomes standard practice, it will be the final wedge: it will eliminate trust.
 
 
+10 # RLF 2011-11-02 07:24
Obama lies constantly anyway...starti ng with "I'm a progressive."
 
 
+18 # jon 2011-11-02 07:38
Without transparency and accountability there is NO Democracy.
 
 
+3 # Carolyn 2011-11-02 08:15
Obama is doing what he recently announced that he would do. He is acting on his own. That means, without recourse to the system of government forthe good of all, put in place by the enlightened founding fathers,
 
 
+1 # Suavane 2011-11-02 10:53
Quoting Carolyn:
Obama is doing what he recently announced that he would do. He is acting on his own. That means, without recourse to the system of government for the good of all, put in place by the enlightened founding fathers,

Are you saying that the President should let the Rethuglicans have their way and keep our fellow citizens out of work? Sounds like you're against the American Jobs Act the President has proposed to Congress. It also seems you're against all the things the President is trying to do to help: College students; home owners, etc.
 
 
+1 # Nominae 2011-11-02 23:56
Quoting Suavane:
Quoting Carolyn:
Obama is doing what he recently announced that he would do. He is acting on his own. That means, without recourse to the system of government for the good of all, put in place by the enlightened founding fathers,


"Are you saying that the President should let the Rethuglicans have their way and keep our fellow citizens out of work? Sounds like you're against the American Jobs Act the President has proposed to Congress. It also seems you're against all the things the President is trying to do to help: College students; home owners, etc.


Really ? I read Carolyn's comment to refer to the fact that having Obama acting in an egregiously unconstitutiona l manner is no better than having Bush/Chaney acting in an unconstitutiona l manner. Whether or not you like the "outcome" of Obama's efforts, the *means* are still "extra-legal". And sadly, the only reason these "extra-legal" means are even being employed, is so that Obama can belatedly pretend to have grown some "serious sac" just before the next election.

In short, politically motivated violations of the Constitution are to be no more applauded than criminally motivated violations of the Constitution.
 
 
+3 # GROVIE 2011-11-02 09:44
And that is exactly why i have instructed the over three thousand voters I know of, that will listen to me, to use the WRITE-IN CANDIDATE SPACE ON THE VOTERS BALLOT TO ELECT A PRESIDENT THAT HAS NOT BEEN BOUGHT, TO VOTE FOR SOMEONE LIKE DENNIS KUCINICH, OR BERNIE SANDERS.
 
 
-2 # maddave 2011-11-02 16:28
GROVIE this is World. GROVIE this is World.
Come in GROOVIE.

While you are out on YOUR planet, try p-ing up a rope while there. It just may work in outer space, but it won't work here.

In my dreams I see Bernie or (in second place) Dennis as our president, but the reality is that it takes hundreds of millions of dollars just to promote such a focused & directed idea. Bringing it to fruition costs even more. We have to go with who we got.
 
 
0 # mwd870 2011-11-03 09:56
If there were any chance your proposal would not result in the GOP winning in 2012, I would support the idea of a write-in candidate. This may be a more viable proposition in the next election.
 
 
+4 # Helen 2011-11-02 12:11
In addition, public comments related to the Keystone tar sands pipeline have conveniently disappeared. This is just part of the State Department's cozy relationship with the oil company promoting that project. We must demand an investigation.
 
 
+4 # sandyboy 2011-11-02 13:30
Gawd, Suavane, you love that Obama, don't you? As a Brit I won't be voting for Rethugs or anyone in the USA, but that don't mean I can't see that your guy's a flop. Just cos Bush et al were vile doesn't get Obama a free pass. He's more disappointing than them cos we don't expect those guys to be worth a damn! Remember, you're supporting a man who wants to make it legal to lie to you about whether documents you ask about exist. And why? Cos he isn't a "Rethuglican"!
 

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