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Meta-abuse of government secrecy

August 6, 2006

So many atrocities to cover, so little time. Should I talk about the fact that the House has slipped into the Defense appropriations bill a little clause that would, at the President’s discretion, stomp on governors’ control of the National Guard, and federalize it? Or the bill to retroactively immunize the entire military and executive branch from penalties for war crimes, gutting the law the Republicans passed in 1996? Or Negroponte’s continuing refusal to provide Congress, as required by law when they request it, a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq? Or the GOP’s insistence that the minimum wage can’t be raised, unless a 750 billion tax break for millionaires only is passed along with it? (Hint – that’s 750 billion that will have to be taken out of the pockets of the middle class and the working poor. Cuts to Medicaid and tuition assistance and unemployment benefits, anyone?) Or half a dozen other Bush-generated horrors from just the past week?

I’ll settle for this catch from The Memory Hole.

The Justice Department tipped its hand in its ongoing legal war with the ACLU over the Patriot Act. Because the matter is so sensitive, the Justice Dept is allowed to black out those passages in the ACLU’s court filings that it feels should not be publicly released.Ostensibly, they would use their powers of censorship only to remove material that truly could jeopardize US operations. But in reality, what did they do? They blacked out a quotation from a Supreme Court decision:

“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 mind reels at such a blatant abuse of power (and at the sheer chutzpah of using national security as an excuse to censor a quotation about using national security as an excuse to stifle dissent).

This is also the week that even Charmin’ Chairman Roberts of the Senate Intelligence Committee, whose whole life the last four years has been dedicated to helping the Bush administration cover up its crimes and its incompetence, finally got steamed about the Prez’s fetish for classifying everything that moves, as a warmup exercise for classifying everything that holds still.

A section of that Phase II of the Intel Committee’s report on Iraq intelligence, delayed now for a mere three years – the phase that was to look at whether the White House misused or mischaracterized the intelligence it received – was finally due to be released. It was a section based entirely on material in the public record; but its conclusions (roughly, that Chalabi played the neocons for patsies with his own disinformation campaign) was embarrassing. So it came back black magic markered to death, based on chunks of public information having been newly classified.

It just so happens that classifying information just because it’s politically embarrassing is illegal. But obeying, or even noticing, the law has never been a forte of the Silencer In Chief.

Most frightening to his crowd of all pieces of information is that piece so well known to the framers of the Constitution: that executive power can be abused. We can now with some confidence expect the Federalist Papers to be declared state secrets sometime before the 2008 conventions begin. Get your own copy of them now. Perhaps when they raid your library, they’ll leave it intact if you’ve taken the precaution of rebinding it in, say, the cover of Ann Coulter’s next bestseller, Vermin.

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