Thursday, February 15, 2007

DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY TO ATTEMPT BROADENING FOIA LAWS

"We are at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history, when our executive branch is claiming unprecedented authority to spy on ordinary Americans, to jail people indefinitely without trial, sometimes in secret prisons, and to use interrogation techniques widely regarded under international law as torture and abuse. Congress must act to reign in this abuse and restore the checks and balances that are essential to our constitutional democracy." --Caroline Frederickson, Director of the ACLU, testifying to the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday. (ACLU.ORG)


WASHINGTON D.C.--More hearings yesterday (and part of today)! If you believe in an open government that's accountable, these hearings are great news. Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo) is proposing a bill that allows for a lot more declassification of internal Executive branch records, something that will likely lead to more revelations of the Bush administration's criminality. Clay is also investigating the Bush administration's climate policy in the committee. The White House's reaction will likely be predictable, as will that of their peers in Congress. Clay's proposition is based partly on an older bill that didn't get voted on in the former GOP-majority in Congress:

Clay said the old bill will be the starting point for a new one that will take direct aim at the administration's practice of using the threat of terrorism to withhold "nonsensitive information." "I am deeply concerned that this administration appears to be shielding information that ought to be accessible to the public," said Clay, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's subcommittee on information policy. (AP, 02.15.2007)

This is a good-faith move on the part of Democrats, but we should have sufficient funding to process all these millions of FOIA-requests, right? We'll see it in the language of the bill when it surfaces, but both parties are notorious for unfunded-mandates when it comes to the public requesting knowledge of their own history. If they botch this one, it's going to be on-purpose, just as there wasn't enough actionable legislation from the Church Committee. After Watergate, the public demanded investigations and stricter-rules on what the Executive can do, but they didn't do enough. Yes, we got the FISA law of 1978, and we know how well it worked in keeping the Executive from illegal-surveillance on the America public. It wasn't firm enough, not strict enough. Not that it's just the GOP who have spied on all of us...

But the ACLU--who sent their sexy Director Caroline Frederickson as a committee witness-- wants more, and much to their credit. A 2001 Justice Department memo by former Attorney General John Ashcroft that classifies documents of Executive branch agencies automatically is the primary-target:

FOIA’s effectiveness has been undermined by the Bush administration’s disdain for open government. In October 2001, in a reversal from Attorney General Janet Reno’s practice that there should be a "presumption of disclosure," Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a memorandum encouraging executive agencies to adopt a policy of non-disclosure. This White House has used national security classification designations to hide embarrassing information or misconduct that is not truly secret information. (ACLU.ORG, 02.14.2007)

Clay seems to be on the same page as the ACLU, so we can expect another rollback of the Bush and GOP agenda from the last six-years. We can also expect criminal proceedings, and soon. The Bush White House knew it would never stand-up to real examiniation and transparency, hence the Justice Department memo.

Now that the panic-spell of September 11th, 2001 has worn-off, the American public can see the light-of-day a little clearer. What they're seeing isn't comforting, doesn't make them safer, and has resulted in an erosion of their rights. There are many things that the American public will not have, and losing rights they were accustomed to for generations is one of them. Having a reasonable economic well-being for most everyone is another. But if anything, Americans covet their privacy.

This is probably the greatest constitutional crisis this nation has ever faced. Will we be up to this challenge? Do political elites really have a genuine loyalty to our traditions and institutions of democracy? The tests are coming this-year, and the results will affect the next several-generations--if there are more after our own. The Freedom of Information Act is a bulwark against such a criminal administration, and a criminal party such as the revolutionary GOP. It's time to clean house of these people with hearings, investigations, and jailings. The rule of law is what matters--law that applies to all. Otherwise, we aren't a nation of laws at all, let alone a society. Suggestions like this can insure the preservation of democratic structures:

Clark Hoyt, who testified on behalf of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, also had some recommendations. He said a FOIA ombudsman should be created within the federal government to serve as a "champion for FOIA training and compliance [and] a place where individuals seeking to exercise their rights under FOIA can go for help short of filing a lawsuit."
Hoyt's group consists of 10 media groups committed to openness in government.
(National Journal, 02.14.2007)

It's virtually unanimous based on declassifications from the last three-years that the Bush administration has been claiming "national security" in unprecedented-levels of classification in order to hide the crimes they have committed. This is in-violation of a number of previous laws and Executive orders alone. The only way to preserve any accountability is through the declassification process. Currently, the federal government (The Executive branch in-particular) is required to expedite a Freedom of Information Act request within a 20 days. I did a FOIA for the FBI file of Lenny Bruce, and it took two-years.

This was during the Clinton-era, in 1997. Money does solve a lot to remedy this situation, yet the Bush administration now spends $7.2 billion a year to classify our history, while National Security Archive General Counsel Meredith Fuchs tells us of delays on requests that have languished for 17 years. The budget for the National Security Archive's researchers who expedite all the millions of requests? $300 million a year. The ACLU is proposing waivers for bloggers and the press, as well as watchdog groups. These are solid ideas that should become public policy, and the GOP can be expected to fight them endlessly as they always have. They will obstruct and try to water-down the legislation with every tactic they have. Meanwhile, the president has announced he's sending more troops to Afghanistan.

AP: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070215/ap_on_go_co/congress_foia_1;_ylt=Ai.5EkITA3kZ.ji.yqbXO.GMwfIE

How to use the FOIA (PDF): http://www.fas.org/sgp/foia/citizen.html

Public Statement on the Hearings and the Complete Testimony:
http://www.aclu.org/natsec/foia/28365prs20070214.html
http://www.aclu.org/natsec/foia/28361leg20070214.html

1996 Update of the FOIA: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/efoiacom.html