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Open government is an endangered species




To the Editor:

From the time Dick Cheney selected himself to be George Bush’s running mate, “open government” became an endangered species. And, when the five of nine overruled the Florida Supreme Court and made Bush president-elect, it sealed its fate.

As John Dean wrote in Worse Than Watergate: Once ensconced in their offices at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they quietly closed their doors, pulled the shades, and began making themselves increasingly inaccessible to the media and Congress while demanding complete control over government information. Government under a virtual gag order became their standard operating procedure.

From the moment Bush entered the White House, his administration departed from the American tradition of liberty and displayed a disturbing tendency toward authorization excess – including a willingness to impose harsh, unwarranted restrictions on information, ignore customary freedoms, promote propaganda, and undermine constitutional rights.

The Bush-Cheney transgression is one preferring secrecy to openness, propaganda to facts, and loyalty to freedom. These were embodied in carefully calculated policies and plans and they knew where they were going even before they got there. Open government was DOA.

The most serious casualties of this excessive secrecy have been the committee and commission investigating actually what happened September 11, 2001. As John McCain put it, the president and his staff “slow-walked and stonewalled” the joint congressional committee’s inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the terrorist attacks. After the committee issued its censored report in 2003, the White House refused to declassify critical sections that might prove politically embarrassing – most notably a 28-page examination of Saudi Arabia’s possible complicity in the attacks. Throughout the congressional probe, the administration proved so uncooperative and so determined to conceal the truth that senators from both parties protested publicly.

As a reaction to the secrecy of the administration, bipartisan support for an independent investigative commission grew louder. But just as Bush and Cheney had sought to block the congressional investigation, they continued to resist every effort to investigate the true circumstances of the attacks. They opposed the establishment of an independent commission, withheld information sought by the commission, and refused to allow administration officials to testify in open hearings. They eventually abandoned much of their resistance in the face of public outrage fed by the angry families of 9/11 victims. Still, they were allowed to set the stage for the commission whose members they selected and placed limitations on what could be done, thus making the results incomplete and leaving more questions unanswered than answered. It is commonly held that the truth may never be known.

While national attention was focused on the terrorist attacks, the administration’s propaganda blitz and the wars that followed, the Bush-Cheney regime extended an extraordinary broad blanket of secrecy over its own actions and the modern history of the presidency rolling back 40 years of progress toward open and accountable government, fundamentally changing the relationship between citizens and those they elect to represent them.

Never in the history of this nation have a president and vicepresident been allowed to slam the door in the face of We the People and commit so many impeachable offenses, starting with and continuing the violation of oaths of office 2001 and 2005, and not be made to walk the plank.

No doubt as historians plough through the rubble of the Bush- Cheney years, they will puzzle over how this could have happened in a democracy and wonder where were Congress and checks and balances. It’s face saving that the record shows a handful of Congressional Democrats – Russ Fiengold, John Conyers, Barbara Boxer and Dennis Kucinich – spoke up with proposals of censure and with impeachment knowing full well they wouldn’t move forward. As Conyers explained, it was to set the record straight that it was known when the Bush administration declared the Constitution inoperative and revoked the license of parliamentary government and that the President was setting himself up as a supreme ruler exempt from the rule of law.

Maybe with a change of guard free access to news, facts, policies, budgets, and directives will be reinstated and citizens can once again fully exercise their rights and responsibilities. Then democracy won’t be crippled and what the people have a right to know won’t be under White House arrest.

And, finally someone needs to quote Luke 8:17 to our biblical referencing President who says Jesus Christ is his favorite “philosopher”: “For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither anything hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.”

JOE DRENNAN Moultrie, Ga.


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