March 7, 2003

Secrecy from the White House

The First Amendment is once again in peril. While it is true that in wartime, the Supreme Court usually sticks by the government. Fair enough: all rights have limits, and in certain emergencies those limits have to constrict somewhat. Nevertheless, certain rights are integral to America, such that losing those rights, such as freedom of the press, would be no better than losing America.

While nobody in the current administration would talk seriously of putting journalists in jail (however dearly they may wish it), their secrecy is a serious threat to freedom. Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, and the rest are obsessed with stamping out leaks. They now refuse any Freedom of Information Act request if there is there is any plausible national security excuse. There is now a category of "unclassified, but sensitive," and they have even convicted a former Drug Enforcement Agency employee for leaking such information. Such actions are subversive to democracy.

In principle, gaining access to classified documents requires proper clearance, but must also demonstrate a need to know. The same principle can be applied to unclassified information. Unclassified information is equivalent to being cleared for everyone. For some reason, the administration seems convinced that reporters, and by analogy, the public, do not have a need to know.

Reporters have a need to know because the public has the right to know. This is a basic to democracy. Everyone has the right to know what is happening in the government, sometimes even secret information. The last president visibly obsessed with secrecy was Richard Nixon. During his administration, Daniel Ellsberg, the leaked the Pentagon Papers. Their publication by The New York Times was upheld by the Supreme Court, and were pivotal in the withdrawl from Vietnam.

Without full information, we can only speculate what secret plans are fulminating in the back corridors of the White House. I suppose that's the way Rumsfeld and Ashcroft want it. But if Ashcroft and crew really believed that if you're doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide, then the Bush administration really has no need to hide anything. Unless... well, open the doors, let's have a peek.