Just How Sunny is Sunshine Week?


Submitted By Lawrence Rafferty, (rafflaw), Guest Blogger

I know what you may be thinking. What is that crazy title all about? It wasn’t discussed much in the Corporate Mass Media, but this past week was dubbed, Sunshine Week. Sunshine Week was supposed to celebrate “open Government practices”. I for one, wasn’t convinced that our government had any “open” practices. The Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1966 and it was designed to allow individuals the right to find out exactly what government was doing on our behalf. The Act has been amended on several occasions and it has aged with mixed results.

“The 2011 Knight Open Government Survey reveals some cloudiness in the Obama administration’s open government policies. The survey measured government agency performance in responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, a 1966 law that allows the public (that includes you) to ask for access to government documents. This year, the Knight Foundation found that of the 90 government agencies responsible for responding to FOIA requests, 49 have actually complied with processing the requests. “  ACLU  To be fair, this meager result is actually an improvement from the prior year when only 13 agencies followed the law laid out in the FOIA procedures.

In 2009 President Obama gave a directive to agencies that he claimed would make governmental agencies more responsive to FOIA requests. White House Open Government Directive   While the ACLU, as stated in the article linked to above, congratulated the President on his directive, the results still fall short of the “presumption of openness” that the directive was promoting. We have seen far too many times the government use National Security as their excuse for redacting whole documents or for refusing to disclose any information pursuant to a FOIA request.

In fact, the ACLU just published an article complaining about the Government’s continued refusal to provide Americans any information concerning two Justice Department memos that presumably discussed the Office of Legal Counsel’s explanation and legal justification for the now infamous NSA secret wiretapping episodes during the Bush Administration. “The memos, a May 2004 memo authored by the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel Jack Goldsmith and a November 2001 memo from John Yoo, then the deputy assistant attorney general, are most notable for what they don’t reveal. The memos are heavily redacted.” ACLU National Security

This same article rightfully took President Obama to task on this attempt to dodge the spirit of the FOIA by not disclosing these important documents. ‘“Despite a much-trumpeted commitment to transparency and accountability, the Obama administration has continued to shield the surveillance practices of the past from meaningful scrutiny. Nearly a decade after President Bush authorized a set of intelligence activities that almost led to the resignation of the attorney general, the FBI director and other Justice Department officials, the American public still knows virtually nothing about what it was that President Bush authorized.”’

It seems perfectly clear that while the Obama Administration may have made some headway in making government more transparent, it’s performance leaves much to be desired. The bottom line may be that as long as you are asking for documents that do not show the government in a bad light or actually document illegal activity, you have a “chance” of getting what you asked for. If you are asking for anything remotely related to alleged national security, you have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting full documentation of what you request.

So if you are requesting information related to the Patriot Act and its abuses, don’t hold your breath. If you are asking for information about the treatment of detainees by the Pentagon or the treatment of immigrants in the hands of ICE, you will be waiting several lifetimes and maybe longer to receive any significant information. The Obama Administration is completely forthright about anything that it does not mind that you see! 

Additional Sources: Knight Open Government Survey;  ACLU Guide to FOIAPrivacy Act of 1974;   Government in Sunshine Act;   FOIA 1996;

Submitted by Lawrence Rafferty, Guest Blogger

33 thoughts on “Just How Sunny is Sunshine Week?”

  1. Rafflaw, I think the issue with many of the cover-up folks (including but not limited to those whose goal it is to destroy whistle-blowers and even those who are just not corruptible while in office) is that they have something on somebody else, but somebody else has something on THEM. This reciprocal “something-on-somebody” factor keeps individual state (and federal) actors from doing the right thing even if it is easier than the wrong thing. Once there is really a lot to protect (because one official was stupid or corrupt, and another covered, and a third had to cover, and what could the fourth do but go along….) they circle the wagons and out and out vilify anyone pointing out ANYTHING about ANY PART OF IT that might be obviously wrong. The stakes get higher as the corruption proceeds. In a 30-year-long case that started in Virginia, a judge did a dumb thing but didn’t want to be embarrassed, causing him to bring in a prosecutor from the next county over to help him get control of the individual protesting the action, who then had to cover her own rear-end for drawing a fraudulent warrant, who then pulled in help from the attorney general, who then had to screw up a federal habeas corpus, which pulled in a federal judge who was really sore about it, who has been making phone calls for 20 years to keep the various parts of the whole stinking mess from unflushing itself (overflowing) on the pristine tiles of HIS toilet in a federal courthouse. All because one circuit court judge (who went on to be named one of the 500 best lawyers in America!) totally messed up and dishonored the first rule of his Supreme Court. Now if what you have done is just grab somebody’s money or somebody’s child, and you end up acting like this, how much more you’re going to carry on like a gang of remorseless thugs if you have actually killed a bunch of civilians. It’s an insoluble problem.

  2. Elaine,
    I saw the pictures in Der Spiegel. They were horrible. To sit on theses pictures was a stupid mistake.

  3. Elaine,
    That is an amazing story. It is horrible that the Navy would let someone rot before they tell the truth. One of their own no less!
    I hope we can get some “sunshine” in the right places. time to hit the hay! See you all tomorrow.

  4. rafflaw,

    In small towns across American the Sunshine Laws have made a huge difference (the better) in government. Here, in Ohio, County Prosecutors will actively prosecute or threaten prosecution to get government to comply.

    It’s the big cities and the feds who seem to get away with the abuses.

  5. rafflaw,

    Here’s another story for you:

    Army slow to act as crime-lab worker falsified, botched tests
    By Marisa Taylor and Michael Doyle | McClatchy Newspapers

    WASHINGTON — For nearly three years, the military held the key to Roger House’s exoneration and didn’t tell him: A forensics examiner had botched a crucial lab test used in the Navy lieutenant’s court-martial.

    In fact, the military had begun second-guessing a decade’s worth of tests conducted by its one-time star lab analyst, Phillip Mills.

    Investigators discovered that Mills had cut corners and even falsified reports in one case. He found DNA where it didn’t exist, and failed to find it where it did. His mistakes may have let the guilty go free while the innocent, such as House, were convicted.

    “It cost him his family and it cost him his Navy career,” House’s attorney, John Wells, said in an interview. “It’s certainly outrageous and unconscionable; it’s the kind of action that makes you want to scream.”

    But the problem was bigger than just a lone analyst.

    While a McClatchy investigation revealed that Mills’ mistakes undermined hundreds of criminal cases brought against military personnel, it also found that the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory, near Atlanta, was lax in supervising Mills, slow to re-examine his work and slipshod about informing defendants. Officials appeared intent on containing the scandal that threatened to discredit the military’s most important forensics facility, which handles more than 3,000 criminal cases a year.

    The military has never publicly acknowledged the extent of Mills’ mistakes nor the lab’s culpability. McClatchy pieced together the untold story by conducting dozens of interviews and reviewing internal investigations, transcripts and other documents.

  6. … and if the government has its way, whistleblowers will know to fear years of torture and likely execution by their own government.

  7. Elaine,
    I know the current status of whistle blowers is not very good, but I have hope for the future. I do not know why, I just do.

  8. puzzling and rafflaw,

    Life is tough for whistleblowers. They are often ostracized by co-workers, get fired from their jobs, and some–like Bradley Manning–even end up in jail.

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