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!
Submitted by Lawrence Rafferty, Guest Blogger