Remember that politician around 8 years ago who promised the most transparent Administration ever? Well, long ago, President Obama distinguished himself by withholding documents, pictures, and documents from the public and Congress. This includes the withholding of photos for the simple reason that they will embarrass the government or be used by critics like the pictures of Osama Bin Laden. (In the case of Bin Laden, it appears that the account glamorized in movies like Zero Dark Thirty may not be true and that U.S. forces allegedly riddled the body of Bin Laden with countless bullets, according to a new report). However, the Administration has gone well beyond the simply embarrassing. It has defied Congress in refusing to turn over documents to oversight committees, prompting a vote to demand that Attorney General Eric Holder be prosecuted for obstruction. (The Administration then prevented prosecutors from acting on the charge). A new analysis by the Associated Press shows what is already well known in Washington, President Obama has created the least transparent presidency in decades. The AP found that the Obama administration more often than ever censored government files or outright denied access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.
Across the categories of information and 99 agencies, last year was the worst on record for the government. In that year, the Obama Administration cited undefined national security reasons for withholding information roughly 8,500 times — a 57 percent increase over a year earlier and more than double Obama’s first year when the rationale was used some 3,658 times. It is not just the Defense Department and the CIA which covered most of the claims, but also the Agriculture Department’s Farm Service Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency did twice and the National Park Service which also claimed national security exemptions.
The use of the oft-abused “deliberative process” exception was used by the Obama Administration a record 81,752 times. The government censored materials overall in 244,675 cases or 36 percent of all requests. For an additional 196,034 requests, the government simply said no information was available or the request was improper or required payment for production.
The weird thing White House spokesman Eric Schultz insisted that the damning report showed “that agencies are responding to the president’s call for greater transparency.” That seems perfectly Orwellian where the denial of records shows a greater openness.
Even Democrats in Congress has complained about the treatment of FOIA requests as well as the refusal to turn over material to oversight committee. Recently, even the most deferential member to the Intelligence Community, Dianne Feinstein, complained of obstruction and spying by CIA as her staff tried to secure documents for the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Reporters are also complaining about a wholesale blocking of media requests — part of the dismal record on press freedoms that has resulted in the United States ranking 64th in the world. That was a drop of 13 spots under Obama. For a recent column, click here.
The hostility of the Obama Administration to inquiries from the public, the press, or Congress is obviously part of a broader attack on civil liberties. From surveillance to kill lists to torture, the Administration has held tightly to information that could be used by critics. Indeed, the Administration has protected officials who destroyed evidence of torture under the Bush Administration at the CIA.
If the recent report on the Bin Laden pictures is true, it offers a disturbing glimpse of the mindset in the Administration. Obama barred the release of the pictures while his Administration played up his role in approving the killing of Bin Laden. The actions of the President has been heralded by Democrats even though there was clearly no intent to capture Bin Laden. It was an assassination carried out in violation of international law after entering the territory of an ally without permission. The legality of operation led many to ask what the U.S. would do if Mexico took out a figure in San Diego or New York. However, the Administration maintained the story that Bin Laden was shot a couple of times but that his body was treated with respect and given a proper burial at sea. If the U.S. forces riddled his body with bullets, it would constitute the abuse of a corpse and violate long-standing military principles. Of course, the truth is held to deduce when the Administration is holding the evidence that would prove its own misconduct.
The same can be said with regard to the withholding got the “Fast and Furious” documents and other scandals. Those are areas where Congress has a legitimate right to investigate the moronic actions of federal officials that led to at least one death of a federal agent — and included later false or misleading statements.