Glenn Greenwald is outraged at the Obama administration’s not-so-open government policy regarding those detainee photos:
The White House is actively supporting a new bill jointly sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman — called The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009 — that literally has no purpose other than to allow the government to suppress any “photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States.” As long as the Defense Secretary certifies — with no review possible — that disclosure would “endanger” American citizens or our troops, then the photographs can be suppressed even if FOIA requires disclosure. The certification lasts 3 years and can be renewed indefinitely. The Senate passed the bill as an amendment last week.
He wonders how we’d feel if another country did this, and then goes on:
Other than creating an illusion of transparency and accountability, what’s the point of having laws that purport to restrict what the Government can do if political officials just retroactively waive those laws whenever they want? What’s the point of having a FOIA law if the Government will simply pass a new law exempting itself from FOIA’s mandates any time it loses in court and wants to conceal evidence anyway? And what conceivable rationale is there for limiting the President’s new secrecy powers to post-9/11 photographs? Given that anything which reflects poorly on our Government can be said to endanger our troops and American citizens, why stop here? Why not just have a general power of suppression whereby the President can keep any evidence secret as long as his Defense Secretary decrees that its disclosure will “endanger” the troops?
The debate over whether there is value in disclosing these specific photographs is entirely misplaced. That isn’t how open government works. The burden isn’t on citizens to prove that there is value in disclosure. Everything that government does is supposed to be transparent to the public unless there is a compelling reason for secrecy — and the whole point of FOIA always has been that mere embarrassment, the mere fact that information reflects poorly on our government, isn’t a legitimate ground for concealment. That’s a critical principle for open government. This new law explicitly guts that principle. It institutionalizes the pernicious notion that secrecy is justified where disclosure would reflect badly on the Government and thus “endanger” American citizens and/or our troops.