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Nat Hentoff: Will Bush's Secrecy Continue?
Billings Gazette
By NAT HENTOFF
February 28, 2008

This administration has been the most secretive in American history. President Bush seems to deeply believe that, as our commander in chief against the terrorists, he has had to suspend the constitutional separation of powers to make classified decisions and set classified policies without involving Congress or the courts. So how then will we - and the next president - know what has been done in our name?

Accordingly, Steven Aftergood - whose online Secrecy News I have often cited in this column - director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, has presented a quintessential challenge to the leading presidential candidates in an article for the Nieman Watchdog, a project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard:

"By now no one expects the Bush administration to make itself accountable for its controversial and possibly illegal practices. But the next president will have the authority to declassify and disclose any and all records that reflect the activities of executive branch agencies. ...

"It goes without saying that genuine national-security secrets such as confidential sources and legally authorized intelligence methods should be protected from disclosure." But with regard to other secret actions and policies, Aftergood continues, "the new administration could demonstrate a clean break with its predecessor, and lay the foundation for a more transparent and accountable presidency."

Restore accountability
Aftergood asks the candidates fighting for the Oval Office: "Will you disclose the full scope of Bush administration domestic-surveillance activities affecting American citizens, including all surveillance actions that were undertaken outside of the framework of law, as well as the legal opinions that were generated to justify them?"

On Feb. 12, Sen. John McCain voted for Bush's warrantless eavesdropping. Sen. Hillary Clinton said she would have opposed it. Sen. Barack Obama was against it.

Aftergood also asks candidates McCain, Clinton and Obama to look into the CIA's "extraordinary renditions," pointing out that "the U.S. government has seized suspected terrorists and transported them without any semblance of judicial process to foreign countries where they have been tortured." And he also asks, what legal justification and authority did the president use in allowing these "renditions," according to the classified orders by which he gave the CIA special powers?

These kidnappings and subsequent tortures have done much to discredit the United States in countries from which the suspects were taken - and they have interfered with our intelligence gathering from officials there who are now accused of complicity with American disregard of the laws of those sovereign nations.

'Forthright disclosure'
Also adding to the assaults on our reputation in countries that are not our enemies are such previously classified presidential supports for "coercive interrogations," including waterboarding. Aftergood asks the front-runners for the next presidency to find out what other coercive interrogation techniques have been adopted. He says, "If there is to be accountability for the interrogation of prisoners in U.S. custody, the first step must be a forthright disclosure of what the Bush administration has done."

The next president can do that.

Nat Hentoff, a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of many books, writes for Newspaper Enterprise Association.

Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.

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