Rescind President Obama’s ‘Transparency Award’ now
Open letter guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 14 June 2011 18.00 BST Article history
The petition can be signed at takeawardback.org
The Obama administration’s record on secrecy and surveillance is a disgrace and should not be sanitised by unearned prizes.
Bradley Manning: signatories regard his abusive treatment in a military brig as a warning to government whistleblowers from the Obama administration. Photograph: AP
On 28 March 2011, President Obama was given a “transparency award” from five “open government” organisations: OMB Watch, the National Security Archive, the Project on Government Oversight, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and OpenTheGovernment.org. Ironically – and quite likely in response to growing public criticism regarding the Obama administration‘s lack of transparency – heads of the five organisations gave their award to Obama in a closed, undisclosed meeting at the White House. If the ceremony had been open to the press, it is likely that reporters would have questioned the organisations’ proffered justification for the award, in contrast to the current reality:
• President Obama has not decreased, but has dramatically increased governmental secrecy. According to a new report to the president by the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) – the federal agency that provides oversight of the government’s security classification system – the cost of classification for 2010 has reached over $10.17bn. That’s a 15% jump from the previous year, and the first time ever that secrecy costs have surpassed $10bn. Last month, ISOO reported that the number of original classification decisions generated by the Obama administration in 2010 was 224,734 – a 22.6% jump from the previous year (see The Price of Secrecy, Obama Edition).
• There were 544,360 requests for information last year under the Freedom of Information Act to the 35 biggest federal agencies – 41,000 requests more than the year before. Yet the bureaucracy responded to 12,400 fewer requests than the prior year, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.
• Obama has invoked baseless and unconstitutional executive secrecy to quash legal inquiries into secret illegalities more often than any predecessor. The list of this president’s invocations of the “state secrets privilege” has already resulted in shutting down lawsuits involving the National Security Agency’s illegal wiretapping – Jewel v NSA and Shubert v Obama; extraordinary rendition and assassination – Anwar al-Awlaki; and illegal torture – Binyam Mohamed.
• Ignoring his campaign promise to protect government whistleblowers, Obama’s presidency has amassed the worst record in US history for persecuting, prosecuting and jailing government whistleblowers and truth-tellers. President Obama’s behaviour has been in stark contrast to his campaign promises, which included live-streaming meetings online and rewarding whistleblowers. Obama’s department of justice is twisting the 1917 Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national security leaks – more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous administrations combined.
• The Obama justice department’s prosecution of former NSA official Thomas Drake, who, up till 9 June, faced 35 years in prison for having blown the whistle on the NSA’s costly and unlawful warrantless monitoring of American citizens, typifies the abusive practices made possible through expansive secrecy agreements and threats of prosecution.
• President Obama has set a powerful and chilling example for potential whistleblowers through the abuse and torture of Bradley Manning, whose guilt he has also publicly stated prior to any trial by his, Obama’s, military subordinates.
• Obama is the only president who has reenacted Fahrenheit 451 by actually having his agency collect and burn a book due to a never-justified classification excuse: Lt Col Tony Shaffer’s Operation Dark Heart.
• Under President Obama, the FBI has launched a series of raids and issued grand jury subpoenas targeting nearly two dozen antiwar activists. Over 2,600 arrests of protesters in the US have been made while Obama has been president, further encroaching on the exercise of first amendment rights.
• President Obama has initiated a secret assassination programme, has publicly announced that he has given himself the power to include Americans on the list of people to be assassinated, and has attempted to assassinate at least one, Anwar al-Awlaki.
• President Obama has maintained the power to secretly kidnap, imprison, rendition, or torture, and he has formalised the power to lawlessly imprison in an executive order. This also means the power to secretly imprison. There are some 1,700 prisoners outside the rule of law in Bagram alone.
• President Obama promised to reveal White House visitors’ logs. He didn’t. In response to outrage over his refusal to reveal the names of health insurance CEOs he had met with and cut deals with on the health insurance reform bill, he announced that he would release the names going forward, but not those in the past. And going forward, he would withhold names he chose to withhold. White House staff then began regularly meeting lobbyists just off White House grounds in order to avoid the visitors’ logs.
• President Obama has sent representatives to aggressively pressure Spain, England and Germany to shut down investigations that could have exposed the crimes of the Bush era, just as he has instructed the US justice department to avoid such matters. This includes his refusal to allow prosecutions of the CIA for torture, following a public letter from eight previous heads of the CIA informing him that he had better not enforce those laws.
The “transparency award” in question was described as “aspirational”, similar to the rationale for awarding Obama the Nobel Peace Prize early in his presidency when he had done nothing yet to further the cause of peace. Participants admitted they used the private meeting in March to try and lobby Obama to do more to earn their award. If the president doesn’t change course as a result of the lobbying and “award”, there are some who would shrug and say, “no harm, no foul”.
The giving of an unmerited award, however, whether for transparency or peace, is not entirely benign. No one knows better how destructive secrecy is for maintaining systems of justice, ethics and democracy than these self-proclaimed “open government” watchdogs. Especially when such a false accolade emanates, as in this case, from those who are supposed to serve as counters to secrecy and to retaliation against government whistleblowers, such appearance of approval will tend to cover up and mask the reality of the executive’s increasingly undemocratic and illegal use of secrecy.
Therefore, the undersigned call on these organisations: OMB Watch, the National Security Archive, the Project on Government Oversight, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and OpenTheGovernment.org, to publicly take back their “transparency award”, as difficult as that may be, from Barack Obama. The watchdog organisations should, of course, continue to promote aspirations for open, democratic government, reduced secrecy and adherence to the rule of law, in more genuine, legitimate ways than giving unmerited awards to the executive. Such false awards only stand to backfire and hurt the cause of open government.
For a list of Whistleblowers click here:
Raymond L McGovern, former analyst, CIA
Colonel Ann Wright, US Army Reserve (ret) and former US diplomat
Daniel Ellsberg, former official, department of defence and department of state
Lt Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, US Air Force (ret), veteran policy analyst, department of defence
Lt Colonel Tony Shaffer, senior intelligence officer (Operations), DIA
Jesselyn Radack, former attorney, department of justice
John M Cole, former veteran intelligence operations specialist, FBI
David “Mark” Conrad, agent in charge (ret), internal affairs, US Customs
P Jeffrey Black, air marshal (ret), Federal Air Marshal Service, department of homeland security
Bogdan Dzakovic, former red team leader, FAA
Russ Tice, former senior intelligence analyst, NSA
Sandalio Gonzalez, special agent in charge (ret), DEA
John Vincent, veteran special agent, counterterrorism, FBI
Bill Bergman, financial market analyst, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
Steve Jenkins, intelligence analyst, NGIC, US Army
Linda Lewis, policy analyst (ret), US department of agriculture
David MacMichael, PhD, former senior estimates officer, CIA
William H Russell, computer specialist, R&E Division, NSA
William Savich, special agent, bureau of diplomatic security, department of state
Julia Davis, customs and border protection officer, department of homeland security
Tom Maertens, counterterrorism official (ret), department of state
Joseph Carson, PE, nuclear safety engineer, department of energy
Gabe Bruno, manager (ret), flight standards services, FAA
Dr Jeffrey Fudin, founder, VA Whistleblowers Coalition
For a list of organizations that have signed, click here:
National Security Whistleblowers Coalition
National Whistleblowers Centre
Green party of the US
Citizens for Legitimate Government
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Campaign for Peace and Democracy
September 11th Advocates
Consumers for Peace
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence
Socialist party of Central Virginia
Environmentalists Against War
High Road for Human Rights
Broken Covenant Campaign
Bring Our Troops Home Coalition
Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains
United for Peace and Justice
Americans Who Tell the Truth
Veterans for Peace Chapter 27
Committee to Stop FBI Repression
This petition can be signed at takeawardback.org