There was an article on the front page of the Times on Wednesday that stopped me cold. It reported that the Justice Department has charged a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, John Kiriakou, with disclosing classified information to journalists—charges that could mean 30 years in prison.
That may seem simple: CIA officer, classified information disclosed, prison. But take a closer look. He’s been charged with revealing that two men accused of organizing the Sept. 11 attacks, Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, were tortured. So the man who blew the whistle on torture may go to jail, but nothing is going to happen to the people who cooked up corrupt legal opinions to justify torture, who ordered torture, or who actually tortured.
And nothing will happen to the Bush administration officials who authorized “extraordinary rendition”— the illegal practice of seizing people and flying them to nasty places where interrogators can brutalize them. Or to the telephone companies that participated in illegal wiretapping programs. Or to the CIA officials who destroyed videotapes of prisoner interrogations.
The innocent victims of torture will be denied justice – like the Canadian man who was arrested at an American airport and then flown to Jordan, where he was abused, in a horrible case of mistaken identity. The infamous prison at Guantanamo Bay will not be closed. The men behind the Sept. 11 attacks may never be brought to trial because of the ineffectiveness and illegitimacy of the military tribunals created by President Bush and tweaked a bit by President Obama.
And on, and on.
Reading that article, I also remembered that President Obama came into office promising more transparency. And yet this president’s team has now prosecuted six current or former government officials for leaking information to reporters, which the Times’ Charles Savage reported is more than all previous presidents combined.
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Near the start of his term, Mr. Obama ordered all agencies to review secret material with the goal, supposedly, of declassifying more of it. Instead, the government went on a classification binge. In 2010 alone, officials classified nearly 77 million documents, a one-year jump of 40 percent. That’s not just about national security. It’s also about keeping the public from learning embarrassing information.
Mr. Obama’s legal team has gone even further than the Bush team in using an outrageously broad definition of state secrets to shut down legal cases, like the ones filed by victims of extraordinary rendition. The victims often were innocent, but Mr. Obama’s lawyers will not allow them even a day in court because that supposedly would jeopardize state secrets – even though in many cases those “secrets” have been reported by the press.
Mr. Obama made a political decision at the outset of his presidency that he was not going to find out the truth about the Bush years, never mind bring lawbreakers to justice. The White House thought that would interfere with his agenda. Mr. Obama might have lost such a fight, but it’s better to go down fighting for what is right than not to fight at all.
This blog post has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 27, 2012
An earlier version of this post misstated which day the Times article on John Kiriakou appeared on the front page.