Bush to America: "Our Little Secret"
More than any past president, Bush has been overusing a little-known executive power known as state-secrets privilege. This privilege is being used to squash court challenges to some of the government’s anti-terror tactics, and this same privilege might defeat a lawsuit by a former FBI employee who claims that botched translations of intelligence data contributed to the 9/11 attacks.
In the best known case, Bush is trying to invoke state-secrets privilege against a lawsuit to uncover information about rendition — the CIA’s practice of sending terror suspects to foreign countries to be tortured.
If you’re concerned about civil liberties and open government, Bush’s overuse of state-secrets privilege is a terrible trend. We’re going the wrong way. This is setting a precedent for more and more government secrecy in general. It’s become much more difficult to obtain documents under the Freedom of Information Act, and to get information about individuals who’ve been rounded up in the war on terror.
As with all presidents, there’s the nagging question of whether certain information is being guarded for national security reasons, or because releasing the information would reveal corruption or negligence. Declassified documents have revealed many cases where the state-secrets privilege was invoked by past presidents just to avoid embarrassment, and not to protect national security.
Openness in government, and an alert watchful press — unlike the corporate lapdog that passes for “media” today — are essential to a thriving democracy.