Austin American-Statesman

President Bush is promising an investigation into America’s intelligence business. An independent commission, we’re told, will help us understand why the CIA and the White House were so wrong about Saddam Hussein’sstill-missing arsenal of nasty weapons.

An investigation is clearly a good idea. But can we believe any of the findings that come out of it? Given the Bush family’s decades-long penchant for secrecy — and the astounding levels of secrecy being foisted upon the republic by Bush’s administration — don’t count on it.

On the same day that Bush told reporters “I want to know all the facts,” about the lousy pre-war intelligence, another arm of the federal government was shutting down public information about its activities. On Feb. 3, Secrecy News, a newsletter published by the Federation of American Scientists, reported that the Department of Energy will no longer disclose how much it is spending on intelligence. The move is indicative of Bush’s attitude toward public disclosure, an attitude that can be summarized as “We know what’s best. What we’re doing is top secret. Just trust us.”

If only it were that easy.

In 2002, more documents were classified as secret by the Bush administration than in any year of any president in American history. More documents have been declared secret during the past two years of the Bush administration than were classified during the last four years of Bill Clinton’s tenure.

Entire swaths of the federal government are now off-limits to the Freedom of Information Act. In the aftermath of 9/11, more secrecy and security can certainly be justified. But much of the secrecy that Bush is pushing has nothing to do with the war on terrorism.

The best example of this can be seen in Executive Order 13233, enacted by Bush in November 2001. The order allows him as the sitting president — as well as all former presidents — to prevent the release of their presidential papers. It’s an unprecedented power grab, one that’s Nixonian in its gall and  kinglike in its breadth. Bush’s order violates the 1978 Presidential Records Act, passed by Congress to assure that the papers of former presidents would be turned over to the public in an orderly fashion. Bush is claiming that he and other presidents retain the power of executive privilege even though they are no longer in office. In fact, Bush’s order — if it survives a pending court challenge — will allow him to prevent the release of his presidential papers until he dies. His move is so brazen and so broad that Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists calls it an “insult to the norms of American democracy.”

Bush’s executive order appears to be part of the ongoing effort by the Bushes to prevent the release of documents that could show the depth of George H.W. Bush’s involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal. That scandal, which occurred during the Reagan administration, involved a host of top officials, including Oliver North, who were running an arms trading operation from the White House. The elder Bush has consistently obfuscated about his role in the scandal. For years, Bush defied Iran-Contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh, who asked on several occasions for Bush’s diaries. Bush denied the diaries existed. Then, just as Walsh was finishing his investigation, Bush produced the diaries.

In December 1992, Bush pardoned several people ensnared in the Iran-Contra mess, including Caspar Weinberger. The move allowed Bush to escape having to testify at Weinberger’s pending trial. It is the only time a president has ever pardoned an individual at whose trial he was likely to be called as a material witness. When the pardon was announced, Walsh said that the Iran-Contra cover-up “has now been completed.”

Now that we’re in the midst of the second Iraq war, an ongoing conflict that is costing American taxpayers $1 billion per week and the life of at least one American soldier every day, American voters deserve to know all of the facts, not just the convenient facts that President Bush and his cronies want us to know.

Secrecy works great for dictatorships. It’s death for democracy. Bryce’s second book, ‘Cronies: Oil, the Bushes and the Rise of Texas, America’s Superstate,’ will be published in June.


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