Archive for foia

President Obama's secrets

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This is one of those posts that I hate writing, because I keep wanting to fall back in love with President Obama without reservation. That won't happen, and this L.A. Times editorial describes one of the main reasons.

By the way, as I said here, I will still vote for him because the alternative is unthinkable, but I have been very concerned about proposals and/or policies like these:

One of the most disappointing attributes of the Obama administration has been its proclivity for secrecy. The president who committed himself to "an unprecedented level of openness in government" has followed the example of his predecessor by invoking the "state secrets" privilege to derail litigation about government misdeeds in the war on terror. He has refused to release the administration's secret interpretation of the Patriot Act, which two senators have described as alarming. He has blocked the dissemination of photographs documenting the abuse of prisoners by U.S. service members. And now his Justice Department has proposed to allow government agencies to lie about the existence of documents being sought under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.

At present, if the government doesn't want to admit the existence of a document it believes to be exempt from FOIA, it may advise the person making the request that it can neither confirm nor deny the document's existence. Under the proposed regulation, an agency that withholds a document "will respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist."

This policy is outrageous. It provides a license for the government to lie to its own people and makes a mockery of FOIA.

As unpleasant as this is to read, it must be acknowledged, and as the president suggested himself, we must hold him accountable when we feel he's on the wrong track.

However, compared to the disturbingly inept, unprofessional bunch of right wing nut job misfits who are running against him, well, 'nuff said.

You can read the whole piece here.

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Palin's office tried to "sell" emails for $15 mil

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Once a grifter, always a grifter. Via Taegan-

As we wait for Sarah Palin's emails to be released by the State of Alaska later today, Politico notes that when media outlets first requested them during her 2008 vice presidential campaign, Palin's office "pegged the price for producing them at $15 million. The fee eventually fell to $725.97."

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Obama Sr’s Immigration File Offers More Evidence Of Obama’s Birthplace

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Heather Smathers, a reporter for the Arizona Independent does actual reporting. Huge kudos to her!! Go to the link to read about the "questions" the INS had about Obama Sr's marital status et al. Bet Trump says the INS faked it. Via Julie Gulden.

By Heather Smathers – Independent Staff Writer

– Documents obtained from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service through a Freedom of Information Act request offer evidence that President Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.

A memo dated Aug. 31, 1961 from William Wood of Immigration and Naturalization Services indicates that Barack Obama, Sr., was attending the University of Hawaii on a student visa and that a son, Barack Obama, II, was born in Honolulu on Aug, 8, 1961.

The memo refers to Obama Sr.’s plans to attend the University of Hawaii for one more year to obtain his bachelor’s degree in economics, and that his spouse, a United States citizen, plans to work at the university.

“They have one child born Honolulu on 8/4/1961 – Barack Obama II, child living with mother (she lives with her parents & subject resides at 1482 Alisteastre St.),” the memo states.

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CREW: Does new SCOTUS decision in FOIA case stop Citizens United in its tracks?

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Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has a glimmer of an inkling of a ray of sunshine for us:

Today the Supreme Court issued a decision in Fed. Communications Comm’n v. AT&T, holding the protection the Freedom of Information Act provides for “personal privacy” does not include corporations. AT&T was trying to prevent the disclosure of documents it had submitted to the FCC as part of an investigation, arguing their release would invade the corporation’s personal privacy. According to AT&T, because the word “person” in the FOIA includes corporations, the reference to “personal privacy” must also include corporations. [...]

Fortunately, the Court disagreed with AT&T. Justice John Roberts, writing for a unanimous court, offered the common-sense explanation that adjectives such as “personal” do not always reflect the same meaning as their corresponding noun, here “person.”

The Supreme Court got one right. Let's hope this is a start of a trend. Okay, knowing them, a mini-trend.

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Gates Invokes New Authority to Block Release of Detainee Abuse Photos

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By GottaLaff

http://dawudwalid.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/torture-detainee.jpg
(via)

My dear friend Jason Leopold has an exclusive (which has since made its way into the media) that is making my blood boil:

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has blocked the release of photographs depicting US soldiers abusing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, using authority just granted to him by Congress to circumvent the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to keep the images under wraps on national security grounds. [...]

As first reported by truthout, the photographs at issue, include one in which a female solider is pointing a broom at a detainee "as if [she were] sticking the end of a broomstick into [his] rectum."

Other photos are said to show US soldiers pointing guns at the heads of hooded and bound detainees in prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army's Criminal Investigation Division investigated the matter and "three of the six investigations led to criminal charges and in two of those cases, the accused were found guilty and punished," according to papers Kagan previously filed with the Supreme Court. [...]

The Obama administration indicated it would abide by the appeals court order and release at least 44 of the photographs in question, but, in May, after he was pilloried by Republicans, President Obama backtracked, saying he had conferred with high-ranking military officials who advised him that releasing the images would stoke anti-American sentiment and would endanger the lives of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As Truthout previously reported, the Obama administration petitioned the US Supreme Court to hear the case at the same time that the president privately told Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) he would work with Congress to help pass a measure to ensure the photographs could be withheld. [...]

"...[T]he fact remains that public disclosure of the photographs could reasonably be expected to endanger the lives and physical safety of individuals engaged in the Nation's military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The photographs therefore are exempt from mandatory disclosure under FOIA." [...]

Alex Abdo, a legal fellow with the ACLU's National Security Project, said the Obama administration's argument for continuing to suppres the photos "sets a dangerous precedent – that the government can conceal evidence of its own misconduct precisely because the evidence powerfully documents gross abuses of power and of detainees.

Please read the rest here.

Fayiz al-Kandari could have used some of those photos in his own defense during the military commission hearing that he is currently facing.

******

All my previous posts on this subject matter can be found here; That link includes one specific to only Fayiz al-Kandari's story here. Here are audio and video interviews with Lt. Col. Wingard, one by David Shuster, one by Ana Marie Cox, and more. My guest commentary at BuzzFlash is here.

Lt. Col. Barry Wingard is a military attorney who represents Fayiz Al-Kandari in the Military Commission process and in no way represents the opinions of his home state. When not on active duty, Colonel Wingard is a public defender in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

If you are inclined to help rectify these injustices: Twitterers, use the hashtag #FreeFayiz. We have organized a team to get these stories out. If you are interested in helping Fayiz out, e-mail me at The Political Carnival, address in sidebar to the right; or tweet me at @GottaLaff.

If you'd like to see other ways you can take action, go here and scroll down to the end of the article.

Then read Jane Mayer's book The Dark Side. You'll have a much greater understanding of why I post endlessly about this, and why I'm all over the CIA deception issues, too.

More of Fayiz's story here, at Answers.com.

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"No democracy has ever been made stronger by concealing evidence of its wrongdoing"

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By GottaLaff

This piece by Jameel Jaffer opened my eyes to some new arguments against suppressing the release of photos of detainees being tortured... and to my surprise, even more:

Absent an unexpected groundswell of opposition, Congress this week will pass legislation that gives the Defense Department the authority to suppress evidence of its own misconduct.

Again, guess who originally came up with this amendment: Everyone's favorite, Traitor Joe Lieberman!

The amendment is aimed at a 2008 appeals court decision requiring the Defense Department to release photographs showing Afghan and Iraqi prisoners being abused and in some cases tortured by U.S. military personnel. Its ramifications will be sweeping and will extend far beyond the specific lawsuit it is meant to quash.

The ramifications alert was new to me. Read on for more:

The legislation is meant to substitute Congress' judgment for that of the courts. [...]

The basic purpose of the FOIA, the Supreme Court has previously recognized, is "to ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption and to hold the governors accountable to the governed." As the appeals court in the current case observed, the photos "place government accountability at the center of the dispute."

Please read the article to get more details. I'm trying to abide by the rules and not copy over too much here, but the info is so important.

I got into it with my family about this. They stood by the government argument that releasing the photos would enrage our enemies, cause more hostility, and create more violence. I see our rights and the rule of law as the priority, so their argument didn't sway me, although I see their point.

Suppressing such records might deprive the country's enemies of propaganda, but it would also deprive the American public of information that is crucial to the democratic process.

Here comes the part about ramifications:

The legislation would suppress many more photos in government custody than the ones at issue in the ACLU case. It covers images taken between Sept. 11, 2001, and Jan. 22, 2009, that relate to the treatment of individuals "engaged, captured or detained" by the armed forces. It would cover photos depicting the abuse of prisoners, but it could also cover, for example, video footage of aerial attacks that resulted in civilian casualties or photos showing the conditions of confinement at the Bagram detention center in Afghanistan. The legislation establishes a regime of censorship that would extend to many images of the military's activities abroad.

Again, there's a lot more to this than I'm posting here.

Supporters of the legislation have said that the bill is motivated by concerns about security, but no democracy has ever been made stronger by concealing evidence of its wrongdoing. The last administration's decision to endorse torture undermined the United States' moral authority and compromised its security. The failure of the country's current leadership to fully confront the abuses of the last administration -- a failure embodied by the legislation that Congress is preparing to enact -- will only compound these harms.

Here is the rest.

*****
All my previous posts on this subject matter can be found here; That link includes audio and video interviews with Lt. Col. Wingard, one by David Shuster, one by Ana Marie Cox, and more. My guest commentary at BuzzFlash is here.

Lt. Col. Barry Wingard is a military attorney who represents Fayiz Al-Kandari in the Military Commission process and in no way represents the opinions of his home state. When not on active duty, Colonel Wingard is a public defender in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

If you are inclined to help rectify these injustices: Twitterers, use the hashtag #FreeFayiz. We have organized a team to get these stories out. If you are interested in helping Fayiz out, e-mail me at The Political Carnival, address in sidebar to the right; or tweet me at @GottaLaff.

If you'd like to see other ways you can take action, go here and scroll down to the end of the article.

Then read Jane Mayer's book The Dark Side. You'll have a much greater understanding of why I post endlessly about this, and why I'm all over the CIA deception issues, too.

More of Fayiz's story here, at Answers.com.

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White House "Ordered" Lawmakers to Amend FOIA in Order to Conceal Torture Photos

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By GottaLaff

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My bff Jason Leopold has written up another well-researched, thorough piece over at Truthout, his new digs. This one is about how President Obama is close to signing, sealing, and delivering a lock on the torture photos he had earlier agreed to release:

The Obama administration will likely drop its Supreme Court petition challenging the release of photographs showing US soldiers abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan now that lawmakers are set to pass legislation authorizing the government to continue to keep the images under wraps.

On Thursday, the House approved a Department of Homeland Security spending bill that included a provision to amend the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and grant Defense Secretary Robert Gates the authority to withhold "protected documents" that, if released, would endanger the lives of US soldiers or government employees deployed outside of the country.

According to the bill, the phrase "protected documents" refers to photographs taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009, and involves "the treatment of individuals engaged, captured or detained" in the so-called "war on terror." Photographs that Gates determines would endanger troops and government employees could be withheld for three years.

The legislation now heads to the Senate for a vote, which is expected to take place as early as Thursday. Obama indicated he would swiftly sign the bill into law when it passes. [...]

Civil libertarians and advocates of open government, however, were sharply critical of lawmakers - and the Obama administration - for covering up what they said were serious crimes by allowing the provision, the Protected National Security Documents Act of 2009, to be included in the bill.

"It is disturbing that the House would pass legislation that so blatantly undermines the Freedom of Information Act," said Michael Macleod-Ball, acting director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office. "Authorizing the suppression of evidence of human rights abuses perpetrated by government personnel directly contradicts Congress's oversight obligations." [...]

The Obama administration indicated earlier this year it would abide by a court order and release at least 44 of the photographs in question, but President Obama backtracked, saying he had conferred with high-ranking military officials who advised him that releasing the images would stoke anti-American sentiment and would endanger the lives of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. [...]

According to the petition and other documents, the photographs at issue include one in which a female solider is pointing a broom at a detainee "as if [she were] sticking the end of a broomstick into [his] rectum."

Other photos are said to show US soldiers pointing guns at the heads of hooded and bound detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. [...]

Obama's decision to conceal the photos marks an about-face on the open-government policies that he proclaimed during his first days in office.

On January 21, Obama signed an executive order instructing all federal agencies and departments to "adopt a presumption in favor" of Freedom of Information Act requests, and promised to make the federal government more transparent.

"The government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears," Obama's order said. "In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public."

These photos are needed as evidence. Fayiz al-Kandari and his lawyer, Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, are not allowed access to photos that prove that Fayiz was tortured. So much for transparency and a just legal system.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-New York):

"I believe that we had turned a page from the cloud of suspicion and secrecy that marked the previous administration," Slaughter said. "It runs so counter to our principals and stated desire to reject the abuses of the past. The FOIA laws in this country form a pillar of our First Amendment principles."

Slaughter said in her floor statement that the provision to amend FOIA was stripped from an earlier version of the bill, but the language was quietly reinserted in recent weeks "apparently under direct orders from the administration."

"We should never do anything to circumvent FOIA, and I believe that our country would gain more by coming to terms with the past than we would by covering it up," Slaughter said. "I hope that the president will follow judicial rulings and consider voluntarily releasing these photos so we can put this chapter in history behind us."

There should be a provision, at the very least, that allows limited viewing of the photos.

*****
All my previous posts on this subject matter can be found here; That link includes audio and video interviews with Lt. Col. Wingard, one by David Shuster, one by Ana Marie Cox, and more. My guest commentary at BuzzFlash is here.

Lt. Col. Barry Wingard is a military attorney who represents Fayiz Al-Kandari in the Military Commission process and in no way represents the opinions of his home state. When not on active duty, Colonel Wingard is a public defender in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

If you are inclined to help rectify these injustices: Twitterers, use the hashtag #FreeFayiz. We have organized a team to get these stories out. If you are interested in helping Fayiz out, e-mail me at The Political Carnival, address in sidebar to the right; or tweet me at @GottaLaff.

If you'd like to see other ways you can take action, go here and scroll down to the end of the article.

Then read Jane Mayer's book The Dark Side. You'll have a much greater understanding of why I post endlessly about this, and why I'm all over the CIA deception issues, too.

More of Fayiz's story here, at Answers.com.

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