Monday, June 25, 2007

International Herald Tribune Editorial - White House of mirrors

International Herald Tribune Editorial - White House of mirrors
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: June 24, 2007

President George W. Bush has turned the executive branch into a two-way mirror. They get to see everything Americans do: our telephone calls, e-mail, and all manner of personal information. And we get to see nothing about what they do.

Everyone knows this administration has disdained openness and accountability since its first days. That is about the only thing it does not hide. But recent weeks have produced disturbing disclosures about just how far Bush's team is willing to go to keep lawmakers and the public in the dark.

That applies to big issues - like the CIA's secret prisons - and to things that would seem too small-bore to order up a cover-up.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush has tried to excuse his administration's obsession with secrecy by saying that dangerous times require greater discretion. He rammed the Patriot Act through Congress with a promise that national security agencies would make sure the new powers were not abused.

But on June 14, The Washington Post reported that the FBI potentially broke the law or its own rules several thousand times over the past five years when it used the Patriot Act to snoop on domestic phone calls, e-mail and financial transactions of ordinary people.

We knew that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was not protecting anybody's rights or America's reputation. It turns out that John Rizzo, the man charged with safeguarding the Constitution at the CIA, isn't either. Rizzo was nominated as general counsel more than a year ago. But the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts of Kansas, would not schedule even a pro forma confirmation hearing because the Democrats wanted documents that the CIA wanted to keep, well, secret.

Last week, the committee held that hearing under Democratic leadership, and Rizzo kept insisting that he shouldn't, couldn't, wouldn't give away any secrets. But he was still illuminating - in a scary way.

When he was asked his view of the administration's infamous decision to define torture so narrowly that it allowed widespread abuse of prisoners, he merely said the policy was "over-broad" for the circumstances, raising the troubling question of when he thinks it would not be over-broad to torture prisoners. Rizzo also refused to say whether the United States had ever sent a prisoner to another country knowing he would be tortured. He made it sound like he was safeguarding secrets, but we suspect the real reason was that the answer is yes.

Meanwhile, Rizzo, Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the rest of the administration are still stonewalling about the existence of CIA prisons. Earlier this month, the Council of Europe, a 46-nation human rights group, provided new, persuasive evidence of secret American prisons in Eastern Europe where prisoners were kept naked in cramped cells, subjected to hot or freezing blasts of air and subjected to water-boarding, or simulated drowning. American rights groups released a list of 39 men they say disappeared into secret prisons.

Incredibly, the lies and secrecy shrouding this administration are not enough for Rizzo. Sounding an awful lot like Bush and Cheney, he told the senators, "Far too many people know far too much."

Governments have to keep secrets. But this administration has grossly abused that trust, routinely using claims of national security to hide policies that are immoral and almost certainly illegal, to avoid embarrassment, and to pursue Bush's dreams of an imperial presidency.


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