A disturbing column in the Washington Post notes that President Bush has used national security as an excuse to change laws that would have declassified his Presidential papers after he had been out of office for 12 years. From the story:
in 2001 President Bush used post-Sept. 11 security measures as a reason to issue an executive order that turns the law on its head. Bush’s decree allows former presidents and their heirs to bar the release of documents for almost any reason. It flies in the face of congressional intent and forces our nation’s leading historians to take legal action if they want to gain access to documents.
What a wonderful way to respond to 9-11, by cloaking the executive in secrecy. While it might be fun to speculate about the things Bush might be trying to hide, I would prefer to know the truth. In our government we have the right to know how the nation is governed, and Bush seems to have decided that he is exempt from telling us.
Now, you might say that surely some leeway must be given. Well, some leeway was built into the existing law:
Congress passed the Presidential Records Act in 1978. The law was intended to ensure that after a period of no more than 12 years, presidential records, other than those dealing with existing national security matters and a few other exempted categories, would be made available to the public forever. Thus the law serves as the final check on indiscretion in office and the final basis for presidential accountability.
So, anything relating to national security could remain classified, and everything else could remain classified for 12 years. In Bush’s case, that’s the year 2020. What in heaven’s name could be so awful or amazing that the world would not be ready in 2020? If things keep on like this, we’ll never know. These documents allow everyone to learn from the successes and the failures of Presidents. But don’t take my word for it:
I was lucky enough to have had a chance a few years ago to ask former president Gerald Ford about the Presidential Records Act and was struck by his answer. “I firmly believe that after X period of time, presidential papers, except for the most highly sensitive documents involving our national security, should be made available to the public,” he said, “and the sooner the better.”
In short, Bush is trying to hide everything from everyone, like always, and in the end the people will lose. The faith-based President cannot get away with this. Let’s keep the pressure on Congress to rectify this silliness. Contact your representative, or your senator, or both.