Monday, September 7, 2009


It comes as no surprise to many Americans that their government often operates in a clandestine fashion. If private information can be viewed as two ends of a spectrum – from reasonable discretion all the way over to full-on secrecy-- the U.S. government is trending toward the latter. Thanks largely to a savvier electorate that demands full information from its legislators and others in government, those secrets are revealing themselves now, albeit slowly. The citizens, coupled with an increasingly investigative mass media now know more than even a decade ago. If information is the new power in America, then here are some empowering reports of late:

• Some months ago in Greenberg Rants, we were happy to let you know the Huffington Post introduced something called its “Investigative Fund,” a non-profit, deep reporting unit that would use staffers and freelancers to dig into the important issues and report them. I had a good feeling about this group from the beginning and its recent revelation that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been keeping a secret validates my belief. It seems the EPA knew that atrazine, a powerful, commonly used herbicide has been found to exceed federal safety limits in drinking water in four states. Water customers have not been told and the EPA has not published the results, according to an August 24 Huffington Post report. To date, six states have sued Syngenta, the company that manufactures atrazine, for the cost of filtering the chemical out of their drinking water. While the EPA evidently does not consider the health hazard risk level high enough to ban the use of the chemical, individual states do. And it is significant that the European Union banned the use of atrazine anywhere in its 27 member nations, as far back as 2004. Watch this:

• Back in 2006, President George W. Bush acknowledged the existence of “black sites.” These were secret prisons operated by the CIA, where individuals identified as “unlawful enemy combatants” were held. He made this revelation only because the Washington Post had published a piece telling of the sites, written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Dana Priest. Now, the ACLU has uncovered a 2006 document that shows the Bush administration was seeking something akin to the Nuremberg defense for U.S. military and intelligence personnel who seized the individuals who ended up in these black sites. The Nuremberg Defense holds that one cannot be held responsible for acts committed if they were following orders. Had Bush been successful in this effort, neither commanding officers nor subordinate military personnel would have been held accountable for randomly nabbing and imprisoning possible terrorists. The Bush administration’s attempts to establish this defense flies in the face of the Geneva Conventions, which were clearly designed to ensure humanitarian treatment of prisoners of war and others during armed conflict.

Would U.S. citizens ever have known of the existence of black sites without Priest’s expose? Further, just this week, a Muslim convert named Al-Kidd got the go ahead from three U.S. Court of Appeals judges to sue former Attorney General John Ashcroft. Al-Kidd was a post-9/11 detainee who was eventually released, and whose life was turned upside down by the U.S. Government, even after his exoneration. Were it not for Al-Kidd’s persistence, and the good work of investigative journalists, would Ashcroft and other Bush administration officials never be held accountable for unlawful seizure of innocent citizens? Keep your eye on the Al-Kidd story. It could be the first of many such cases, as the government is said to have rounded up many Muslims who were later found to have nothing to do with terrorism.

• Last month, Stars & Stripes, the official publication for the U.S. Military, revealed that journalists about to be embedded with U.S. troops were being profiled by a public relations firm hired by the Pentagon. Reportedly, the firm was to determine if previous published works by the targeted journalists had portrayed the U.S. military in a positive light. Negative reports resulted in some journalists being denied access to fighting units. Only after Stars and Stripe issued its report did the Pentagon issue a statement saying it was reviewing the program. The $1.5 million contract with the Rendon Group was terminated seven days after the published article.

"As the senior U.S. communicator in Afghanistan, it was clear that the issue of Rendon’s support to US forces in Afghanistan had become a distraction from our main mission,” said Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, in an e-mail sent Sunday to Stars and Stripes. No mention was made of the U.S. tradition of freedom of the press; not a word was said about the First Amendment to the Constitution; and nothing was mentioned about the danger of manipulating information that is conveyed to the American people.

And, as was the case with the EPA’s withholding information about poison in water supplies, or the Bush administration’s wish to hold harmless all activity related to secret detentions, no one seems to discuss the government’s penchant for secrecy. When do national security concerns become overly-exaggerated in the interest of withholding vital information from you and me? At what point do governmental rights of confidentiality begin to interfere with American citizens’ rights to know the truth? Keep your eyes and ears open. You and I are the reasons this government exists, and recent claims of governmental “transparency” need to be honored.

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