The Obama administration has perfected the art of “selective transparency.” It releases documents when it serves their purposes and keeps them secret when it does not.
We’ve seen this happen time and time again. When the Obama administration wanted to undermine enhanced interrogation techniques, it selectively released certain top-secret Department of Defense memos that supported the administration’s agenda, while conveniently leaving out those documents supporting the effectiveness of the techniques. Judicial Watch was ultimately able to force the release of these records.
The Obama White House also makes a show of posting some of the Secret Service’s White House visitor log entries, while withholding thousands of others and opposing the logs’ full release in court.
But nowhere has this utter hypocrisy been more evident than in the Obama administration’s approach to the raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.
When the administration wanted to project an image of President Obama as a courageous Commander-in-Chief during an election season, they gave the filmmakers of the movie Zero Dark Thirty unprecedented access to classified details regarding the raid. But when JW sought to obtain photos and videos documenting the raid and burial of bin Laden on behalf of the American people, the Obama administration stonewalled.
Unfortunately, an appellate court endorsed this unprecedented secrecy earlier this week.
A ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed a U.S. District Court decision allowing the Defense Department and CIA to withhold 59 images from the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound and the terrorist mastermind’s burial at sea.
Here’s the statement I offered to the press in response:
The opinion is craven, absurd, and undermines the rule of law. The court seems to acknowledge that the images were improperly classified but gives the Obama administration a pass. The court’s interpretation would allow terrorists to dictate our laws. Americans’ fundamental right to access government information and, frankly, the First Amendment are implicated in this ruling.
As one of the judges on this panel suggested that the Benghazi attack was caused by an Internet video, this decision is perhaps unsurprising. The courts need to stop rubberstamping this administration’s improper secrecy. There is no provision of the Freedom of Information Act that allows documents to be kept secret because their release might offend our terrorist enemies. Our lawyers are considering our next legal steps.
The Appeals Court decision upheld an April 26, 2012, ruling by the District Court denying a FOIA request by JW seeking “all photographs and/or video recordings of Osama (Usama) bin Laden taken during and/or after the U.S. Military operation in Pakistan on or about May 1, 2011.”
To be clear: We did not seek any information that would compromise the national security of the country. Certainly no details even approaching those provided to the Zero Dark Thirty filmmakers. And yet, the Obama administration withheld the release of these images under the president’s bogus “spiking the football” doctrine, which claims any information that might offend terrorists must be kept secret.
Can you imagine the court endorsing such a policy? A policy that subjects our open records laws to the whims of radical Muslim terrorists?
While ruling against Judicial Watch, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg had conceded, “Indeed, it makes sense that the more significant an event is to our nation – and the end of bin Laden’s reign of terror certainly ranks high – the more need the public has for full disclosure.”
I couldn’t agree more, which is why the judge’s ruling – and the subsequent appellate court ruling – are an affront not only to Freedom of Information Act law but to the public’s right to know what the government is up to.