Monday, March 26, 2012

Secrecy and democracy

Democracy, in it's various incarnations, requires some level of citizen participation. Whether citizens are learning about an issue so as to show their support or not, or voting for a representative that will decide the issue themselves, a citizen needs some level of knowledge about the issue. It would be difficult to make a decision if we didn't have something like the press or if the gov't did let us know what it was doing. And it would obviously be difficult to hold representatives accountable and discourage corruption if we don't know what the gov't is doing. The Obama administration doesn't seem to care about these important aspects of democracy:

The ACLU is suing the Obama administration under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking to force disclosure of the guidelines used by Obama officials to select which human beings (both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals) will have their lives ended by the CIA’s drone attacks (“In particular,” the group explains, the FOIA request “seeks to find out when, where and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and how the United States ensures compliance with international laws relating to extrajudicial killing”). The Obama administration has not only refused to provide any of that information, but worse, the CIA is insisting to federal courts that it cannot even confirm or deny the existence of a drone program at all without seriously damaging national security; from the CIA’s brief in response to the ACLU lawsuit

Our gov't might be sending drones around the world to kill people and we can't officially know if they are doing so. We can't even ask a court to begin to question whether or not this is legal, not to mention the right thing to do. And it's not like this isn't an important issue. The core argument of the Obama administration is that it is so vitally important that it must be kept secret. I'm sorry, but that isn't how a democracy works. If something is that vitally important some base level of knowledge of it must be disclosed to citizens so that they can help judge the merits of it. Glenn does a good job of explaining why we need to know:

This is why the U.S. Government’s fixation on secrecy — worse than ever under the Obama administration, as evidenced by its unprecedented war on whistleblowers — is so pernicious. It not only enables government officials to operate in the dark, which inevitably ensures vast (though undiscovered) abuses of power. Worse, it enables the government to aggressively propagandize the citizenry without challenge: Obama officials are free to make all sorts of claims about how great and targeted the drone program is and how it Keeps Us Safe™, while simultaneously suppressing any official evidence or information that would test those claims and/or contradict them (even as some evidence suggests these assurances are false).

As Glenn points out, we do have some knowledge of what the Obama administration is doing. So some of what I was talking about in regards to the effects on democracy is a theoretical argument. But we don't know enough. And the fact that our gov't won't tell us officially speaks to what Glenn talks about. What they give us is more propaganda than anything. We need more in order to hold them accountable.

I know most people are focused on the economy and the ridiculous aspects of the GOP horserace to be the presidential nominee. And to be fair, we don't have a lot of info. But the fact that the Obama administration has largely gotten away with these types of things is shameful. The media gets some blame. But partisanship on the part of Democrats accounts for some. As does lack of partisanship on the part of Republicans. 99% of the time I will criticize Republicans for partisanship. But this is the one time I wish they would disagree with Obama simply because he is Obama. And Democrats have no reason to just trust that Obama will do the right thing. As democratic citizens we should never fall into that trap.

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