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"I have friends from overseas.  After the release of the torture memos, what do I tell them?"

"I have young children.  With torture on the news night after night, what do I tell them?"

These are reasonable questions, and they've been asked in diaries and comments over the past 10 days here at DKos.  And they're a good place to conclude Morning Feature's four-day series on torture through the lens of American Exceptionalism.  The questions bring us back full circle to an inescapable conclusion: we Americans aren't exceptional enough that we should trust our government to act honorably in secret.

More below the fold....

American Exceptionalism - "What do I tell them?"

This week Morning Feature has looked at torture through the prism of American Exceptionalism.  Wednesday we explored how this supposed "city on a hill" was "founded on original sin," genocide against one race and the enslavement of another, both involving torture.  Thursday we looked at the culture of torture in the Philadelphia police department during the tenure of Mayor Frank Rizzo, and how the investigations there offer a better blueprint than the Nürnberg trials.  Yesterday we examined our history of torture by what I call the National Security Branch of the federal government, including CIA-funded psychiatric experiments in Canada, and our shameful involvement in Guatemala and El Salvador.

As the revelations of torture and its use to gin up support for the Iraq War continue to emerge, and the revelations will likely continue for months if not years to come, it's natural for Americans to ask questions like: "What do I tell my overseas friends?"  "What do I tell my children?"

It's natural for Americans because we've been raised to believe our nation is special, endowed with a unique moral authority such that we can lecture others on human rights.  It's right there on the base of the Statute of Liberty, in words written by Emma Lazarus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

French sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi originally intended Liberty Enlightens the World as an international monument to the principles of republicanism.  Lady Liberty has two sisters in Paris sculpted by Bartholdi himself, the first of which is the model from which the Ellis Island version was engineered.  As Paul Auster wrote in 2005, Emma Lazarus' poem changed Lady Liberty's meaning from an international symbol to one of American Exceptionalism.

Lady Liberty is indeed a special symbol, though her title may invert an important truth.  Rather than Liberty Enlightens the World, perhaps she should be called Enlightenment Liberates the World.  For as we've seen this week, without the enlightenment symbolized by her torch, liberty and democratic government quickly evaporate.

Enlightenment liberates our streets.

While practicing criminal defense law in the 1990s, I saw a noticeable decline in police abuses of power.  In a workshop on criminal forensics, Dr. Henry Lee argued it was because science was providing better tools to investigate crimes, so police had less need to rely on confessions.  To some extent that's true, but I suggest the larger reason was the widespread availability of video cameras.

The Rodney King beating was captured on video almost by accident, but within weeks enterprising citizen journalists were bringing out cameras anytime they saw the police making an arrest.  The response by many law enforcement agencies was to mount cameras on police cruisers and in interview rooms.  Those cameras serve several purposes.  They document evidence at a roadside stop or custodial interrogation, so the prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and jurors don't have to rely solely on the officers' and defendants' memories and testimony.  They provide academies with footage of actual encounters, some well and some poorly handled, to improve training.  The footage of well handled encounters has fueled a boon of police-friendly documentaries, from car chases to detailed accounts of homicide investigations.  The cameras also protect officers from false charges of abuse.

And they protect citizens.  One officer wrote that video cameras will save his profession:

If cops know that everything they do is being videotaped, then I have to believe they will check themselves in times of emotion like the Baltimore incident.

Now trust me that everything in police work has to do with money, and money first. So getting this equipment will not be easy. Bean counters would rather fire me than help me keep my job. Sad, indeed (and fiscally unwise as is cheaper to buy a video camera than replace a cop!)

Anyhow, I hope incidents like this one show the politicos that we need cameras NOW.

I saw how the widespread use of dashboard and interview room cameras changed police behavior in my area, and he's right.  Because abuses of power always thrive in secrecy.

The National Security Branch: a culture of secrecy.

Yesterday I suggested there has grown a fourth branch of government, what I call the National Security Branch, consisting mainly of the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and some other government and some non-government actors.

I waffle on whether to include the FBI in the National Security Branch.  They participate in national security investigations, but most FBI agents work on ordinary criminal cases.  The modern Bureau has a very different mindset from the era of J. Edgar Hoover and COINTELPRO.  Given case law like Brady v. Maryland, FBI agents' participation in criminal cases means every materially relevant action must be documented and disclosed to the defendant.  I suggest that routine requirement of documentation and disclosure is why FBI Special Agent Ali Soufan refused to participate in the torture of Abu Zubaydah, and why his superiors backed him in that decision.  If you're accustomed to everything you do becoming part of the public record, you're less likely to abuse power.

The culture of secrecy in the National Security Branch is hardly a new observation.  Daniel Ellsberg wrote about it in his 2002 memoir Secrets, a book that should be required reading in civics courses.  He eloquently described how secrets seduce those entrusted with them:

I shared the universal ethos of the executive branch, at least of my part of it: that for the Congress, the press, and the public to know what the president was doing for them, with our help, was at best unnecessary and irrelevant. At worst, it was an encouragement to uninformed (uncleared), short-sighted, and parochial individuals and institutions to intervene in matters that were too complicated for them to understand, and to muck them up. This sounds paternalistic to the point of being antidemocratic, and so it was. (And is: I doubt this has ever changed.) But we're talking foreign policy here, and national security matters, in which we didn't see that people without clearances had any really useful role to play in the nuclear cold war era.  It was in the national interest, as we saw it, simply to tell them whatever would best serve to free the president from their interference.[...]

Once I was inside the government, my awareness of how easily and pervasively Congress, the public, and journalists were fooled and misled contributed to a lack of respect for them and their potential contribution to better policy. That in turn made it easier to accept, to participate in, to keep quiet about practices of secrecy and deception that fooled them further and kept them ignorant of the real issues that were occupying and dividing inside policy makers. Their resulting ignorance made it all the more obvious that they must leave these problems to us.

Ellsberg was and is a very intelligent man, yet the rationale he bought into early in his career is startlingly absurd: we insiders keep secrets and lie; the Congress, the press, and the American people don't realize we're lying; thus they are too ignorant to have valid opinions on policy; thus we should keep secrets and lie.

To his credit, Ellsberg came to recognize that absurdity, and for that reason in 1971 he leaked the so-called Pentagon Papers.  Ellsberg met Henry Kissinger years later, and Kissinger rebuked him for the "damage" the leaks had done.  When Ellsberg offered a defense, Kissinger merely shook his head and said, "You don't know.  You don't have the clearances."  Kissinger had long since been seduced by the culture of secrecy.

Enlightenment liberates the world.

The abuses of power by the National Security Branch, from assassinations to coups d'etat to torture, rely on that culture of secrecy.  To curb those abuses, we must curb the secrecy that enables them.  Obviously there are some secrets a government must keep, at least for some time.  The oft-quoted World War II slogan "Loose lips sink ships" has merit in terms of troop movements in time of war.  Most of us were rightly outraged by the exposure of CIA covert operative Valerie Plame, because even if Ms. Plame was safely back in the U.S., her outing also threatened sources with whom she had worked during her overseas operations.

But secrets have a short shelf life.  The Intelligence Identities Protection Act recognizes that, and is limited to intelligence officers who have served overseas within the past five years.  (The five-year limit does not apply to non-citizen assets and informants.)  Most secrets lose their operational value within a few years, and often only a few months, weeks, or even days.  Yet the National Security Branch routinely keeps secrets for decades, as Ellsberg noted.

Apart from the engineering details of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons and a handful of other similar exceptions, keeping secrets for decades serves only one purpose: to keep the American people in the dark as to what the National Security Branch are doing.  Our "enemies" usually know long before we do, and indeed our media routinely trot out an expert to deny charges that are later revealed to be true.  Revealed to us, that is.  Those at the pointy end of that spear - those whose lives were being destroyed - already knew.

Presently the rules for classification and declassification of documents are written by executive order.  While I trust that President Obama will revisit the rules written by the Bush administration, the larger issue is that I don't trust the presidency to be the guardian of those rules at all.  Congress should pass legislation mandating periodic downgrading of classification, leading to full declassification and full disclosure after 10 years, unless an agency can prove a national security or citizen privacy basis to keep the information classified.  The burden of proof should rest with the agency seeking continued classification.

Note: I say citizen privacy because often the government gathers evidence on persons of interest in the course of a legitimate investigation, and the evidence shows they had no role in the events under investigation.  Their lives have already been overturned once, and I see no public interest served by doing so again in releasing the details of what turned out to be a blind lead.

Similarly, Congress should pass legislation mandating full documentation of meetings involving the President, Vice President, or any Cabinet-level member of the administration - in the White House or in any other setting - and those documents should be released 10 years after the end of that president's last term of office.  Again, there should be exceptions if the White House or other agency can prove a national security or citizen privacy basis to withhold the information, and again the burden of proof should rest with the persons seeking to withhold the information.

I believe this mandatory disclosure would have the same effect as have police dashboard and interview room cameras: when you know your actions will be made public, you are far less likely to abuse power.  Ten years is ample time to keep almost any secret.

After that, let enlightenment liberate the world.

What you can do:

Some have expressed a concern that this series, and some other diaries on the issue of torture, have not offered positive steps that you can take to help end the abuse of power.  Some diaries have already provided links by which you can contact the President and your elected leaders in the House and Senate.  I support doing so.  In addition, however, I'd ask you to consider donating to those who work in the front line against abuses of power in the United States and around the world:

The American Civil Liberties Union does tireless work in protecting our Bill of Rights from abuses at all levels of government.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is an impartial, neutral and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence and to provide them with assistance.

Amnesty International has long been a world leader in investigating and documenting human rights abuses, and a tireless advocate for those who suffer those abuses.

Legal Aid Societies in almost every state and city provide legal assistance for those in need.

Every act of kindness is an act against oppression.  Do something.  If we can do that, we won't have to wonder what to tell our friends overseas, or our children.  We can tell them that we were true to our most revered ideals, and that we took action to help form "a more perfect Union."


A Closing Note:  This has been a difficult series to write, and I'm sure for many it's been a difficult series to read.  I want to thank all of you who have read, and especially all who commented, for your support and for your having made this a civil and constructive dialogue.  It is my privilege to share these dialogues with you, and this week especially your support and encouragement have meant more than I can say with mere words.  Thank you.

Originally posted to NCrissieB on Sat Apr 25, 2009 at 04:31 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips for knowing, and taking action. :) (45+ / 0-)

    Please do whatever you can to help those who suffer from abuses of power.

    As always, ::smooooooooooochies:: to Kula, wherever she is, and ::huggggggggggggggs:: to the Kula Krew!

  •  Good morning! (11+ / 0-)

    A couple notes:

    1. Thanks for showing that not all lawyers are ... well, the way lawyers are portrayed in jokes.  I'm not a lawyer, but I have lots of lawyers in my family, and only one is a jerk.  :-)  Lots of lawyer friends, too.
    1. I will do Tuesday MF: "What is math?"
    1. If you'd like, I can do yet another MF on "The Monty Hall problem".  Oxford Univ. Press sends me books sometimes, and they just sent me one on this topic.  I could do a MF on it sometime.
    1. Thanks for listing thing we can do.

    They tortured innocent people to get false confessions to justify a war in Iraq, bolster Bush's popularity and help Halliburton

    by plf515 on Sat Apr 25, 2009 at 04:40:16 AM PDT

    •  Good morning, Peter. :) (8+ / 0-)

      We had a joke in law school: "99% of lawyers give the rest a bad name."  We laughed about it, but in the way you laugh at something that's cute and funny and not true.  Most of the lawyers I've known are deeply committed to the institution of law.  Many, like me, were so deeply committed that we burned out after only a few years' practice.

      As for next week, I'm looking forward to your What Is Math guest lecture Tuesday.  Our Professor of Psycholegalese, kktlaw, will present her lecture How Intelligent Are We, and How Are We Intelligent on Wednesday.  elropsych, for whom we need a pithy faculty title, will present a guest lecture on priming and terror management theory on May 5th.  If you'd like to do something on the 6th, I think Chef can arrange to have refreshments ready in the dining hall afterward.

      Good morning! ::huggggggggggggs::

      •  I think I can do the 6th (6+ / 0-)

        but I'll have to leave around 10:30 Eastern to work

        They tortured innocent people to get false confessions to justify a war in Iraq, bolster Bush's popularity and help Halliburton

        by plf515 on Sat Apr 25, 2009 at 05:08:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Yay, Refreshments! (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Orinoco, NCrissieB, kktlaw

        Dining hall? And I was headed to the wine cellar! Oops!

        I tried a couple of things on my AP Psych students this week in doing research for the May 5th guest lecture, and at least one of them actually worked! As a result, I promise something a little unorthodox (as if that would be out-of-place at BPI!), somewhere in the middle of that presentation.

        If it hadn't worked on my students I probably wouldn't have bothered trying it here, but, hey, they're all recovering nicely and no one has filed any lawsuits, so, I'm looking forward to trying it again!

        As for that other thing, if it isn't too cheeky to suggest my own pithy faculty title, given the topic of my next lecture, how 'bout

        Adjunctivitis Professor of Eduprimatology


        If a leader wants you to fear something, chances are they have their best interest in mind, not yours.

        by elropsych on Sat Apr 25, 2009 at 07:18:36 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  About too many difficult issues... (10+ / 0-)

    ...parents don't tell their children anything.

    I have young children.  With torture on the news night after night, what do I tell them?

    And their silence allows ignorance to flourish.

    •  I agree. (8+ / 0-)

      I think it's important to give age-appropriate answers, but mere silence in the face of so much history of abuse is not an option.  We need to be truer to our ideals, and we cannot be that if we don't recognize the many ways we've failed and continue to fail.

      Good morning! ::hugggggggggggggs::

      •  That's the crux of the matter: (9+ / 0-)

        to give age-appropriate answers

        It applies to a number of issues. I want my daughter to be grateful for having a relatively (in the global scheme of things) privileged life. I want her to appreciate that others fought for her standard of living, and I want her to be sympathetic with those who doN#t have it that good.

        As a kid, I used to hear a lot about starving children in the developing world, but there's a risk of scaring the kids, or numbing them towards the grief.

        I'm not a practicing christian, but I've always thought that saying grace before meals is a beautiful way to instill a sense of gratitude in a kid. They'll realize later that Jesus didn't come personally to deliver the maccaroni...

        Good Morning everyone!

        "Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. (...) Labor is superior to capital, and deserves much the higher consideration." Abraham Lincoln

        by aufklaerer on Sat Apr 25, 2009 at 05:50:11 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  With my kids, we say, (7+ / 0-)

          "Thank you Mother Nature and to all others who helped  bring this food to our table for our good health."

          •  That's a beautiful grace. I think we'll adopt it. (5+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Orinoco, DBunn, NCrissieB, kktlaw, FarWestGirl

            And good morning hugs to you, ma'am!

            One of the other things we do is talk about how we have everything we really need, though certainly not everything we could use, and how rare that is in this world. They know that their father and their grandparents often went to bed hungry, and how their father's family was on foodstamps while his mother struggled. And they know how that assistance helped her--and her children--succeed.

            More importantly, they know how their relative comfort imparts a responsibility to take care of others who need it, as their father was taken care of. My kids will tell you why we pay taxes, and why that's not a bad thing. :-\ And they're engaged in our donations to our local food bank. (linked in case anyone wants to give to them.) In fact, I have to go get showered up and all because we're heading over to help out with a food drive in about an hour.

        •  We can be truthful and still age-appropriate. (7+ / 0-)

          "Yes, our country has done some bad things.  That happens when we're not careful what leaders we choose and when we let them keep secrets from us.  But a lot of us are working to try to fix that now."

          That's an adequate explanation for a young child, on the issue of torture.  They needn't hear all the gory details of the present or the past, but neither should we feel reluctant to admit that our country has made mistakes.  The notion that they should only hear good things about America until they're - I dunno, retired? dead? - seems a bit stupid to me, but I've heard it cited in criticisms of college course work.  As if 18- to 22-year-olds are still far too delicate to hear the truth....

          Good morning! ::hugggggggggs::

    •  I want my children to know, but... (8+ / 0-)

      I want them to learn about their government's torture policies in their proper context, preferably after the matter has been adjudicated. The last thing they need to worry about is the mistaken rantings of bloggers, myself included.

      I know the special interests and lobbyists are gearing up for a fight as we speak.
      My message to them is this: So am I -- President Barack Obama

      by Jimdotz on Sat Apr 25, 2009 at 04:51:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  There's lots of history we can and should teach. (8+ / 0-)

        Regardless of what's happening right now, we can and should teach our children a truer history of our nation.  That means acknowledging our failures, as well as celebrating our successes.

        Good morning! ::hugggggggggs::

        •  Our children should learn that their Constitution (6+ / 0-)

          was written, in part, to accommodate slaveholders, but that should not be the first lesson. The first lesson should be that it establishes their government and that it is a rare and wonderful document.

          The rest can, and should, come later.

          I know the special interests and lobbyists are gearing up for a fight as we speak.
          My message to them is this: So am I -- President Barack Obama

          by Jimdotz on Sat Apr 25, 2009 at 05:01:29 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  What to tell the children? Leadership (6+ / 0-)

          opportunity is what comes to mind.  Having lived through many administrations and the various styles of leadership principles, the theory of "Shit Runs Downhill" becomes obvious.  Harry S. Truman lived on the principle that "The Buck Stops Here."  Ike provided and Mr. Clean image and Reagan gave us an adoring Nancy with the gaze.  It was only with George H.W. Bush, aside from Nixon that is, that we began to see what a lack of leadership leads to.  

          I don't think it's necessarily only that with the availability of videos that are protecting and at the same time, keeping police officers clean.  The Shrub's boorish Bring 'em on mentality has run like shit down hill and has allowed corruption and cruelty to rear its ugly head. Cheating has become fashionable.  

          Obama aims high like the young Native American boys who laid on their backs and practiced shooting their arrows up into the sky and came down precisely on the top of the hill at which they aimed.  

    •  About this, Maurice Sendak has a lot to say... (6+ / 0-)

      I spent a day at Kent State as student guide/host to Maurice Sendak (Where The Wild Things Are, etc...) before he gave a guest lecture at 8pm. He instructed me to keep the adults at bay, and was very strict about no autographs through the day or at/after the event.

      One could say he had a rather abrasive attitude when it came to dealing with adults.

      He claimed this was because most adults misunderstood his work while children grasped it intuitively and immediately. (He didn't use those exact words, but that's what I took away from our conversation, and the lecture later that night.) Adults almost never speak honestly to children from a misplaced assumption that they can't understand or are two fragile to handle unpleasant and fearsome truths. He despised those traits in adults and used his art to speak the truth of life as he knew it directly to children to work against the communications they receive(d) from most adults. He respected childrens natural resilience, flexibility, honesty, and curiosity more than anyone I think I've ever met.

      He was a fascinating man. I'll never forget that day.

      In that position I also had lunch with Edward James Olmos and met a couple of others with whom I was able to have direct discussions with, but these two really, really stand out in my mind.

      If a leader wants you to fear something, chances are they have their best interest in mind, not yours.

      by elropsych on Sat Apr 25, 2009 at 06:49:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  It depends on their age, I think. What would (8+ / 0-)

      you suggest telling a 1st-grader or a preschooler? (Not a snarky question--I'd love advice)

      I've been dodging the torture issue, other than to say that what the government did was just wrong when it comes on the evening news. And then turning off the tv. We don't watch anything other than 1/2 an hour of news during the week, anyway, so it's not too surprising to the kids when it flicks off.

      We talk about other things that are difficult--hunger in the world and here in the States, civil rights, prejudice and hate, religion, etc. But I'm just not ready for my young kids to know more than, "It's wrong." I don't think they need the details.

      •  I'm 61 and it's been a lot of years... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Orinoco, elropsych, NCrissieB, kktlaw

        ...since my daughter turns 40 this year.  But I would probably start by talking to my child about the treatment of animals and how some people mistreat them and how that's not a good thing to do.

        And then move on to people.

        •  My .02 (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DBunn, NCrissieB

          Ask the children about specific things - is it right or wrong (insert bad thing).  Of course they will know it is wrong to hurt people and puppies - it seems to me children have an inborn knowledge of justice/injustice.

          Then tell them how smart they are and that some grown-ups have never learned as much as they know - so now they need to be taught!  Optional:  there is room to feel sorry for people who never learned...

      •  I'd wait for them to ask (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        When they're ready for an answer, they'll ask for it. Certainly, I would never push a topic like this on them. When they're little, they have other things to work on. The values they'll need later to understand adult problems of citizenship, they are learning at the manageable but still quite challenging scale of their child's world. They don't need to know how large the horrors can grow to be in the wide world, in fact it can be counter-productive to get into that stuff before they're ready for it.

        I've never seen the value of TV news shows, so my son wasn't exposed to it in my home when he was young. I don't think the lack of it stunted his growth much-- he just spent the last year in a paid position with the Obama campaign. Alright, it was a lower level position, but Dad is still ridiculously proud!

  •  One way we're different from SOME countries (14+ / 0-)

    is that writing this diary won't land you in jail.

    Of course, that doesn't make us unique.

    Another way we're different from SOME countries is that we don't have a state religion.  

    Of course, that doesn't make us unique.

    We are unique in at least one way:

     We have the most powerful military.

    Which brings to mind one of my favorite quotes, from long ago, when Pompey said

     Stop quoting laws to us.  We have swords

    They tortured innocent people to get false confessions to justify a war in Iraq, bolster Bush's popularity and help Halliburton

    by plf515 on Sat Apr 25, 2009 at 04:49:06 AM PDT

  •  All laws should expire in 10 years... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Orinoco, LI Mike, NCrissieB, FarWestGirl

    even the good ones, so that their wisdom may be reviewed from time to time, and the whimsical ones can be eliminated without a deliberate act of Congress.

    For example, the laws regarding the "War on Drugs" have often been taken to excess due to political expedience. Repealing the excessive ones has proven impossible to date because any politician who advocates their relaxation is branded weak on the war on drugs.

    I know the special interests and lobbyists are gearing up for a fight as we speak.
    My message to them is this: So am I -- President Barack Obama

    by Jimdotz on Sat Apr 25, 2009 at 04:57:45 AM PDT

  •  Amnesty International is a wonderful group (10+ / 0-)

    I've been involved with for 16 years. The president of that group was a guest lecturer when I was working on my Certificate in International Law in Cambridge, England. They have outreach programs anyone can get involved in anywhere in the world, including speaking on their topics at the local level. I spoke once to a tough O.C. crowd of lawyers. A.I. gives you an outline of the current topic for the month. My speech really changed minds and hearts here. A.I. is an amazing group of loving, pro-active, inclusive leaders. Good Morning to all and Huuuuuugs!

  •  During the transition (8+ / 0-)

    When GWB & Laura welcomed the Obamas to the White House, Mr. CDH & I shared a cynical chuckle over the thought that GWB was about to take Barack to the Oval Office for the customary transition speech entitled "OK, So Here's What You've REALLY Gotten Yourself Into".

    The subject of state secrets is a tricky one, but I generally agree with your analysis and wholeheartedly agree with the concept of "Enlightenment Liberates the World" -- well done!

    Having commented in this diary, I'm now going to destroy my hard drive and change my identity and otherwise enjoy a beautiful day in Brooklyn.



  •  I have never understood (6+ / 0-)

    why we need so many different intel/security groups.  Perhaps we need the numbers of people/agents who actually do the work, but why do we need more than a dozen separate agencies?  Couldn't a streamlined agency with one head and various specialties do a more streamlined and effective job?  

    I'm sure that I oversimplify, but it seems wasteful of resources to have so many deputy assistant associate undersecretaries of krap sitting behind desks, protecting turf, when we could have one agency with one set of bureaucrats that could actually figure out what the h*ll is going on in the world. It's amazing to me that they ever get anything right the way it's set up now.

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Sat Apr 25, 2009 at 05:29:55 AM PDT

  •  Out of curiosity I (9+ / 0-)

    checked Wiki on the history of scandals in the US .  The list is broken down by presidential terms into three catagories; Executive, Legislativce and Judicial Branches.  What an eye opener and the " 'W' for Waterboarding" era is just beginning.

    The page begins with this:

    Merriam-Webster defines scandal as "loss of or damage to reputation caused by actual or apparent violation of morality or propriety." How the public perceives a supposed scandal is often driven by media coverage.

    Media accountablity is a MUST.  Far too long ago we lost true reporters reporting the news to commentators spinning the news for the finanical/political benefit of their owners.  Until the time of fact based reporting returns - if it ever does - the question "What do we tell our children"  becomes a lot more complicated and difficult.

    Thank you for this remarkable series Crissie and the links you provided for assisting those on the front lines fighting abuses of power worldwide.  Huuuugggs to you and the krew.

    As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. -John F. Kennedy

    by JaxDem on Sat Apr 25, 2009 at 05:34:42 AM PDT

    •  We have to be part of the media. (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Orinoco, JaxDem, maryabein, kktlaw, FarWestGirl

      We can't rely on the media to spoon-feed us all of the information we need.  We Americans need to be more assertive and involved, both in monitoring our government and in supporting agencies like those I linked, who do a far better job of investigating the abuses of power than our media.

      Good morning! ::huggggggggggs::

  •  Buffalo Girl posted a great diary (7+ / 0-)

    about this on 11/22/05:

    Super Top Secret Clearance makes you a moron, also quoting Ellsberg:

    "You've been a consultant for a long time and you've dealth with a great deal of top secret information. But you're about to receive a whole slew of special clearances, maybe fifteen or twenty of them, that are higher than top secret....I have a pretty good sense of what the effects of receiving these clearances are on a person who didn't previously know they even existed. And the effects of reading the information that they will make available to you.

    "First you'll be exhilarated by some of this new information, and by having it all - so much! incredible! - suddenly available to you. But second, almost as fast, you will feel like a fool for having studied, written, talked about these subjects, criticized and analyzed decisions made by presidents for years without having known of the existence of all this information...You will feel like a fool, and that will last for about two weeks. Then, after you've started reading all this daily intelligence input and become used to using what amounts to whole libraries of hidden information, which is much more closely held than mere top secret data, you will forget there ever was a time when you didn't have it, and you'll be aware only of the fact that you have it now and most others don't...and that all those other people are fools...

    •  What is being held 'secret' isn't all that hard (6+ / 0-)

      to figure out.  Who is having a 'Southern' problem under the surmise that someone is always having a Southern problem (a Truism.)  Who is planning to do what to whom?  What whom is planning to do to who as a result of who doing something to whom? And what we will do about who doing something to whom?  It's only the details that get sticky.

      •  Ironically most of that stuff ... (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Orinoco, JFinNe, JaxDem, kktlaw, FarWestGirl

        ... they don't do particularly well anyway.  Our intel agencies have a horrible track record in terms of knowing when other governments are facing real challenges ... unless those intel agencies are in fact instigating those challenges.  They didn't predict the 1979 revolution in Iran, or the fall of the Soviet Empire a decade later, or ... well ... I could go on with a very, very long list of things they didn't predict worth a damn....

    •  I was looking for that passage this morning. (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Halcyon, Orinoco, JaxDem, kktlaw, FarWestGirl

      It's also from Secrets, but I couldn't find it this morning as I was putting the diary together.  It dovetails with the seductive nature of secrecy, and helps to explain why the so-called Gang of Four (members of the House and Senate given extra super double decoder ring special intelligence briefings) tend to "overlook" more than "oversee."

      Good morning! ::huggggggggggs::

  •  I see no reason to hold docs for ten years. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JaxDem, NCrissieB, kktlaw, FarWestGirl

    If you're accustomed to everything you do becoming part of the public record, you're less likely to abuse power.

    I've struggled with the idea of necessary secrets for a long time, but this provides a context. Actions should be available for examination. Motives may be kept secret.

    I think we have become desensitized to the automatic classification of our elected politician's actions in recent years. In the Bush administration, everything occurred behind closed doors, except for carefully managed PR operations. Before that, it was still routine for actors on the national stage to keep secret their activities, partly because, despite the legal fiction that the fund raising they did was okay, they all knew it was thinly disguised bribery that would not pass the smell test if people knew about it, and partly because of the Kissinger effect: I'm in the know and you're not, so I have status and you don't.

    We need a bureaucratic mindset of open doors, not closed doors. When actions take place, hiding those actions should be rare and justified before an independent party. One of the supposed benefits of a two party political system is that the loyal opposition will publicize your gaffes, making you think things through so as to commit fewer gaffes.  

    Perhaps some sort of checks and balances in the classification system? If the executive wants to classify some action, they must get concurrence from a legislative committee, or a judge? If a congresscritter wants to keep a secret, they must submit it to an executive agency for vetting and approval? Looks like a bureaucratic nightmare, no? But that's only because so much material is classified. If the default was openness, there would be very little for these committees to do.

    ::hugggggggggggss:: and good morning to the Kula Krew!

    "You can't get something for nothing...It's time to stop being stupid." Bob Herbert

    by Orinoco on Sat Apr 25, 2009 at 06:02:18 AM PDT

    •  I offered a 10-year limit for two reasons. (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Gustogirl, Orinoco, Shuruq, kktlaw, FarWestGirl

      First, it's long enough that the real national security implications of any classified information should have passed.  Wars are likely have ended, as will have delicate diplomatic negotiations and other such exchanges where everything going public could cause some real difficulties for us and those with whom we're working.

      Second, that typically places it in the middle of the term of the president-after-next, which is about as politically neutered a time as I could determine.  The release of these documents should not be a matter of political retribution, but historical accuracy and transparency.  Making sure the document release is not likely to come at a highly-politically-charged moment ought to help with that.

      Good morning! ::huggggggggggs::

      •  But the cop keeps his cool (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Gustogirl, NCrissieB

        and follows his training rather than his impulses because he knows those video tapes will be reviewed by someone as soon as he gets back to the station house, and if the defendant goes to court, they will then be reviewed shortly thereafter by someone on the other side: the defendant's lawyer.

        Openness should prevent abuse by creating the likelihood of an immediate political shit storm if someone abuses power. The likelihood of criminal charges or political retribution, primary challenges or recalls or impeachments.

        Wasn't it Ashcroft who said, "History will not treat us kindly" when he learned of some of the abuse of power in the illegal wiretapping scandal? No one cared. In the heat of the moment, it was more important for the criminal Bush crowd to find out secrets about their enemies than to retain a good reputation for the history books.

        I think the default should be open release of documents. It should be very hard to classify, and part of that classification procedure could be a schedule for review of the classification, based on the actual situation.

        Tactical information gets stale very quickly. Strategic information, well, I'd argue there is a good case for making strategic information highly public. Nuclear weapons are not much of a deterrent if no one knows you have them, for example. Allies and adversaries shouldn't be kept in the dark about our national interests. In fact, we shouldn't be kept in the dark about what our elected representatives consider our national interest, just in case we might not agree with them.

        "You can't get something for nothing...It's time to stop being stupid." Bob Herbert

        by Orinoco on Sat Apr 25, 2009 at 08:25:31 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Don't remember now who proposed it, but (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Orinoco, NCrissieB, kktlaw

      someone a number of years ago suggested that charging a per page rate for keeping things secret would give incentive to declassify because it affected the agency's budget. Wouldn't that be a b*$%h to get implemented? I can hear the outraged squalling at the mere thought. But I bet it'd work.

      Good morning! :::Huuugggsss:::

      Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

      by FarWestGirl on Sat Apr 25, 2009 at 07:26:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Cheney invented new pseudo-classifications (5+ / 0-)

    for his OVP documents, among them "Treat as Secret". As Barton Gellman, author of Angler said: "What archivist is going to look at this stamp and just throw it into the open pile?"

    Henry Waxman cottoned onto this and wrote a letter to Representative Christopher Shays in his capacity as chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations of the Committee on Government Reform on MArch 1, 2005, describing and questioning the use of several of these classifications, which led me to post my first diary. The Waxman letter is here [pdf]. Here are some of Cheney's pseudo-classifications:

    Sensitive but unclassified

    contains sensitive information, which may be protected from public release under the Freedom of Information Act

    Treat as Secret

    Rep. Waxman's letter describes how falsehoods were released by the Bush administration, and the documents which belied the falsehoods, though containing information that was not classified, were nevertheless given pseudo-classifications in order to conceal the truth from the American people, in order to enable the effectiveness of the propaganda.

    •  My favorite: DBR (5+ / 0-)

      That is, Destroy Before Reading.  Which, but for his horrific actions, would apply to pretty much everything Cheney's ever said.

      The layers and levels of secrecy are positively arcane.  In theory there are only three: Confidential (routine sensitive), Secret (medium sensitive), and Top Secret (most sensitive).  In practice that barely scratches the surface, with additional layers and levels like "Eyes Only," "ExDis" (executive-only distribution), "NoDis" (no distribution), and too many others to mention.  The pathetic part is that if it isn't "classified enough," people treat it as if it must not be important enough to bother reading, so they keep adding on extra layers to get attention.

      Good morning! ::hugggggggggggs::

    •  I've often wondered (5+ / 0-)

      if we've ever had an elected leader who believed less in democracy than Cheney. There's part of me that wonders just what the word means to him.

  •  This has been a fantastic series! (9+ / 0-)

    And I'm so glad you finished it off with some concrete things we can do to help make sure this doesn't happen AGAIN.

    As I read this, I thought of Molly Ivins and how much I'm sure, wherever she is, she appreciates what you're doing.

    Every time someone down the line is irreverent about authority, I'll have my monument. Every time some kid who was born a nigger, a kike, a wop, a Polack, a gook, a gimp, a fag, or just a plain maverick lifts up her head and dares anyone to stop her, I'll have my monument. Every time they peaceably assemble to petition their government for redress of a grievance, I'll be there. Whenever they worship as they please (or not at all), I'll be there. Whenever they speak up and speak out and raise hell, I'll be there. And every time some blue-bellied, full-blooded nincompoop who holds elected office is called to the floor for deciding to keep us safe by rewriting the Constitution, or by suspending due process and holding a citizen indefinitely without legal representation, I'll be there. Now that is immortality. I don't have any children, so I've decided to claim all the future freedom-fighters and hell-raisers as my kin. I figure freedom and justice beat having my name in marble any day. Besides, if there is another life after this one, think how much we'll get to laugh watching it all.

    from a letter Molly Ivins wrote for the ACLU

    •  I so miss Molly Ivins. (7+ / 0-)

      She was one of America's great hell-raisin' journalists, of the sort we have far too few of nowadays.  If this week's series makes me part of her kin, I'll accept that with profound gratitude.

      Good morning! ::hugggggggggs::

      •  I'm not big on celebrity, but Molly's one I (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Orinoco, JaxDem, NCrissieB, kktlaw

        would have loved to have met. I so admired her strength and ability to keep her sense of humor because I get so discouraged and disgusted, I don't know how she did it. I imagine her up there on high, laughing and havin' a beer and pissin' down on Shrub's head. It comforts me.

        Been a tough week, Crissie, thanks for hanging in there and taking it head on. You rock.

        Good morning! ::::Huuugggssss:::

        PS, Dear Ms Crissie, Why is the sky green? Have I been in the library too long?

        Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

        by FarWestGirl on Sat Apr 25, 2009 at 07:46:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Eeek ... when the sky turns green here.... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          It usually means something very scary indeed.  But if you've been in the wine cellar library that long, it may be green for entirely other reasons.... ;)

          Thanks for the kind words! ::hugggggggggggggggs::

    •  "life after" right here: quoting Molly@MF (5+ / 0-)

      NCrissieB is cut from the same cloth or steel or both together, as in the fabric they purportedly cut POTUS BHO's inauguration day suit from.

      Being in a more fumble-headed state than usual this morning, I will limit my remarks to thanking our MF host and hug honcho (which is a Japanese word, c. 1955, who would have thunk it? and thunk 10 years after WW II we would have naturalized a word from Japanese for squad leader) for the experience of reading and reading the comments as part of this series.

      I was going to suggest we create the Molly Ivins Award to honor both steel cut cloth ladies, but have learned that there is such a one, which leaves fumble headed one to suggest our creating a MF equivalent. I am game for forming a committee to consider who/what for/etc., on one condition.
      that said Kommittee konsider that it be kondiitonal on our getting the sponsorship of the letter K.

      In recognition of Molly Ivins' hard-hitting investigations as co-editor of The Texas Observer from 1970 to 1976, as well as her subsequent work as a no-holds-barred syndicated columnist, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies ( announced today that it will name an annual First Amendment Award in her honor," stated an ANN press release sent to RAW STORY. "The award, which will be bestowed every year at the association's annual convention, will be given to a North American journalist whose work best embodies the spirit of Ivins' legacy.

      Alternative newsweeklies association names 'First Amendment Award' after late Molly Ivins.

      •  Yeah, ve must klear everything vith the letter K. (0+ / 0-)

        Vhich is inkonvenient, as K is on vakation vith V, vhich divorced its other half of W over disgust of its inclusion in a president's identifying initial.  Ve heard they pakked for Germany and hope to take in Oktoberfest.  So it may be a vhile....

        Thank you for the kind vords! ::hugggggggggggs::

  •  Damned fine work, MsChrissieMa'am! (5+ / 0-)

    And a damned fine read. I sure do appreciate your effort!  Abuse of power absolutely galls me, which motivates me to push back against it.

    If you run across any citizen-slacker types who want war but who are conveniently hiding from the consequences, feel free to refer 'em to Hound Dog's boot camp rehab program!  ; - )

    Support our troops - Bring them home

    by Hound Dog on Sat Apr 25, 2009 at 06:24:53 AM PDT

    •  That was a great diary, Hound Dog. :) (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Hound Dog

      Somehow I don't see the citizen-slackers lining up to enlist or recommend it to anyone they know.  Their engagement seems to be on a part with that of Pat Buchanan's claim that all Americans should be proud of our performance against the Soviet Olympic hockey team in 1980.  I don't know about you, but as I didn't play on the U.S. Olympic hockey team ... I don't see myself as having much to feel proud about there.  Happy at the result, thrilled for the players who worked so hard, but proud?  Eh ... that's for the people who actually did something.

      Thank you for the kind words! ::huggggggggs::

  •  Morning hugs, Crissie! This has been a (8+ / 0-)

    very insightful week, and today is no exception. I've really missed only being able to get to DKos in the evenings. This is my favorite spot, and it pains me to miss the company every day.

    This must have been tough to write, as it's been hard to read. I face both of your opening questions frequently, with having lived much of my adult life overseas and having three small inquisitive humans in the house. With the kids, I turn off the news. Yes, that's cowardly, but I'm not ready to tell a pair of 1st graders and a little one who's not yet in pre-K about torture. With my overseas friends, they know where I stand, and they get some variant of what I've written before:

    I have no sympathy--none--for those who sought to do my countrymen such great harm. But that doesn't justify America's resorting to torture. I love my country and am proud of it. I served it for years--and uprooted my family and dragged them around behind me as I did so. And I cannot stand the fact that people at the highest levels of our government gave in to their fears and had things done in our name that violate everything I treasure about my country.

    My belief that this was deeply detrimental to our moral standing in the world--and thus our national security--is a totally different issue. I also think torture is ineffective as a way to get truthful information. But even if both of those beliefs are totally incorrect, it doesn't change my conviction that torture is wrong or my disgust that it was done in the name of my beloved country.

    •  Excellent response. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      And speaking of ... someday I'd love to hear more about your history of service.  You've dropped a few oblique hints (e.g.: your luggage being included in the diplomatic pouch) but only enough to make me even more curious.  I'm sure you can't tell all of it for reasons of preserving your anonymity, but I must say ... I'm very curious. :)

      Thank you for the kind words! ::huggggggggs::

      •  It wasn't in the diplomatic pouch--it was our (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        air freight. You don't have to pay any kind of customs duties when you're shipping your household effects as part of your official government relocation. The problem we had was that our shippers misread the "Cairo" tag for "Kiev," and sent it there. And while we were accredited diplomats in Egypt, we weren't in Ukraine. So our computer and whatnot were seized while everyone fought over who, if anyone, should pay the Ukrainian customs folks.  

        I miss the State Department quite a lot, but life in Georgia's fun, too. It took some mental adjustment to get used to life here, and I still have glitches. I remember when we first told people at a party that we were moving to Augusta, somebody asked what the capital of Georgia was. I answered without thinking, "Tbilisi." The blank look I got in response caused me confusion for a bit, which only cleared when the questioner added, "Oh. Um... I just wasn't sure whether it was Atlanta." Oops.  

        •  Now I'm even *more* curious. (0+ / 0-)

          The range of experiences here in the Kula Krew is truly astonishing!

          As for the Ukranian government wanting you to pay customs duties, eeek ... that had to be frustrating.  In the "Why should we have to pay customs because the shippers mistakenly sent our stuff to the wrong country?!?!?" category.

          And so far as I know, the capital of Georgia - the state and the country - is Onmymind....

  •  Whatever happened to Sibel Edmonds? (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gustogirl, Orinoco, JaxDem, NCrissieB, kktlaw

    Thanks for the hard work you put in to doing this series, Chrissie.

  •  Thanks, {{NChrissiB}} (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Orinoco, NCrissieB

    For your hard work, insightful head space and thought-provoking ways.  Thank you also for handling this series with great sensitivity.

    It's been a week that hasn't allowed me to get here as quickly or often as I'd like, so I had to backtrack a bit to get as much out of this as I could.

    I just want to add that my absolutely favorite words in this diary are:

    Rather than Liberty Enlightens the World, perhaps she should be called Enlightenment Liberates the World.


    •  Thank you for the kind words. :) (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Gustogirl, Shuruq

      As for the sentence you quoted, it summarizes the difference between progressives and libertarians.  There was a time when it was reasonable to believe that liberty would bring enlightenment.  I think one key lesson of the past 223 years has been that enlightenment is a precondition for liberty.  When government can act in secret and keep us citizens in the dark about what they're doing ... our liberty is in great peril.

      Thank you again! ::hugggggggggggs::

  •  Opportunity for action help Alabama crew vs. Rush (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MKSinSA, Shuruq, NCrissieB

    h/t to Sara Seattle diary currently on diary list.

    Shane Murphy, the Alabama 2nd in command, has denounced Rush's black teenager cite as racist hate speech. he will testify next week before Congress. He needs to be noticed. Here is an impeccable (and TV friendly) spokesperson against Rush

    With everyone's mind tortured by torture, Alabama is easy to overlook or classify as done and won. Rush has sullied it as he trashes everything.

    Let's spread the word to the blogs and to KO/RMadown.

    I have sent a link and a request for attention to

    TPM/Josh Marshall

    surely there are others.

    meanwhile I have rec'd tipped. sara
    thanks to the Boston news channel and above all Shane Murphy for this

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