Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Take This Pledge, Candidates

Nat Hentoff has a column urging all of the candidates for president to pledge to reveal all of the things the Bush administration has illegitimately hid from us over the last 7 years. He quotes Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy:

“By now no one expects the Bush administration to make itself accountable for its controversial and possibly illegal practices. But the next president will have the authority to declassify and disclose any and all records that reflect the activities of executive branch agencies….

“It goes without saying that genuine national security secrets such as confidential sources and legally authorized intelligence methods should be protected from disclosure.” But with regard to other secret actions and policies, Aftergood continues, “the new administration could demonstrate a clean break with its predecessor, and lay the foundation for a more transparent and accountable presidency.”

Here’s what he’s suggesting:

Aftergood asks the candidates fighting for the Oval Office: “Will you disclose the full scope of Bush administration domestic surveillance activities affecting American citizens, including all surveillance actions that were undertaken outside of the framework of law, as well as the legal opinions that were generated to justify them?” But on Feb. 12, Sen. John McCain voted for Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping. Sen. Hillary Clinton said she would have opposed it. Sen. Barack Obama was against it.

I would include the legal opinions of not only former Attorneys General John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, but most certainly those of their successor, Michael Mukasey, the more strategically opaque true believer in executive power in these jihadist times.

Aftergood also asks candidates McCain, Clinton and Obama to look into the CIA’s “extraordinary renditions,” pointing out that, “the U.S. government has seized suspected terrorists and transported them without any semblance of judicial process to foreign countries where they have been tortured.” And he also asks, what legal justification and authority did the president use in allowing these “renditions,” according to the classified orders by which he gave the CIA special powers?

These kidnappings and subsequent tortures have done much to discredit the United States in countries from which the suspects were taken – and they have interfered with our intelligence gathering from officials there who are now accused of complicity with American disregard of the laws of those sovereign nations.

Also adding to the assaults on our reputation in countries that are not our enemies are such previously classified presidential supports for “coercive interrogations,” including waterboarding. Aftergood asks the front-runners for the next presidency to find out:

“On what authority did interrogators engage in what has long been considered a prosecutable action (waterboarding)? What other coercive interrogation techniques have been adopted? … If there is to be accountability for the interrogation of prisoners in U.S. custody, the first step must be a forthright disclosure of what the Bush administration has done.”

He points out that all the candidates have criticized the Bush administration for excessive secrecy; let’s find out if they really mean it.