Candidates use transparency as a club

By Richard Lardner

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 25 2012 12:36 p.m. MST

The president of the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, Thomas Fitton, sent a survey to all the presidential candidates, including Obama, in early December with questions about government transparency and accountability and other issues. Only the Gingrich campaign responded. It said their candidate would not participate in the questionnaire.

"Politicians of all stripes are hesitant to make public information that is controversial," Fitton said. "Democratic administrations say they are going to give you everything and then withhold information. Republican administrations are more philosophically opposed to transparency laws and tell you up front they are not going to give you anything. I don't know what's worse: hypocrisy or unapologetic secrecy."

Under Fitton, Judicial Watch has been sharply critical of the Obama administration's claims that its policies have made government more open. In August, a federal judge ruled in Judicial Watch's favor after the group challenged the Secret Service's position that White House visitor logs are presidential records and therefore exempt from public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

But Fitton expects to fight the same battles if former Bush administration officials return to positions in the White House and Justice Department under a Romney or Gingrich administration. "They'll continue these hard core legal positions in court against transparency," he said.

Since the September 2001 terror attacks, the government has disclosed less information about its own actions while collecting more personal information about ordinary U.S. citizens, said Liza Goitein, director of the Liberty and National Security Project at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York.

"Unfortunately, this trend has continued under President Obama, and there is little reason to think it would abate under a Romney or Gingrich administration," Goitein said.

Just as the Bush administration did, the Obama White House has used the state secrets privilege to turn aside lawsuits seeking accountability for warrantless wiretapping and torture, she said. It has also kept from public view photographs of detainee abuse and a legal opinion justifying the extrajudicial execution of U.S. citizens. And the Obama administration has prosecuted more national security whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined, Goitein said.

Both Gingrich and Romney advocate using the military, and not the criminal justice system, to deal with suspected terrorists, she said.

"More generally, both candidates are portraying themselves as being relentlessly tough on terrorism, and there's a stubborn myth out there that toughness and transparency are incompatible," Goitein said. "I wouldn't hold out high hopes for transparency in either a Romney or a Gingrich administration."


FOIA.gov: http://www.foia.gov/

Data.gov: http://www.data.gov

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