TRANSCRIPT AND SOURCES:
Welcome, this is James Corbett of The Corbett Report with the inaugural edition of The Eyeopener, a new weekly video series produced in conjunction with BoilingFrogsPost.com. And now for the real news…
A group of American national security whistleblowers, civil liberty campaigners, anti-war groups, national whistleblower organizations and others are set to release a petition tomorrow asking a group of NGOs to take back the “transparency award” they bestowed on President Obama last March for his supposed attempt to fight against government secrecy.
The petition, drafted by noted FBI whistleblowers Sibel Edmonds and Coleen Rowley, rebukes both the Obama administration for its track record on secrecy, and the NGOs that presented him with a transparency award.
Originally scheduled to be bestowed on the President in a publicly scheduled ceremony at the White House during Sunshine Week,
that ceremony was cancelled at the last moment and the award, supposedly a token of praise for Obama’s stated commitment to government openness, was itself bestowed on the president in a secret, off-the-record meeting, to which the press was not invited. As one of the groups that bestowed the award on Obama wrote in their press release regarding the event:
“We were disappointed that no press photographer and no pool reporter were at the meeting. We were really surprised to learn it was not on the President’s daily calendar, especially as it was on his calendar on the originally-scheduled date…Why they decided to close the meeting to the press is not something we understand..”
Among the signatories to the petition are some of the best-known national security whistleblowers in the US, including FBI whistleblowers Edmonds and Rowley, Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, NSA whistleblower Russ Tice, retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern, former US diplomat Colonal Ann Wright, Able Danger insider Tony Shaffer, and current and former members of the State Department, US Army, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Energy, US Customs
and a coterie of organizations such as the National Whistleblowers Center, the September 11th Advocates, the Bring Our Troops Home Coaltion and many others.
Last week I talked to the co-drafter of the petition, ex-FBI language specialist Sibel Edmonds, about the petition and its goal, and why this group considers it important to get the NGOs involved to take back their transparency award from Obama.
The idea that the Obama presidency was going to begin a new era in government openness came from the President himself, who on his first day in office used the occasion of his first press conference to promise Americans greater transparency, and used his first Executive Order to direct government agencies to err on the side of openness in the face of Freedom of Information requests.
This appears to be the sentiment that the NGOs who bestowed Obama with his transparency award were rewarding and encouraging.
The five NGOs involved in the secret White House meeting to award Obama for his openness were the Project on Government Oversight, OMB Watch, OpenTheGovernment.org, the National Security Archive and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Each of the organizations was invited to comment on this story.
In an email to The Corbett Report, Gary Bass of OMB Watch stated that although all sides “agree that more needs to be done,” Obama has made “breathtaking changes within two and a half years” in opening up the government to accountability, citing some specific examples:
“EPA is creating the greenhouse gas registry. FDA has established new ways of inviting public participation. Medicare has more disclosure about its program. CPSC has created an online complaints database. Many agencies now have blogs, use social media, and are adapting to mobile apps.”
Joe Newman of the Project On Government Oversight wrote:
“I think we’ve made it clear that the President has shortcomings when it comes to transparency, but I’d also challenge any impartial observer to refute the fact that he has made significant strides in opening up the government, especially when compared to his predecessor.”
As the petition itself points out, “Obama’s presidency has amassed the worst record in US history for persecuting, prosecuting and jailing government whistleblowers and truth-tellers.”
Indeed, this is not an immeasurable claim. Given that the Obama DOJ is currently prosecuting five alleged national security whistleblowers via the Espionage Act, his administration has actually engaged in more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined.
The whistleblowers being persecuted include:
- Bradley Manning, who was locked in a Marine Corps detention cell measuring 6 x 12 feet for nearly a year without any clothing except his underwear, without bedsheets or pillow, his eyeglasses or even writing implements, all for having been accused of having leaked US Army documents to Wikileaks.
-And Thomas Drake, an NSA whistleblower who exposed massive governmental overreach in a data collection and analysis project that violated the constitution and numerous other laws and statutes.
The Obama presidency has also seen a marked rise in the invocation of the State Secrets’ Privilege, a draconian use of Executive authority to stop claimants against the government from even arguing their case in court.
So far the Obama DOJ has invoked State Secrets’ Privilege to quash lawsuits against companies that aided the CIA in their illegal torture and kidnapping program and stop legal redress against the government’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program.
One of the most brazen uses of State Secrets Privilege came last year, after Obama had claimed the right to assassinate American citizens without a trial or even bringing charges against them. The father of Anwar Al-Awlaki, the American citizen and alleged terrorist whom the Obama administration has targeted for assasination, filed a lawsuit to stop Obama from killing his son. Amazingly, the Obama DOJ invoked the State Secrets Privilege to stop the case from being heard before the court.
At the time, an astounded Glenn Greenwald wrote:
“not only does the President have the right to sentence Americans to death with no due process or charges of any kind, but his decisions as to who will be killed and why he wants them dead are ‘state secrets,’ and thus no court may adjudicate their legality.”
The petition goes on to list the other grievances that the transparency community has with the Obama administration, including its use of grand juries to target journalists and their sources, its maintenance of sites like Bagram for holding illegally and secretly kidnapped detainees, and Obama’s refusal to provide full access to White House visitor’s logs, a point that he actually joked about as the NGO representatives were entering to give him his award for transparency.
Still, the NGOs behind the award argue that they hoped their token would help push the Obama administration in the right direction. Wrote Gary Bass:
“I believe in both the carrot and the stick. I do not find it inconsistent to provide reward for good behavior and criticism for bad behavior. Hence, I have no problem with praising the president for his commitment to openness and transparency while simultaneously telling him what he needs to do better to live up to his commitment.”
Joining me in a phone conversation to address these arguments late last week was FBI whistleblower and petition co-author, Coleen Rowley.
When asked why such a prominent list of noted national security whistleblowers, professionals and government officials would be lining up to protest their awarding of Obama for his commitment to transparency, National Security Archive Director Tom Blanton responded:
“I believe their opposition is misplaced and they need more precision-guided advocacy. Know thy enemy. Obama is not their enemy.”
The petition will be released tomorrow with a dedicated website and a campaign to bring more attention to the dismal state of governmental transparency under Obama’s leadership. Stay tuned to BoilingFrogsPost.com for more details.