Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Good Guys Win a Round

Last Thursday, I posted on the government's attempt to subvert the Grand Jury process in order to hide some evidence that might prove embarrassing to the government ("Chillin'"). Today's NY Times provides the outcome of the skirmish.

Federal prosecutors in New York yesterday withdrew a subpoena to the American Civil Liberties Union that had sought to retrieve all copies of a classified document.

In an opaque and defensive four-page letter to the judge in the case, the prosecutors said they were acting “in light of changed circumstances” and their determination that “the grand jury can obtain the evidence necessary to its investigation from other sources.”

Another factor may have played a role. A transcript of a closed hearing in the case that was unsealed yesterday suggested the government was going to lose.

The government should have lost that battle. They didn't just want the document, they wanted all copies of the document so that the 'evidence' would no longer exist outside of the government secrecy vault. As I said last Thursday, [o]f course there is no investigative purpose. The purpose is to hide the evidence.

And the document in question?

The document itself, declassified Friday and released by the A.C.L.U. yesterday, was not obviously confidential. An “information paper” dated Dec. 20, 2005, it was marked “secret” at the top and bottom of each of its four pages. The A.C.L.U. said it received the document in an unsolicited e-mail message in October.

The document collected a number of policies concerning photographs of enemy prisoners of war. Journalists, the document said, “are generally permitted, and to some extent even encouraged, to photograph” prisoners “from point-of-capture throughout the entire detainment process,” though they are discouraged from showing recognizable faces.

...“If you read between the lines,” said the lawyer, Charles S. Sims, a First Amendment specialist at Proskauer Rose, “what it really says is that we want to exploit group photos of detainees.” The implicit instruction in the document, he said, was this: “If pictures of detainees can help sell the war, go for it.”
[Emphasis added]

That such a document was classified in the first place is an indication of just how the current administration operates, and also serves as a clue as to just why the government wanted all copies as well as the original. The Bush White House would stop at nothing to promote and justify an illegal war, but it didn't want the American public to know to what extent it was willing to go to further that aim.

I think this whole sorry incident should be added to the list of items to be investigated in the 110th Congress.

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