Open Government Groups Asked to Rescind Transparency Award Given to Obama

By Sibel Edmonds and Coleen Rowley


On March 28, 2011, President Obama was given a “transparency award” from five “open government” organizations: OMB Watch, the National Security Archive, the Project on Government Oversight, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and OpenTheGovernment.org.  Ironically — and quite likely in response to growing public criticism regarding the Obama Administration’s lack oftransparency – heads of the five organizations gave their award to Obama in a closed, undisclosed meeting at the White House. 

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Too Many Ironies to Count

If the ceremony had been open to the press, it is likely that reporters would have questioned the organizations’ proffered justification for the award, in contrast to the current reality:

  • President Obama has not decreased but has dramatically increased governmental secrecy.  According to a new report to the presidentby the Information Security Oversight Office(ISOO)—the federal agency that provides oversight of the government’s security classification system—the cost of classification for 2010 has reached over $10.17 billion.  That’s a 15 percent jump from the previous year, and the first time ever that secrecy costs have surpassed $10 billion. Last month, ISOO reported that the number of original classification decisions generated by the Obama administration in 2010 was 224,734—a 22.6 percent jump from the previous year.  See “The Price of Secrecy, Obama Edition.”
     
  • There were 544,360 requests for information last year under the Freedom of Information Act to the 35 biggest federal agencies — 41,000 requests more than the year before. Yet the bureaucracy responded to 12,400 fewer requests than the prior year, according to an analysis by the Associated Press .
     
  • Obama has invoked baseless and unconstitutional executive secrecy to quash legal inquiries into secret illegalities more often than any predecessor.  The list of this President’s invocations of the “state secrets privilege” has already resulted in shutting down lawsuits involving the National Security Agency’s illegal wiretapping- Jewel vs. NSAandShubert vs. Obama; extraordinary rendition and assassination- Anwar al-Aulaqi; and illegal torture- Binyam Mohamed.
     
  • Ignoring his campaign promise to protect government whistleblowers, Obama’s presidency has amassed the worst record in US history for persecuting, prosecuting and jailing government whistleblowers and truth-tellers. President Obama’s behavior has been in stark contrast to his campaign promises which included live streaming meetings online and so forth, and rewarding whistleblowers. Obama’s Department of Justice is twisting the 1917 Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaksmore such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined.

 

  • President Obama has set a powerful and chilling example for potential whistleblowers through the abuse and torture of Bradley Manning, whose guilt he has also publicly stated prior to any trial by his, Obama’s, military subordinates.
     
  • Obama is the only president who has reenacted Fahrenheit 451 by actually having his agency collect and burn a book due to a never-justified classification excuse: Lt. Col Tony Shaffer’s –Operation Dark Heart.
  • Under President Obama, the FBI has launched a series of raids and issued grand jury subpoenas targeting nearly two dozen antiwar activists.  Over two thousand six hundred arrests of protesters in the U.S. have been made while Obama was president, further encroaching on the exercise of First Amendment rights. 
     
  • President Obama has initiated a secret assassination program, has publicly announced that he has given himself the power to include Americans on the list of people to be assassinated, and has attempted to assassinate at least one, Anwar al-Aulaqi.
     
  • President Obama has maintained the power to secretly kidnap, imprison, rendition, or torture, and he has formalized the power to lawlessly imprison in an executive order.  This also means the power to secretly imprison.  There are some 1,700 prisoners outside the rule of law in Bagram alone.
     
  • The Obama Administration is also busy going after reporters to discover their sources and convening grand juries in order to target journalists and news publishers.
     
  • President Obama promised to reveal White House visitors’ logs.  He didn’t.  In response to outrage over his refusal to reveal the names of health insurance CEOs he had met with and cut deals with on the health insurance reform bill, he announced that he would release the names going forward, but not those in the past.  And going forward he would withhold names he chose to withhold.  White House staff then began regularly meeting lobbyists just off White House grounds in order to avoid the visitors’ logs.
     
  • President Obama has sent representatives to aggressively pressure Spain, England, and Germany to shut down investigations that could have exposed the crimes of the Bush era, just as he has instructed the US DOJ to avoid such matters.  This includes his refusal to allow prosecutions of the CIA for torture, following a public letter from 8 previous heads of the CIA informing him that he had better not enforce those laws.
     

No Harm Done?

The “transparency award” in question was described as “aspirational” similar to the rationale for awarding Obama the Nobel Peace Prize early in his presidency when he had done nothing yet to further the cause of peace. 

Participants admitted they used the private meeting in March to try and lobby Obama that he needed to do more to earn their award.  If the President doesn’t change course as a result of the lobbying and “award,” there are some who would shrug and say, “no harm, no foul.”  The giving of an unmerited award, however, whether for transparency or peace, is not entirely benign.  No one knows better how destructive secrecy is for maintaining systems of justice, ethics and democracy than these self-proclaimed “open government” watchdogs.  Especially when such a false accolade emanates, as in this case, from those who are supposed to serve as counters to secrecy and to counter retaliation of government whistleblowers, such appearance of approval will tend to cover up and mask the reality of the Executive’s increasing undemocratic and illegal use of secrecy.
 

Therefore the undersigned call on these organizations: OMB Watch, the National Security Archive, the Project on Government Oversight, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and OpenTheGovernment.org, to publicly take back their “transparency award”, as difficult as that may be, to Barack Obama.  The watchdog organizations should, of course, continue to promote aspirations for open, democratic government, reduced secrecy and adherence to the rule of law, in more genuine, legitimate ways than giving unmerited awards to the Executive.  Such false awards only stand to backfire and hurt the cause of open government.     Φ

This statement was drafted by FBI Whistleblowers Sibel Edmonds and Coleen Rowley. You can add your personal or organizational signature to a request to retract the award by contacting sibelDeniz@aol.com or visiting http://takeawardback.org.

 

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