We live with an administration whose concept of domestic "freedom" went out with those "freedom fries," briefly sold at the cafeterias of the House of Representatives. The Bush team has quite literally been a force for darkness. For those who remember the "memory hole" down which the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Truth dumped all uncomfortable or inconvenient documents in Orwell’s famed dystopian novel 1984, this administration has created its functional equivalent. Just since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the government has removed from open shelves and sequestered from public view more than one million pages of "historical government documents — a stack taller than the U.S. Capitol." According to the Associated Press, "some of these documents are more than a century old." What we are seeing in many cases is "declassification in reverse." For example, the CIA and other federal agencies "have secretly reclassified over 55,000 pages of records taken from the open shelves at the National Archives and Records Administration." These have even included half-century-old documents already published in a State Department historical series. In many cases, there is simply no way of knowing what has been removed, because the removals have largely not been catalogued.
Even the Pentagon phone book, on sale at the Government Printing Office bookstore until 2001, is gone. There’s little way for a citizen to know who occupy offices that may determine the course of his or her life. In a sense, there are no longer "public servants," only private ones, beholden to the President, not Americans. This is what "national security," Bush-style, really means. Similarly, as Robert Dreyfuss discovered when he tried to chart out who was working in Vice President Cheney’s office while researching a piece, no information could be revealed to a curious reporter, not even the names and positions of those who worked for the Vice President, those who, theoretically, were working for us. Cheney’s office would not even publicly acknowledge its own employees, no less let them be interviewed.
In this same period, as Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists (who produces the invaluable Secrecy News each day), pointed out in Slate, "[T]he pace of classification activity has increased by 75 percent" in the Bush years. The Information Security Oversight Office, which supervises the government’s classification system, recorded "a rise from 9 million classification actions in fiscal year 2001 to 16 million in fiscal year 2004."
The removal of documents en masse, the denial of access to the public, the classification of everything — these are signs of a now seven-year-long shutting off of the flow of unsupervised information. But perhaps nothing has been as crucial as the shutting down of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that Ruth Rosen, former columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, historian, and author of the groundbreaking book The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America (recently updated), considers at Tomdispatch.com under the rubric: "soft crimes" of the Bush administration.
It’s a classic story of how to put a national "sunshine law," meant to let the light in on our legislators and bureaucrats, in the shade.
As Rosen concludes: "Don’t be lulled into thinking that the act of censoring information, of shielding the American people from knowledge of the most basic workings of their own government, is any less dangerous to democracy than war crimes or acts of torture. In fact, it was the soft crimes of secrecy and deception that enabled the Bush administration’s successful campaign to lure our country into war in Iraq–and so to commit war crimes and acts of torture. You don’t have to be a historian to know that ‘soft’ crimes are what make hard crimes possible. They can also lead to an executive dictatorship and the elimination of our most cherished civil rights and liberties."