Welcome, visitors, to SCARY Ethics Theater on this All Hallow’s Eve!
Tonight we ask the scary question, “When is it ethical to be unethical?“ For the chilling answer, we must enter the mysterious lair of Eric Holder’s Justice Department!!! Bwahahahahahahaha!!!
Come inside! Don’t be frightened!
The Holder-Obama Justice Department has proposed a regulation that would allow federal law enforcement agencies to tell people seeking information under the Freedom of Information Act that the government has no records on a certain subject, when it really does. That is, the regulation will officially sanction legal lying in response to FOIA requests by citizens.
The Justice Department’s argument is that this would allow agencies to avoid tipping off people that they are under criminal investigation. They have been doing this all along, actually: they were caught at it in the recent case of Islamic Shura Council v. FBI, when the government lied to the court about the information it had as part of its false compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, and the court was not pleased, writing…
“The Government contends that the FOIA permits it to provide the Court with the same misinformation it provided to Plaintiffs regarding the existence of other responsive information or else the Government would compromise national security. That argument is indefensible. Although the FOIA allows the Government to withhold certain categories of documents from requestors such as Plaintiffs pursuant to statutory exemptions, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b), or exclusions, 5 U.S.C. § 552(c), the FOIA does not permit the Government to withhold responsive information from the Court.”
Apparently the Department of Justice has been doing this sort of thing since the Eighties. Ronald Reagan’s Attorney General, Edwin Meese, installed a policy that would allow Justice Department agencies to lie to any person who suspected that he was the subject of a federal investigation and resorted to the FOIA to confirm that suspicion. Since a refusal to turn over records would confirm the existence of an investigation, Meese decided that it was all right to deny that such records existed. (I never trusted Ed Meese.)
Here’s where it gets really funky, ethically. Since the Obama administration promised transparency, it wants to turn the informal policy of lying into an official law, known as section 16.6(f)(2). Oddly, some people have a problem with this. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) says that he will “take all necessary action” to block the rule. Grassley says that he is against the proposed rule for two reasons. He believes that it will lead to an increase in FOIA related litigation , since those requesting information will know that they can’t trust a “no records” response, and feels the law will undermine the public’s trust in government.
Really, Senator? You think passing a law that says that the government can lie in response to a law called the Freedom of Information Act, enacted to make certain that citizens can find out what their government is up to, will lead to distrust, cynicism, and jokes about Washington D.C. being a trickster’s Hall of Mirrors? What would ever make you think such a thing?
“Proposed section 16.6(f)(2) stands in stark contrast to both the President’s and your prior statements about FOIA, transparency and open government,” Grassley said in a letter to Holder, citing the Attorney General’s support of President Barack Obama’s Open Government Initiative. Ah, yes…I remember those giddy days of hope and change, when President Obama issued a directive calling for “a presumption of disclosure” from government agencies dealing with FOIA requests. I had chills. It seems so long ago.
This didn’t stop a Justice Department official from praising the measure as ….a triumph of transparency! I’m not kidding. It is transparent, see, because the Justice Department has been lying in response to citizen requests under FOIA for two decades, but nobody knew about it. Now, thanks to transparency, we’ll know that the Justice Department lies.
So Obama’s pledge transparency didn’t mean “this administration won’t lie to you.” It meant that it will still lie, but be transparent about lying. Well, that’s a kind of transparency, isn’t it?
“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
Lying is Transparency! I wonder how George Orwell missed that one. It fits so well!
I am not making this up. I wish I were.