The story is bad enough. The Justice Department has in the past withheld data that it knew made its positions untenable, including enforcement of gun laws (Reno) and failure to prosecute terrorism cases (Ashcroft); now it’s implicitly promising its staffers that they will be shielded and supported if they decide to deny a FOIA request in part or whole, thus institutionalizing the denial of access to data that could prove it acted in error. The subtext is scarier. It is emblematic of the Bush Administration’s, and Ashcroft’s blatant disregard of the laws and Constitutional framing that they have sworn to uphold that Ashcroft has reversed the direction of the previous administration to consider all government information public unless there is a pressing need to keep the information secret. The author of the article, James Grimaldi, writes, “Justice Department bureaucrats, with Ashcroft’s blessing, are trying to muzzle the watchdogs.” It seems to me that that’s not all they’re trying to do.
John Ashcroft is conspiring, with the complicity of the Bush administration, to draw a dark cloak of secrecy over the workings of government. At the same time, he is lifting all the restraints that have kept our government from trampling the rights that our founding fathers fought for.
Now is the time to act. Write your congressman. If they’re a member of the Republican majority, maybe they’ll stop serving in Bush’s chorus long enough to think about what they’re signing up the country for. If they’re in the Democratic minority, maybe they’ll have an awakening of conscience and start acting like a principled, visionary opposition party.