Secrecy Corrupts

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Last week, I warned that the White House’s argument for suppressing (and perhaps classifying) photos of detainee abuse—that the photos would make the US look bad and inflame anti-American sentiment, thereby endangering US troops—was infinitely extendible. I wondered what would happen the next time information emerged that embarassed the US and might inflame opinion against Americans. Would Obama suppress that, too? It turns out that the answer may be yes. McClatchy reports:

Pentagon wavers on release of report on Afghan attack

WASHINGTON — Defense Department officials are debating whether to ignore an earlier promise and squelch the release of an investigation into a U.S. airstrike last month, out of fear that its findings would further enrage the Afghan public, Pentagon officials told McClatchy Monday.

The military promised to release the report shortly after the May 4 air attack, which killed dozens of Afghans, and the Pentagon reiterated that last week. U.S. officials also said they’d release a video that military officials said shows Taliban fighters attacking Afghan and U.S. forces and then running into a building. Shortly afterward, a U.S. aircraft dropped a bomb that destroyed the building.

However, a senior defense official told McClatchy Monday: “The decision (about what to release) is now in limbo.”

Pentagon leaders are divided about whether releasing the report would reflect a renewed push for openness and transparency about civilian casualties or whether it would only fan Afghan outrage and become a Taliban recruiting tool just as Army Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal takes command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

As Glenn Greenwald points out, this is an exact repeat of the detainee photo argument. Once you start suppressing information that makes the US look bad, it’s easy to do it again. And again. The slippery slope of government secrecy is real. And President Obama is sliding down it.

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