Obama Fails on Government Transparency
March 18, 2011
From the Desk of Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton:
JW Congressional Testimony: Obama Gets a “Failing Grade” on Transparency
“The American people were promised a new era of transparency with the Obama administration. Unfortunately, this promise has not been kept. To be clear: the Obama administration is less transparent than the Bush administration.”
That’s what I told the House and Senate this week in two separate hearings held in conjunction with “Sunshine Week,” a national initiative by the news media, nonprofits and other organizations to promote government transparency and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing, which took place on Tuesday, was entitled “The Freedom of Information Act: Ensuring Transparency and Accountability in the Digital Age.” The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing, which took place on Thursday, was entitled “The Freedom of Information Act: Crowd-Sourcing Government Oversight.”
It is a testament to Judicial Watch’s reputation and work, made possible through the support of hundreds of thousands of Americans, that we were invited to testify to both chambers of Congress.
The hearings went well, and we were treated with respect by both sides of the aisle (even Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)!). As I tweeted after the hearings, the news was the bipartisan support for government transparency and the bipartisan criticism of Obama transparency.
Judicial Watch, as I pointed out to both committees, is by far the most active FOIA requestor and litigator in the nation. Overall, we’ve filed more than 325 FOIA requests with the Obama administration and filled 44 lawsuits against them in order to enforce FOIA law.
- Administratively, agencies built additional hurdles and stonewalled even the most basic FOIA requests. The Bush administration was tough and tricky, but the Obama administration is tougher and trickier.
- Since American taxpayers are on the hook for trillions of dollars, potentially including already $153 billion alone for Fannie and Freddie, we deserve to know how and why this financial collapse occurred and who in Washington, D.C., is responsible. Unfortunately the Obama administration disagrees. Last year, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), the agency responsible for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, responded to our FOIA lawsuit by telling us that all of the documents we seek are not subject to FOIA.
- In the fall of 2009, Judicial Watch staff visited with senior White House official Norm Eisen, then-Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government, to discuss Judicial Watch’s pursuit of the White House visitor logs. The White House encouraged us to publicly praise the Obama administration’s commitment to transparency, saying it would be good for them and good for us. However, the Obama team refused to abandon their legally indefensible contention that Secret Service White House visitor logs are not subject to disclosure under FOIA law. So we filed a lawsuit to ask the court to enforce the law.
- …on major transparency issues, the Obama administration has come down on the side of secrecy. The Obama administration’s releasing “high value data sets” from government bureaucracies is meaningless in the face of key decisions to keep politically explosive material out of the public domain. As far as Judicial Watch is concerned, the Obama administration gets a failing grade on transparency.
A commitment to transparency must cut across partisan lines. Founding Father John Adams was keenly aware of the relationship between secrecy and corruption:
Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge; I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers.
My testimony came on the heels of a major Associated Press story this week that shows the Obama administration is actually becoming less transparent as time goes on:
Two years into its pledge to improve government transparency, the Obama administration took action on fewer requests for federal records from citizens, journalists, companies and others last year even as significantly more people asked for information. The administration disclosed at least some of what people wanted at about the same rate as the previous year.
People requested information 544,360 times last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act from the 35 largest agencies, up nearly 41,000 more than the previous year, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of new federal data. But the government responded to nearly 12,400 fewer requests.
Truth fears no inquiry. If the Obama administration truly had nothing to hide, it would not go to such extraordinary lengths to keep information from the public. We were very pleased that the new Congress appears ready to take the issue of transparency seriously. And we were honored to play our part in educating Congress and the American people about the Obama administration’s unprecedented addiction to secrecy.
It would not hurt for you to commend Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and House Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) for convening the hearings and listening to your Judicial Watch.
JW Goes to Court to Protect AZ Illegal Immigration Law
On April 1, Judicial Watch will represent the Arizona State Legislature in court, defending SB 1070, Arizona’s get-tough illegal immigration law, against the Obama administration’s all-out legal assault.
The Arizona Legislature has every right to defend its law, but the Obama administration is trying to block it from joining the lawsuit.
As noted by The Associated Press: “A federal judge set an April 1 hearing for arguments over the Arizona Legislature’s request to become a party in the U.S. Justice Department’s challenge to the state’s immigration enforcement law. The Legislature argues that lawmakers should be allowed to help defend the law and cite a new law that lets legislative leaders participate in efforts to defend the enforcement law against challenges.”
As I told you last month, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed “emergency legislation” on February 7, 2011, paving the way for the Arizona legislature’s intervention. And we filed a “Motion to Intervene” on February 11, 2011.
However, as noted in our recent response to the court filed on March 7, the Obama administration is doing everything in its power to keep the Arizona Legislature out of the lawsuit by raising “a host of meritless objections:”
[The Obama administration] makes the patronizing suggestion that if the Legislature happens to have “arguments that it wishes to advance, it should do so through defendants” or simply as an amicus. It is undeniable that the State of Arizona has now unequivocally indicated how it wishes to be sued in this case. It is not the proper role of the United States to try to dictate how Arizona presents its defense. Arizona is entitled to defend itself in the manner it sees fit. With the permission of this Court, it should be allowed to do so.
In recent installments of the Weekly Update, I’ve put the spotlight on the Obama administration’s abysmal record on illegal immigration. First, in a fit of arrogance the Obama administration decided to ignore Congress and enact stealth amnesty by allowing illegal aliens to roam free as long as they have no “serious” criminal record. (This policy speaks volumes as obviously the Obama White House does not think the very act of violating federal immigration laws is a “serious” act.)
At the same time, the Obama Justice Department (DOJ) also made the startling announcement that it will not prosecute sanctuary cities that roll out the welcome mat for illegal aliens crossing the border. These sanctuary policies are a direct violation of a federal immigration enforcement law passed in 1996. But apparently this is not a “serious” enough law for the Obama administration to enforce.
As I pointed out last week, these lax and unlawful policies may have directly led to the death of a Virginia nun last summer at the hands of an illegal alien who had been arrested on two prior occasions but was released onto the streets by the Obama administration. The nun was just one of many victims of illegal alien crime nationwide.
Add to this the DOJ’s decision to openly attack the State of Arizona for simply trying to protect its citizens from the scourge of rampant illegal immigration, and you have a recipe for disaster. That’s why this lawsuit is so important. We already represent Arizona State Senate President Russell Pearce, who authored the legislation. And now we’re trying to make sure the Arizona legislature has its day in court. The court and the American people need to know:
- The Arizona Legislature has a right to protect its citizens.
- Arizona has a right to self defense under the Constitution, particularly when the federal government fails to protect it.
- The Arizona Legislature complied with all relevant federal, state and local laws, including the Arizona Constitution and the [U.S.] Constitution in crafting SB 1070.
- SB 1070 is not preempted by federal law or the Constitution. SB 1070 does not conflict with federal law, does not constitute an improper regulation of immigration, and Congress has not fully occupied the field.
Folks, our client, State Senator Pearce, said it best when he deemed our efforts on his behalf a “legal battle of epic proportions.”
“It is outrageous that the Obama administration would attack Arizona for simply protecting its own citizens, especially when it has failed so miserably to do its constitutional duty and secure the border,” State Senator Pearce said. “As a Senator in a state on the frontlines, I see firsthand the damage being done to our state and our country. What happens here in Arizona will impact every state in the country interested in protecting its citizens by enforcing the rule of law. We are a nation of laws. We must have the courage—the fortitude—to enforce, with compassion but without apology, those laws that protect the integrity of our borders and the rights of our lawful citizens.”
The country is looking to Arizona—and to your Judicial Watch—to make sure our illegal immigration laws are enforced. We are proud to stand with the citizens of Arizona in this fight to protect the Constitution and the rule of law.
JW Obtains Documents Detailing Terrorist Campaign to Recruit Juveniles and Attack Children
On March 11, a suspected terrorist broke into the home of an Israeli family and committed an unspeakable act, butchering five members of the family, including an infant, while they slept.
Fox News Channel had the gruesome details:
Five members of an Israeli family were killed Friday night when a suspected terrorist broke into their home in the West Bank settlement of Itamar and stabbed them all to death. The 12-year-old daughter who returned home from a friend’s house discovered the bodies. According to police, the suspect broke into the house armed with a knife and stabbed the mother, father and three children, aged 11, 4 and a three-month-old baby. Two infants, aged 2 and 4, survived the attack while escaping to their neighbors.
One paramedic on the scene noted, “The murder scene was shocking. Kids’ toys right next to pools of blood.”
An official for Hamas, the Islamic terrorist group linked to the brutal attack, initially claimed that murdering Jewish settlers was permitted by international law before backtracking a day later, making the claim that “harming children is not part of Hamas’s policy.”
But according to documents we recently uncovered from the Defense Intelligence Agency, brutality against children is all part of a plan by Islamic terrorist groups to strike fear into their opponents. And not only are they targeting children with violence, but they’re also brainwashing other children to do their dirty work. (Overall, the records consist of two Joint Task Force Intelligence Information Reports from debriefs of detainees at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.)
Through use of the Freedom of Information Act, Judicial Watch made the remarkable discovery, and then instantly made headlines on Fox News Channel. (You can watch reporter Catherine Herridge’s special report here, highlighting our work.) You can also read the documents for yourself. But here are a few of the highlights:
- Extremist groups in Saudi Arabia and Yemen used religion as the main mechanism for recruiting juveniles. Extremist groups preferred juveniles who were poor or involved in illegal activities since they made easy targets for recruitment.
- Extremist groups are not looking for a particular characteristic in a recruit, but prefer juveniles who are poor or are involved in drinking and drugs. The juveniles are looking for happiness and fulfillment in their lives, and they have not found it. For these reasons they are susceptible to being brainwashed by extremist groups.
- No juvenile has resisted taking part in an operation. Most juveniles are eager to participate after hearing a religious speech given by one of the trainers at the camp.
- The Terrorist and Extremist Groups (TEGS) justify their attacks on young children (ages 5 through 17) by claiming that the children are either non-believers or children of non-believers. The attacks on children are deliberate actions.
- The attacks on children are psychological operations against non-believers to prevent them from organizing against the TEGS. The TEGS attack schools and buses to maximize psychological effect. Attacks against children in schools and buses are used because they are easy targets. The attacks are conducted to show non-believers how little the TEGS think of non-believers lives who are against Islam.
- The TEGS consider attacks on children legitimate. The TEGS believe the attacks on children are a religious good deed and attackers will go to heaven. The TEGS encourage their members to launch attacks on children.
- Juvenile females are recruited into the extremist groups, but not for operational purposes. The juvenile females become brides for extremist members.
The records note that “approximately 40% of Al Qaida members in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are composed of juveniles under the age of 18.” Terrorists recruit juveniles at Koran study groups, soccer games, summer camps, trips to other cities and swimming pools. Some extremists with connections to law enforcement purposely target and coerce potential juvenile recruits while the youths are under arrest and detained in jail.
(In November 2001, Suleiman Abu Ghaith, Senior Advisor to bin Laden and al-Qaida spokesman, said, “We have not reached parity with [America]. We have the right to kill four million Americans, two million of them children and to exile twice as many and wound and cripple hundreds of thousands.” [Emphasis added])
These documents describe al-Qaida’s evil strategy: Target and recruit impressionable juveniles to carry out terrorist acts while purposely inflicting violence on children to strike fear in those who oppose them. We should be concerned that radical Islamists are using their religion to brainwash young people to commit terrorist acts and to justify the murder of innocent children.
And it should not have taken more than five years and two presidential administrations to force the release these documents. It is essential to tell the American people the truth about the strategies and tactics of Islamic extremists.
Until next week…
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