Osama bin Laden is swimming with the fishes, and Judicial Watch wants to know precisely what happened before he was dumped in the ocean…
Judicial Watch, the organization that investigates and fights government corruption, announced today that major mainstream media outlets and open government organizations have joined its legal campaign against the Obama Secret Service to force the release of White House visitor logs. On August 17, Obama-appointed federal Judge Beryl Howell ruled against the Obama administration that Secret Service White House visitor logs are agency records that are subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Obama administration appealed that decision and the lawsuit is now before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Secret Service (No. 11-5282)).
Among the organizations joining amicus briefs filed in Judicial Watch’s litigation are: Bloomberg, L.P.; CBS Broadcast Inc.; Dow Jones & Company Inc.; Gannett, Co. Inc.; The McClatchy Company; The National Association of Broadcasters; National Freedom of Information Coalition; National Public Radio; The Newspaper Guild; The Radio Television Digital News Association; The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; The Washington Post; Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW); Openthegovernment.org; Electronic Frontier Foundation; and the Project on Government Oversight.
In the months after the U.S. military mission that killed Osama bin Laden, Pentagon officials met with Hollywood filmmakers and gave them special access in an effort to influence the creation of a film about the operation, newly released documents show.
Emails and meeting transcripts obtained from the Pentagon and CIA through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the watchdog group Judicial Watch suggest that officials went out of their way to assist the filmmakers, while trying to avoid the public learning of their cooperation.
Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, who won Oscars for their 2009 Iraq war movie, “The Hurt Locker,” were granted access to a Navy SEAL who was involved in planning the May 2011 raid, according to a transcript of a meeting that took place in July.
“The only thing we ask is that you not reveal his name in any way as a consultant because … he shouldn’t be talking out of school,” Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers told the filmmakers. Vickers later added: “This at least gives him one step removed and he knows what he can and can’t say, but this way at least he can be as open as he can with you and it ought to meet your needs.”
The name of the “planner, SEAL Team 6 Operator and Commander,” was redacted from the documents that were provided to Judicial Watch. A Pentagon spokesman told Politico that the identity of “a planner, not a member of SEAL Team 6,” was provided “as a possible point of contact for additional information if the DoD determined that additional support was merited.”
- Obama aides gave Hollywood team rare CIA, Pentagon access on bin Laden raid info (abcnews.go.com)
- U.S. Rep says CIA, Pentagon, too close to filmmakers (timesleader.com)
- CIA, Pentagon, too close to filmmakers: US lawmaker (dawn.com)
A new trove of emails acquired by Judicial Watch show that the White House was intimately involved in managing the fallout from the Shirley Sherrod story, in which the USDA employee was forced to resign after Andrew Breitbart posted a fragmented video of one of her speeches to his website, Big Government.
At the time, then-White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs blamed Sherrod’s firing onAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and said the White House had been informed but not “consulted” about the firing. In fact, the White House was involved almost from the moment the story broke, and USDA officials understood some of the larger context of her statements before they forced her resignation.
The emails, acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request, show that the White House both knew about the story from the beginning and signed off on the wording of Vilsack’s statement explaining his acceptance of Sherrod’s resignation the evening it happened.
Some of this timeline was already revealed through an August 2010 Associated Press story, based on interviews with White House and USDA officials, that found “a greater level of White House involvement in the incident than officials initially let on.”
But the emails provide a newly detailed portrait of the panic that beset the USDA and White House as the story gathered steam – panic driven in part by fear of what Fox News would do with it. The emails also show how that panic pushed USDA officials to rush past the partial context that was already embedded in the original video out of worries over how the story would play.
The White House learned there was a problem in the middle of the afternoon of Monday, July 19, 2010. That morning, Breitbart posted a clip of Sherrod giving a speech to an NAACP audience in Georgia in which she recounted a story about not giving a white farmer the “full force of what I could do” back in 1986, writing that it was a “racist tale.”
The Justice Department has a new legal argument for why the government should be allowed to conceal the postmortem photographs of Osama bin Laden: It’s doing the same thing with the CIA’s classified drone program.
On Wednesday, the department filed court papers [PDF] asking a federal judge to rule against the government watchdog group Judicial Watch, which is suing for the release of “all photographs and/or video recordings” taken of bin Laden during the May 1, 2011 raid in Abbottabad. The filing rehashes many of the government’s stated reasons for concealing the photographs (inciting violence in the Muslim world, revealing classified “operational methods,” etc) but also leans on the CIA’s refusal to acknowledge its widely-publicized drone program.
The argument confronts a claim by Judicial Watch that releasing the bin Laden photos would not pose a national security risk because everyone already knows the U.S. killed bin Laden. In response, the Justice Department says the CIA’s drone program, like the U.S. raid in Abbottabad, is also public knowledge but that doesn’t mean releasing information about it wouldn’t jeopardize national security.
“The fact that the public may already speak freely of the existence of drones, or speculate openly that such a program may be directed in part or in whole by the CIA, does not emasculate the CIA’s warnings of harm were it forced to acknowledge officially the existence or nonexistence of requested records,” reads the filing.
It’s the sort of argument that makes government transparency advocates squeamish. As The New York Times noted about the CIA’s failure to acknowledge the drone program in October, “The secrecy compulsion often merely makes the government look silly … But it can also hinder public debate of some of government’s most hotly contested actions.” Now, turns out, the Justice Department is using the government’s much-pilloried refusal to acknowledge the widely-known drone program to justify its withholding of the bin Laden photos, creating a kind of slippery slope of secrecy.
- DOJ Defends Keeping Bin Laden Death Photos Secret (legaltimes.typepad.com)
- Should the Government Release the Osama Bin Laden Death Photos? (reason.com)
A solid ruling on White House visitor records, at last. A recent Obama appointee to the federal bench, at that…note that Judicial Watch was suing the Obama folks to make legally binding a policy the White House was claiming it was doing voluntarily. If only this had been handed down, say, any time in American history before Obama began divulging White House visitor records….
White House visitor records maintained by the Secret Service are subject to the Freedom of Information Act and must be disclosed if not covered by one of the law’s exemptions, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell issued the decision on a lawsuit brought by a conservative legal watchdog group, Judicial Watch. The group’s suit sought White House access records from January to September 2009, when President Barack Obama instituted a new and unprecedented policy of releasing the names of nearly all White House visitors.
In the case, Obama’s Justice Department took the position the government had under the Bush administration: that the White House visitor records were not subject to FOIA because they belonged to the president and not the Secret Service. However, Howell rejected that argument.
“The Secret Service argues that it is unable to dispose of the records freely because they are ultimately White House records and not agency records. This argument is circular,” Howell wrote in her 19-page ruling (posted here). “The claimed restrictions on disposal stem from the defendant’s assumption that the documents are under Presidential control — the exact point that the defendant seeks to prove to establish that the documents are not subject to FOIA.”
The Justice Department also argued that the records could implicate national security issues, but Howell said that was no reason to declare all the data requested by Judicial Watch to be beyond the reach of FOIA.
Given the Obama policy to release this information going forward, the implications of Howell’s ruling could be limited. However, if the decision is upheld, it means that what the White House has touted as a voluntary disclosure policy would not be voluntary any more.