Image © Austin Cline
Original Poster: National Archives
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People who like to justify excessive police powers to search and monitor citizens often do so by arguing that if you have nothing to hide, why not let the police search? I've never heard these same people make a parallel case in favor of the citizens knowing what the government is doing: if those who govern us have nothing illegal or immoral to hide, why not open the books and let us see what they have been doing in our name?
Perhaps they would consider such a perspective if their original argument were offered sincerely and not as a rationalization for their own authoritarian mindset; the rest of us, however, should definitely take it seriously. Government employees are supposed to work for us, and since it appears that many have forgotten that, it is up to us to remind them of that fact.
The behavior of the Bush administration has consistently been that of people not merely engaged in criminal and immoral behavior, but of people who know very well that what they are doing is wrong — or at least will be perceived as wrong by the vast majority of observers. That's the best explanation I can think of for the ongoing pattern of "losing" and even blatantly destroying evidence of what they have been doing in their "War on Terrorism" — especially where the treatment and questioning of prisoners is concerned.
The revelation that tapes CIA of interrogations have been destroyed underscores this substantially. If they had merely claimed that they had lost the original tapes, that might almost be believable — not quite, but almost. The incompetence of the Bush administration has been extreme enough to warrant taking such an excuse seriously, but at some point it becomes difficult to accept that so much incompetence could occur in a manner that is so convenient to them.
Rather than use an almost-but-not-quite plausible excuse, though, they instead chose to use a completely-incredible-and-stupid excuse: the tapes could have identified CIA operatives and they couldn't take the risk of the information being leaked. In principle, it's reasonable to avoid such an outcome, but surely the CIA doesn't destroy everything which might compromise agents if leaked — so why these tapes in particular?
The fact that they might demonstrate grave crimes being committed by Americans under orders from the American government and against prisoners can't be a coincidence — especially since they spent so long hiding them and then took so long to admit that they had destroyed them. There are no good reasons for destroying this evidence, and lots of good reasons for preserving it.
Even if there are identities there which need to be concealed, the tapes would have been important both to prove that American doesn’t torture (if true) and to help ensure the conviction of anyone charged with crimes on the basis for the interrogations which were recorded. Instead, the destruction of these tapes will taint future prosecutions almost beyond repair — assuming, of course, that the Bush administration even allows real trials to go forward.
That may be too much to hope for, but if we can't get those accused of terrorism to face a court of law, perhaps we will be able to drag current administration officials into the courts. They would deny others basic legal rights and a day in court, so it seems fitting that we demonstrate to them why those rights are so important in a very personal way. Criminals in government today should become criminals in jail tomorrow, at least if we're going to have a republic that's worth salvaging in the long run.