Saturday, April 17, 2004

Bush's Invisible Library

[W]ho should control access to the archives of the 9/11 Commission after it closes up shop in August? The commission's records will go to the National Archives. On April 8 the Bush Administration quietly pushed the current archivist, John Carlin, a Clinton appointee, to step down. To replace him, Bush will nominate Allen Weinstein, a historian who has been criticized for failing to abide by accepted scholarly standards of openness (more details will appear in an upcoming Nation profile). Weinstein headed, until recently, the Center for Democracy, a think tank whose board is studded with GOP heavyweights, including Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and Richard Lugar, House Republican whip Roy Blunt and Henry Kissinger.


...This would leave a Republican appointee in charge of not only the 9/11 Commission archives but all other Bush White House documents.

The surprise move to replace the archivist violates the spirit of a 1984 law that sought to depoliticize the office. The archivist, according to that bill, is not a political appointee who serves at the pleasure of the President, and his term is not tied to the term of the President, although the President can ask for his resignation. A House report in 1984 said Congress "expects" the nomination of a new archivist "will be achieved through consultation with recognized organizations of professional archivists and historians." There has been no such consultation.

Bush's move is part of a larger pattern of expanded White House secrecy, starting with its fight to conceal the names of members of the Cheney energy task force and continuing with the recent effort to prevent the 9/11 Commission from revealing such documents as the now-famous Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001. It's true that all Presidents want to control access to their papers, but it's the responsibility of the archivist to see that access is "free, open, equal, and nondiscriminatory," as the Statement on Standards of the American Historical Association puts it. [editorial, The Nation]

It's hard for most people to get excited about Archival issues but, as pointed out above, this is part of a larger issue, namely BushCo.'s propensity for obfuscation and secrecy. The paranoia of this Administration make's Nixon's look like a bunch of touchy feely liberals. And that's scary. What's also scary is that Weinstein, Bush's choice for Archivist, has an equally shady attitude when it comes to disclosure. This, apparently, won't be his first time locking away documents where no one can verify their contents, which, by the way, is a violation of long standing archival principals.

We Information Professionals are dedicated First Amendment floggers. To hire someone with a history of hiding research documents and citing unverifiable sources should be shocking but for BushCo., it's just another day at the office.


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