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General News    H2'ed 1/23/09

Obama Frees Bush Historical Records

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Obama Frees Bush Historical Records

By Robert Parry 
January 22, 2009

When authoritarian forces seize control of a government, they typically move first against the public’s access to information, under the theory that a confused populace can be more easily manipulated. They take aim at the radio stations, TV and newspapers.

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In the case of George W. Bush in 2001, he also took aim at historical records, giving himself and his family indefinite control over documents covering the 12 years of his father’s terms as President and Vice President.

It was, therefore, significant that one of Barack Obama’s first acts as President was to revoke the Bush Family’s power over that history and to replace it with an easier set of regulations for accessing the records.

Just as George W. Bush upon taking office in January 2001 immediately delayed the scheduled release of documents from the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Obama wasted no time in reversing that policy by signing a new executive order on his first working day in office.

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Eight years earlier, George W. Bush initially postponed the document release and then – after the 9/11 attacks – sought to extend the cloak of secrecy over those documents virtually forever.

Bush signed Executive Order 13233 on Nov. 1, 2001, granting the sitting President as well as former Presidents or ex-Vice Presidents – or their heirs – veto power over release of many documents.

In other words, Bush was giving himself and his family effective control over key chapters of 20 years of American history (his father’s eight years as Vice President and four years as President, and his own eight years as President).

Presumably at some point, that power would have passed to George W. Bush’s daughters, Jenna and Barbara, and to their progeny, giving the family a kind of dynastic control over how Americans would understand key events of an important national era.

Self-serving myths could become a substitute for accurate history – all the better to protect the Bush Family’s interests.

Frustrations

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In a real-life sense, what Bush’s order did was frustrate the ability of journalists and historians to file Freedom of Information Act requests for even routine information from the 12 years of the Reagan-Bush-41 era.

Information that once was quickly available – like calendars of senior officials – became subject to multiple layers of approvals, stretching out a process from days or weeks to months or to a year or more.

First, the government archivists examined the material to excise any classified or personal information. That essentially was the extent of the old process for opening up routine documents in a brief period of time.

Under the Bush rules, however, even routine documents were referred to designees of both the sitting and former Presidents (or ex-Vice Presidents) for a decision on asserting some privilege. Even if no privilege was asserted, the process was stretched out by months, sometimes more than a year.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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