On Transparency, Obama Succeeds and Disappoints in First 100 Days

April 27, 2009

For Immediate Release

Contact: Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, 212-998-6289
Susan Lehman, 212-998-6318

Detailed 30-Page Report Card Reveals Obama's Need to Improve Accountability in Cases of Government Misconduct

D.C. – Today, the Brennan Center for Justice releases a new report card evaluating President Obama's record of transparency in national security matters during his first 100 days in office.

"There's a clear pattern here," says Elizabeth Goitein, Director of the Brennan Center's Liberty and National Security Project. "In most areas, the President has honored his pledge to make transparency a hallmark of his administration. But that commitment seems far weaker in cases where accountability is sought for government misconduct."

"President Obama's record of transparency is overall a tremendous improvement over President Bush's record," Goitein adds. "In the areas of open government and access to presidential records, he has put excellent policies in place; what's needed now is faithful implementation, particularly when it comes to national security issues. He has also made important strides in reducing the executive branch's reliance on secret law.

"But in cases where people seek accountability for government misconduct—whether through the courts, Congress, or an independent commission—the administration doesn't show the same instinct for openness. This is troublesome, because facing up to the mistakes of the past and learning from those mistakes is a critical part of moving forward and restoring the rule of law."

Transparency in the First 100 Days: A Report Card
examines actions that both directly and indirectly affect access to information about national security policies. Examples include:

  • the release of Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos on torture
  • the President's response to the call for a commission of inquiry· recent overbroad assertions of the "state secrets" privilege
  • the administration's role in the legal settlement requiring Harriet Miers and Karl Rove to provide information to Congress
  • the nomination of transparency advocate Dawn Johnsen to head OLC· the Attorney General's new Freedom of Information Act guidelines
  • President Obama's use of signing statements· the President's public schedule

Each section of the report provides a thorough analysis of the President's action, a grade, and a recommendation for future action. Key recommendations in the accountability category include supporting the State Secrets Protection Act, withdrawing the Attorney General's certification providing immunity to telecommunications companies in lawsuits challenging the warrantless wiretapping program, and endorsing a commission of inquiry to examine recent counter-terrorism abuses.

For more information or to arrange an interview with Elizabeth Goitein, please contact Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at 212-998-6289 or at jeanine.plant-chirlin@nyu.edu or contact Susan Lehman at 212-998-6318 or at susan.lehman@nyu.edu.

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