Monday, June 14, 2004

Most of the materials collected by the 9/11 Commission should be immediately declassified

Why you're right:

1. Declassifying the material will make us safer. The mandate of the 9/11 Commission is to "provide recommendations designed to guard against future attacks." Their recommendations will be based on the materials they have collected. If most of this information is made public, independent experts will be able to evaluate their recommendations and suggest improvements. If most of the information is kept secret for 25 years – as the Bush administration is proposing – we will have no way to evaluate the factual interpretations and recommendations of the commission for an entire generation. (9-11 Commission)

2. Keeping the materials classified will breed conspiracy theories. This was the experience with the Kennedy assassination investigation. The commission's conclusions were not viewed as credible because the information was sealed. It undermined people's trust in government. It is essential that we not repeat this mistake because many people, including the families of the 9/11 victims, are looking to the 9/11 commission as a source of closure. (WSJ)

3. Declassifying the materials will avoid unnecessary litigation. Much of the material would have to be declassified anyway under the Freedom of Information Act. Many people will request the information. That could lead to costly litigation as the government attempts to keep the information secret. (WSJ)

Why they're wrong:

The administration argues that the information should remain secret for the purpose of national security. But Chairman Tom Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, acknowledges that much of the data the administration has classified does not contain vital secrets. Sources, methods and other information that, if made public, would have a demonstrably negative effect on our national security should remain classified. All other information should be made public – even if it is a source of embarrassment for a public official.