Executive order should be reversed; history should not be secret

Posted: Monday, November 12, 2001

It may be an unworthy thought, but it seems that the Bush White House has taken advantage of the nation's preoccupation with other matters to slip a patently self-serving executive order past Congress and the public.

An executive order ... gives President Bush the power to veto the release of any presidential documents from the archives of his predecessors, including his father.

Until this new order, presidential libraries and the National Archives were entitled to keep papers from public inspection for up to 12 years after an administration had left office, but after the 12th year they had to begin releasing the records, subject to certain security and privacy safeguards.

There has been no indication that the former presidents or their archivists have had a problem with the act, and, in fact, the Reagan Library in Simi Valley had planned to release 68,000 pages of documents last January. ... However, the administration intervened three times to block the release and the new executive order makes that power permanent. The White House cites the all-purpose justification of ''national security'' for any questionable conduct, but there are already safeguards in place to protect sensitive information. ...

The opportunity for political mischief is obvious. If Democrats Bill Clinton and Al Gore decided to defend themselves against GOP charges they were soft on terrorism by ordering the release of documents outlining, for example, their efforts to snare Osama bin Laden, the Bush White House could veto the disclosure.

And it is not a stretch to wonder if this White House is up to something that it doesn't want known 12 years from now. The 1978 law that this order subverts was passed because of President Nixon's efforts to thwart public access to the seamier aspects of his tenure. ...

Mr. Bush should reverse himself on this executive order, and if he doesn't, Congress should do it for him.

-- The Ventura (Calif.) County Star

Nov. 5

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