When the point of classification is keeping the realities of America’s wars from Americans, that says we are the enemy.

Our government classifies a lot of documents, some 92 million in 2011 alone.

The ostensible point of all that classification is protect the nation’s secrets. Some of it even makes sense. Troop movements, nuclear things, identities of spies, traditional stuff you want to keep from your enemies. The purpose of classification is not to hide government mistakes or prevent embarrassing things from coming into daylight.

The president even said so. Obama’s 2009 Executive Order on National Security Information made clear “In no case shall information be classified, continue to be maintained as classified, or fail to be declassified in order to conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error, or “prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency.”

More Irony in a Nation Awash with It

Yes, more irony in a nation awash with it. But seriously, when the point of classification is keeping the realities of America’s wars from Americans, that says we are the enemy. Today’s case in point:

The top official in charge of the classification system decided that it was legitimate for the Marines to classify photographs that showed American forces posing with corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, and urinating on them. Many of the photos have already been published, but no matter, whatever hasn’t leaked out is now a secret. A kicker is that the “top official” who decides these things is some guy at the National Archives you’ve never heard of.

That top official is allowed to be the final arbiter of what Americans can see of their wars because of Executive Order 13526, Section 5.5, which grants him alone the authority to make a report to the head of an agency, or to the designated senior agency official for classified national security information, if any members of the agency knowingly, willfully, or negligently classify or continue the classification of information in violation of the Order. So, in this case, he just did that, confirming in a simple letter that the Marines can keep the photos a secret.

Support the Troops!

The stated reason for the secrecy? To support the troops, of course. The rationale is that the release of additional images would make the Taliban somehow even angrier at the U.S. for occupying Afghanistan for 13 years and provoke more attacks. The same rationale, though a different legal manipulation, was used to keep additional photos of American torture at Abu Ghraib and images from the bin Laden kill locked up.

A video of the Marines’ now-classified act is still on YouTube.

Unless the Taliban can’t see YouTube from Afghanistan, they already know what happened.

Another thing the Taliban also know is that the Marine Corps sniper captured on a YouTube video urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan was only reduced in rank after a court-martial. So, an act by a Marine that supposedly could cost American lives is punished merely by a reduction in rank. And even that mild rebuke took two years to happen. That couldn’t possibly stir anyone up in Afghanistan.

We Got This

The Taliban, as the Iraqis before them, know darn well what happened. It is even possible they know of atrocities by American troops that weren’t photographed as trophies of war and are thus unknown to Americans. Classifying the photos does not change the fact that the atrocities happened. It only tries (albeit crudely and stupidly) to hide those atrocities from the American people.


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Peter Van Buren writes about current events at blog. His book,Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, is available now from from Amazon.

Photo by Michelangelo Carrieri used under Creative Commons license