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October 05, 2007

More Secrecy!
Posted by David Shorr

Up late watching C-SPAN tonight (don't ask). The House Committee on Oversight and Government had a hearing Thursday on anti-corruption efforts in Iraq. What was most interesting was the State Department's insistence on a closed session to discuss fundamental assessment of the Maliki government.

The testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Lawrence Butler has to rank among the all-time somber invocations of 'national security' to avoid open discussion of core policy questions. When Committee Chair Rep. Henry Waxman asked Butler whether the Maliki government "has the political will and capacity to root out corruption." Butler's response was that "questions which go to the broad nature of our bilateral relationship with Iraq are best answered in a classified setting."

I'm not in a position to judge the State Department's anti-corruption efforts in Iraq, and the need to discuss details in executive session is understandable. But you would think that questions about the "broad nature" would be just the kind of questions that can and should be discussed in open session. Ambassador Butler's stated reasons were the kind of national security seriousness that this VSP finds terribly manipulative. First, there was the need to "protect the lives of the people in the country...what the military calls operational security." Then there was an invocation of the ambassador's service in dark shadowy places like the former Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia. He also mentioned the need to protect the anonymity and safety of the Iraqis who are helping them. On this last one, fair enough. But the State Department surely should be able to say something, a general description of the problem, without betraying sources.


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