Saturday, May 08, 2004

The Taguba Report and "National Security"

My second concern regarding Rumsfeld's testimony is his explanation about how the investigation of prisoner abuse was handled within the military. As Rumsfeld repeatedly emphasized, the military began an investigation in January, and we now know that Major General Taguba released his report in February. It was classified. Why? When that question was posed to Rumsfeld in a press conference on May 4th, this is what he and General Pace had to say:

Q: General, a quick follow-up on that, please. Could you explain to us why the Taguba report was classified secret, no foreign distribution? Those of us who have read the report, there's clearly nothing in there that's inherently secret, such as intelligence sources and methods or troop movements. Was this kept secret because it would be embarrassing to the world, particularly the Arab world?

GEN. PACE: First of all, I do not know specifically why it was labeled secret. Potentially there are parts of the hundreds and hundreds of pages of documentation that are classified. I do not know that to be a fact, but normally we will classify a document at the highest level of anything that's in that document.

But as the secretary pointed out, immediately we told the world that we thought we had a problem. So there has been no attempt to hide this. What we've been trying to do is find out the truth of the matter so we can get on about correcting; finding out who did what, and then taking a proper action.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you say why it was classified secret? Do you know?

SEC. RUMSFELD: No, you'd have to ask the classifier.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Q: Mr. Secretary? Taking into account –

SEC. RUMSFELD: You can ask General Casey, who's going to be down here discussing that later.

I don't know whether General Casey indeed discussed that later. As far as I have been able to find, there has been no explanation for why the Taguba report was classified.

On March 25, 2003, President Bush issued Executive Order 13292 that sets forth the policies and procedures for classifying information. It provides (in section 1.1) that "information may be originally classified under the terms of this order only if all of the following conditions are met:"

(1) an original classification authority is classifying the information;
(2) the information is owned by, produced by or for, or is under the control of the United States Government;
(3) the information falls within one or more of the categories of information listed in section 1.4 of this order; and
(4) the original classification authority determines that the unauthorized disclosure of the information reasonably could be expected to result in damage to the national security, which includes defense against transnational terrorism, and the original classification authority is able to identify or describe the damage.

The DOD is considered an "original classification authority," so requirement #1 is met. The report was produced by the US Government, so #2 is ok. What about #3? The categories of information that can be classified according to section 1.4 are as follows:

(a) military plans, weapons systems, or operations;
(b) foreign government information;
(c) intelligence activities (including special activities), intelligence sources or methods, or cryptology;
(d) foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources;
(e) scientific, technological, or economic matters relating to the national security, which includes defense against transnational terrorism;
(f) United States Government programs for safeguarding nuclear materials or facilities;
(g) vulnerabilities or capabilities of systems, installations, infrastructures, projects, plans, or protection services relating to the national security, which includes defense against transnational terrorism; or
(h) weapons of mass destruction.

For the life of me, I cannot see how the Taguba report fits within any of those categories. And more importantly, section 1.7(a)(1) provides: "In no case shall information be classified in order to:
(1) conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error.

I am disappointed that no member of Congress asked Rumsfeld about this (as far as I know). There has also been very little press coverage. The Federation of American Scientists issued a press release stating "Torture Report May Have Broken Classification Rules," and according to this WP article the group sent a letter to J. William Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office (the office responsible for overseeing classified material), seeking an explanation. CNet's also published a story on this, and Friday's Democracy Now broadcast also mentioned the issue. But this certainly deserves more coverage, and a better explanation from the government.

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