Above the Law

In the latest round of “How dare you think we’d do this on purpose!” the White House has revealed that as many as 10 million e-mails from March to October 2003 may be permanently lost.

All White House e-mails are required to be preserved for official archiving by the Federal Records Act. However, the current administration abandoned the electronic record-keeping system of the Clinton administration, replacing it with, well, nothing substantive. As a Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) lawsuit revealed, the only safeguard in place for preserving deleted e-mails were backup tapes containing snapshots of the White House servers at given moments in time.

In response to a court order, the White House has now admitted that those tapes were routinely recycled. But that’s ok, right? It’s not like anything important happened during time period.

What’s that, CREW?

The significance of this time-period cannot be overstated: the U.S. went to war with Iraq, top White House officials leaked the covert identity of Valerie Plame Wilson and the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into their actions.

Oh. Well, crap then.

White House spokesperson Tony Fratto was indignant that anyone would believe they’d lost the e-mails on purpose, saying, “We have no reason to believe that there is any data missing at all.”

Fortunately, the administration’s credibility remains high with regard to disclosing information to the public. After all, it’s not like they’ve destroyed tapes of torture sessions, used outside e-mail accounts to illegally bypass archival requirements, ordered top aides to ignore Congressional subpoenas, used state secret arguments to lawsuits about illegal detentions and administration spying on banking records, or declared that the Office of the Vice President isn’t part of the Executive branch.

It may be a quaint concept (like the Geneva conventions), but democracy requires informed consent from the populace. We need to be aware of the mechanisms of our government in order to be able to judge whether it’s working properly.

Beyond that, we have the right to know what’s being done in our name. Elected politicians aren’t working for a private company somewhere. They’re working for us.