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State Dept. Cables? WikiLeaks Documents? What? Where?

Anna Estevao,
National Security Project
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July 19, 2011

Last month, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the State Department’s failure to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking the declassification of 23 leaked State Department cables. These cables have already been fully disclosed online by WikiLeaks and distributed by major national and international newspapers. The U.S. government has maintained that the cables are secret. As we’ve said before, the government’s struggle to ignore WikiLeaks has reached the point of absurdity.

Last week, we received the government’s initial response to our lawsuit; it demonstrates just how far they are willing to go to evade responsibility.

First, the government denies that we even asked for State Department cables in our FOIA request. Instead, they argue that we only requested what we claim are State Department cables. Of course, while insisting that the American people are not entitled to know whether the leaked cables are authentic, the government has simultaneously aggressively pursued the alleged source of the cables. As the ACLU’s complaint states:

To which the government responded:

The government also assured us that even if we had requested what are in fact State Department cables, those cables do not “describe federal government activity.” Even actual State Department cables “are often preliminary and incomplete expressions of foreign policy, and . . . they do not necessarily represent U.S. views or policy.” Some of these incomplete “expressions” of foreign policy that don’t necessarilyreflect U.S. views or policy include:

  • descriptions of interference with the Spanish investigation of CIA rendition flights and prosecution of Bush administration officials for torture of detainees;
  • urging Germany to drop arrest warrants for the rendition and torture of Khaled El-Masri, an innocent German citizen;
  • attempts to pressure the Italian judiciary to drop international arrest warrants for the CIA’s kidnapping and rendition of Egyptian citizen Abu Omar in Milan;
  • diplomatic meddling in response to investigations of CIA rendition programs throughout Ireland, Portugal, Switzerland, and the Netherlands;
  • international admissions and negotiations regarding the use of drones throughout Pakistan and Yemen.

The message to the American public is: you don’t need to know if the leaked cables that the world has read are real. But even if they are real, the government won’t take responsibility for their contents. Americans don’t need to know if the State Department is spending our diplomatic capital in attempts to cover up and evade accountability for torture and rendition.

The government concludes with the following:

What the government calls “unusual circumstances” should not allow for further delay. Congress passed the Freedom of Information Act to make the government accountable to the American people. Eventually, the State Department will have to stop ignoring reality and begin to take responsibility for the embarrassments that WikiLeaks has brought to light.

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