Administration pulling wool over America's eyes
Published: Saturday, October 25th, 2003
Thank God for George Orwell. If it weren’t for the British author who wrote the novel 1984, a cautionary tale about a totalitarian society, we’d have a hard time finding the perfect word to describe the current Bush administration. Orwellian. Since coming to power, the administration of President George W. Bush has clamped down on information and misled the public in a way that would have made Orwell’s fictional Ministry of Truth proud. The latest evidence of the administration’s revisionist attitude: It has banned news cameras from covering ceremonies for arriving caskets containing the bodies of American military personnel when they return to U.S. military bases. As the Washington Post reported Tuesday: “In March, on the eve of the Iraq war, a directive arrived from the Pentagon at U.S. military bases. ‘There will be no arrival ceremonies for, or media coverage of, deceased military personnel returning to or departing from Ramstein (Germany) airbase or Dover (Del.) base, to include interim stops’,” the Defense Department said, referring to the major ports for the returning remains.” It looks like the Bush administration doesn’t want the public to see all those flag-draped coffins arriving — caskets holding America’s sons and daughters — because it reminds the public of ongoing casualties in Iraq. The Pentagon says the policy dates from late 2000, but has been unenforced until now. An anonymous Pentagon official told the Post that “only individual graveside services, open to cameras at the discretion of relatives, give ‘the full context’ of a soldier’s sacrifice.” But this directive attempts to take the spotlight away from the men and women who have given their lives for their country. It’s wrong for the government to try to deflect attention from these deaths. Determined to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the administration conflated his regime with the terrorist group al-Qaeda, insinuating that Iraq was in some way responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks (actually, 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, and none of them were Iraqi). Bush and Cheney used that misunderstanding to sell the war against Iraq to the American public. Then they acted surprised when a poll revealed that 70 percent of Americans thought Saddam was behind 9-11. The men and women of the Bush administration have not tolerated anyone who contradicts their message or criticizes their policies. The U.S. Army’s chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, got in trouble with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after the general told Congress last February that it would take several hundred thousand troops to keep order in postwar Iraq, contradicting proclamations from Rumsfeld and the White House. Events after Bush declared “major combat” over have proven the general correct. U.S. forces don’t have enough troops and face a difficult job. But instead of admitting that they were wrong, Bush officials blame “negative media coverage” and insist all is well. Even before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which it used to justify secrecy, the White House was no friend of the public’s right to know. The administration refused to release the names of energy executives who met with Vice President Dick Cheney to discuss energy policy. The White House halted the release of routinely declassified documents from two decades ago. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft sent a memo essentially telling federal employees to stonewall requests under the Freedom of Information Act. After the attacks, reciting the phrase “homeland security,” federal officials were quick to deny access to documents that were once available to the public. Then-presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer answered a press conference question with a warning that Americans “need to watch what we say.” Now, the administration’s latest attempt to deny reality. George Orwell would find it familiar.
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