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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

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I often wonder why governments document the bad things they do (it seems to me that it will eventually be declassified - why run that risk?). I guess subordinates need to prove to their superiors what a good job they're doing so they can get that next promotion...? I don't get it, what do you think?

You can get extra irony points by recalling that, as a member of the Illinois State Senate, Barack Obama was the lead proponent of a bill that would require the police to videotape interrogations.

But that's the Chicago Police Dept. we're talking about. You'd be crazy not to want to keep an eye on those fuckers.

I wonder about the same thing sometimes, gfod. I think the answer is pretty straightforward, though: because they have to. It's not like government is filled with people with perfect recall, infinite memory capacity, and a willingness to pass on information via the oral tradition; like any large organization, they need a fixed institutional memory, and that means massive amounts of documentation.

Even looking just at interrogations, it's pretty clear that it's necessary to document them in some way, and probably multiple ways (video, transcripts, etc)—because otherwise how would the "intelligence" that's gathered be available for review? And in the case of the Bush administration's foray into the direct application of torture, I'm sure the videos were highly useful for training purposes as well.

Even the worst stuff is no doubt documented somewhere, though we'll never see it (or like the CIA videotapes, it will be destroyed—or maybe "destroyed"—before we can). Honestly, I suspect that what the Obama administration is objecting to here isn't the videotaping, but the fact that it is explicitly required (and there are probably retention requirements as well)—which removes the plausibility of convenient excuses like "we didn't videotape it" or "we destroyed the videotapes", and may even make them illegal.

That's what Gibbs really meant (whether he knew it or not) about "giving the people in the CIA the tools they need": that the Obama administration wants to make sure the CIA can keep acting as a law unto itself without undue public or legal accountability.

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