Thursday, April 07, 2005

World-Herald's Self-Indulgent Speculation

by Kyle Michaelis
The OWH puts Sandy Berger in the cross-hairs today, former National Security Adviser to President Bill Clinton, for supposedly destroying classified documents held in the National Archives. Little is known about the facts in this case, at least outside secure government channels, but that doesn't stop the OWH from assuming the worst.
Speculation at that time was that Berger, more recently a John Kerry adviser, was protecting his old boss, Bill Clinton. Berger had gained access to the documents ostensibly to refresh his memory as a witness for the commission that was putting together an account of the terrorist attacks of 2001. But the thought was that he'd look at the documents, not go after them with a pair of scissors...

The unanswered question - what was Berger trying to hide, and on whose behalf? - goes directly to the character of the American government, past and possibly future. The public needs an explanation.

This is a pattern that occurs too frequently these days. An accusation is made, a denial lodged. Then a deal is struck, the accused person pleads guilty and a token penalty is extracted, all without a full-dress courtroom appearance, with testimony and cross-examination, that would let the public in on the secret....

These are general concerns. There are, in addition, the obvious specific questions of what information the Archives held that was too hot to disclose for the commission or to leave for historians eventually to find.

There may be those who say that such talk puts too negative a spin on Berger and the Clinton administration. But try as one might, it's hard to imagine how a knowledgeable former federal official would risk conviction for a federal felony for anything less.

Now, on its face, there's nothing wrong with expecting accountability from a man in Berger's position. Nor is it wrong to be disappointed that the absolute facts of this case will never be established. But, assuming the worst possible scenario, that this is just a slap on the wrist for what amounts to a one-man government cover-up to somehow protect President Clinton, is just plain reckless.

A responsible newspaper doesn't have the luxury of making stuff up and publishing what it does not know. Berger remains steadfast in his assertion that this whole affair was an accident. He removed documents from the archives for further review, which is a misdemeanor, as an "honest mistake" and returned all but a few of them promptly.

What happened to these lost documents is simply unknown, as is exactly what they pertained to, leaving it insultingly presumptuous of the OWH to suggest hidden agendas and Berger cutting the documents up when there's no evidence to support such assertions. Berger has plead guilty to the misdemeanor it is known he committed - the removal and retention of classified government documents. Expecting more than that when there's no physical evidence to support it shows no regard for the standards of proof needed to overcome that hideous little constitutional protection assuring innocence until proven guilty.

Skepticism in matters of government is a healthy thing, but fabricating scenarios in the guise of righteous indignation to paint an incident in the worst possible light crosses over into raw political exploitation. That's to be expected from politicians but not from those we trust to give us the news.


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