The Color of 'Transparency' Is Black

Two heavily redacted military reports on detainee policy raise suspicion


| July 27, 2006


Often it is what is not said that is most revealing. Such was the case for Karen J. Greenberg, co-editor of The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib , when she read two recently released military reports on detainee policy, the Jacoby Report on Afghanistan and the Formica Report on Iraq. Writing for TomDispatch , Greenberg recounts that much was missing from the documents -- 'section after section filled with nothing but solid black blocs.'

The reports, each submitted to the Pentagon in 2004, were the findings of Brig. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr. and Brig. Gen. Richard P. Formica, who investigated detainee operations and allegations of abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively. The reports are now available to the public, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, but the Pentagon reserved the right to redact information it deemed technically and legally compromising, such as 'intelligence gathering unit names' or 'installation locations.' Blackouts aside, the Pentagon claims that the release of such documents is upholding President Bush's recent declaration that '[w]e're a transparent democracy.'

Where Bush sees 'transparency,' Greenberg sees black. The reports 'are in a league with other recent administration releases which have been notable for the information they hide rather than reveal.' The Jacoby and Formica reports are two of the latest in a string of reports that have been declassified and released in censored format. That trend, combined with the administration's penchant for classifying reams of documents, questions the proclaimed 'transparency' of US democracy. Since Clinton's presidency, the number of declassified documents has dropped more than 80 percent, and the number of documents stamped classified has reached 16 million annually, double what it was five years ago.

Releasing reports spackled with black is asking for speculation, Greenberg argues. 'Given a blank space, the mind naturally has the tendency to fill it in -- and these latest reports in their blankness are nothing but invitations to invent the details yourself based on what is already well known.' It's hard not to draw conclusions when a section entitled 'Interrogation Techniques' is followed by two pages of black. While the two reports offered morsels of new information on detainee policy, what Greenberg found most telling was the information that wasn't there. -- Rachel Anderson

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