By David Swanson
House Judiciary Committee Democratic staff members report that the White House and the Departments of State and Defense have for six months refused to comply with a request filed under the Freedom of Information Act by 52 Congress Members – a request seeking information on the Bush Administration’s reasons for going to war.
On June 30th of this year, Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers Jr. (Dem., Mich.) and 51 other Congress Members submitted a FOIA request to the White House, the Department of Defense, and the Department of State seeking documents and materials concerning the Downing Street Minutes and the lead up to the Iraq war.
On August 11th, Conyers wrote to the Office of Counsel to the President as follows:
“On June 30, 2005, I and 51 other Members of Congress requested access to ‘all agency records, including but not limited to handwritten notes, formal correspondence, electronic mail messages, intelligence reports and other memoranda,’ as described in five enumerated paragraphs. A copy of the request letter is enclosed.
“The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires your office to respond to a FOIA request within twenty business days from the date of receipt of such a request. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(A)(i). The deadline has now elapsed without any response from your office. Because the leaked memoranda from Great Britain raise serious questions over when important war-related decisions were made, time is of the essence.
“I and the other Members of Congress do not wish to resort to litigation because, at this point, a cooperative approach is better suited to resolving the situation. I am available to assist your office in any way possible to facilitate the prompt release of the requested documents. If you need clarification of the request or have any questions, please contact Stacey Dansky of the House Judiciary staff at 202-225-6906.”
The State Department phoned the Judiciary Committee Democratic staff on September 2nd asking for a clarification letter, which the Judiciary staff sent on September 19th. This letter limited the original request in some significant ways, as requested by the State Department, including limiting the time period from which certain information was sought, limiting some of the documents requested to those originating from the public affairs department, and eliminating some requests entirely.
On September 27th, the State Department sent back a brief note stating that the request was being processed.
That was three months ago, and the State Department has since told the Judiciary staff, in response to various phone inquiries, only that the request is still being processed.
The White House, meanwhile, has never even acknowledged the FOIA request.
The Department of Defense phoned the Judiciary staff on July 15th asking for a clarification letter, which was sent on July 28th. The July 28th letter clarified various points and limited the request in response to comments from the Department of Defense.
It then took until November 30th for the Department of Defense to send another letter to the House Judiciary Democratic staff. This new letter — addressed from Will Kramer, Chief, Office of Freedom of Information, Department of Defense, to the Honorable John Conyers, Jr. — said that the request would take a considerable time to process. In fact, it said processing of the request would not even begin until Conyers sent the DOD a statement of willingness to pay applicable fees, which the Department estimated as $110,000, not including reproduction charges.
Conyers has introduced bills to censure President Bush and Vice President Cheney for their refusals to respond to requests for information.