Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Obama overturns Bush order on access to White House secret records

US President Barack Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office of the White House in his first complete day as Commander-in-Chief

President Obama is moving quickly to undo the Bush administration's regime of secrecy.

Yesterday, he repealed a 2001 executive order granting former presidents, and vice presidents, the ability to seal their papers forever.

Obama vowed during the campaign to overturn the order, as part of a government "transparency" agenda.

Obama said: "Going forward, any time the American people want to know something that I or a former president wants to withhold, we will have to consult with the attorney general and the White House counsel, whose business it is to ensure compliance with the rule of law."

"Information will not be withheld just because I say so. It will be be held -- withheld because a separate authority believes my request is well grounded in the Constitution," Obama said.

"Let me say it as simply as I can. Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

He also issued fresh directive on how to interpret the Freedom of Information Act as a result the officials and agencies would have to lean toward making information public instead of coming up with legal justification for withholding it.

"The Freedom of Information Act is perhaps the most powerful instrument we have for making our government honest and transparent, and of holding it accountable," he added.

"The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over. Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known," Obama added.

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