What is Karl Rove's legacy
Without a majority and abandoned by loyal companions, George W. Bush is entering the final year of his presidency. The American head of state now seems almost as if removed from the burdens of day-to-day politics. His mantra: History will judge me.
Many American historians should only shake their heads for the new presidential creed. They complain that the Bush administration has already set the course to keep important documents secret from history. An example of this is the amendment to the so-called "Presidential Records Act".
The law passed in the aftermath of the Watergate affair in 1978 is actually intended to ensure that the minutes and records of presidents cannot be destroyed. Since they have been declared the property of the people, they must be made available to the public after twelve years at the latest. A president has 30 days to object to the publication, but must give good reasons to do so.
In November 2001, Bush changed this practice with "Executive Order 13233": Historians or biographers now have to apply for the files to be released and to justify them. Both the ex-president concerned, including his heirs, and the current incumbent can then examine this request without any time limit and reject it without justification, literally delaying the release of the minutes for all eternity.
The consequences for historians are enormous: The American Library Association has compiled a list of over 50 works that could never have been produced by the Bush Decree - among them are the most important biographies of American presidents from Abraham Lincoln to George Bush Senior.
68,000 pages blocked from being released from the Reagan archives
"Think about how the publication of the recordings of Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon influenced our understanding of the decisions surrounding the Vietnam War," said renowned biographer Robert Dallek in the House of Representatives. A clear allusion to the so far little researched background of the Iraq war. Dallek and his colleagues now fear that the documents that will one day be stored in George W. Bush's presidential library in Texas will provide little illuminating information on this and other controversies of the 43rd President.
The consequences of the decree are already evident in the day-to-day work of the National Security Archive, an independent institution for the analysis of released archive documents. This is how director Thomas Blanton reports in an interview with sueddeutsche.dethat the approval process is now taking years longer than before: "At the Ronald Reagan presidential library, my inquiries took about 18 months to process in 2000 - we have now reached seven years!"
Bush himself had already blocked the release of 68,000 pages from the Reagan archives in 2001 - these contained, among other things, minutes of Reagan's talks with his Vice President, George Bush Sr.
In October 2007, the opponents of the decree had a small success: After the judgment of a federal court, former presidents now have to decide within 90 days whether to release minutes from their term of office. A precise reason why the documents should remain private is not required in the current judgment.
In the US Congress, the Democrats are working on a law to withdraw the decree. At the moment, however, this process has come to a standstill in the Senate because no majority can be found to override the announced veto of the president. The civil rights organization OpenTheGovernment.org recently complained in an open letter that of the five senators running for president, only Democrat Barack Obama has so far officially approved the law.
Because she, as the former first wife, would be affected by the publication of her husband's minutes, the media looks primarily at Hillary Clinton on this matter. In 1993, Bill hired her to reorganize the American healthcare system. Because their bill failed, their opponents want to look in the minutes for evidence of the former first lady's mistakes.
The ex-president has long since put a stop to this: as early as 2002, Bill Clinton had instructed the archivists to keep all communication protocols of the two under lock and key until January 20, 2013, for a maximum of twelve years afterwards So leaving office.
"Journalists, archivists and the public must put pressure on the next president to work more transparently," urges Justice Professor Rena Steinzor of the University of Maryland. However, she admits, the Presidential Records Act has become a rather blunt weapon for this.
In the summer of last year, for example, it became known that many Bush officials at the White House had used the Republican Party's e-mail accounts to communicate about government business - and that many of these e-mails have since been lost. Observers from the organization "Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington" recently estimated that a total of around ten million emails have disappeared. Your content could be anything from spam to consultations with lobby groups.
Although the use of private e-mails for government affairs is expressly forbidden in the Presidential Records Act, those affected, including former Bush adviser Karl Rove, do not have to fear any consequences: The law regulates the handling of government protocols - a punishment if disregarded it does not provide for.
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