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SUNDAY, MARCH 18, 2007
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EDITORIAL

Gonzalesí e-mails released, but Bartlett protecting homeland

Attorney General Alberto Gonzalesí office turned over e-mails last week relevant to the controversial firings of eight U.S. attorneys, yet Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett says his e-mails are off limits to public scrutiny.

Sheriff Bartlett sees himself as a mighty important man. To release e-mails sent by him or his deputies would jeopardize homeland security, the sheriff says in justifying the stonewalling tactic.

We have heard the homeland security excuse too many times. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the subsequent (ill-advised) adoption of the Patriot Act, politicians from the White House to the courthouse have invoked homeland security as an excuse to keep secret undemocratic activities, such as spying on innocent, unsuspecting, law-abiding Americans without a warrant.

Last year, Mr. Gonzales told the U.S. Senate that the FBIís spying program was strictly limited to terror suspects. Citing national security concerns, Mr. Gonzales would not give details of the program, which bypassed the secret court established specifically to issue warrants for such surveillance. But he assured Congress the FBI would use its new observation powers only on suspected terrorists.

Trust me, he said.

But this month, Mr. Gonzales admitted that the FBI routinely misused national security letters to improperly obtain confidential records of law-abiding Americans. ďThere is no excuse for the mistakes that have been made,Ē Mr. Gonzales said.

That type of abuse of power is exactly why secrecy in the guise of national security is dangerous. Too often, secrecy hides abuse rather than protects the publicís interest.

Certainly, there are circumstances in which it is in the publicís interest to hide details of sensitive operations. But those should be the rare exception, not the rule.

Sheriff Bartlett must have some mighty important e-mails.

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