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The Justice Department posts on its Web site a heavily redacted copy of a report it had commissioned about its own record of racial diversity in the workplace. Half of the report’s 186 pages are censored, including the summary and conclusions. Russ Kick, the author and First Amendment activist who maintains the Web site “The Memory Hole,” downloads the report and realizes that he can digitally remove the redaction lines to read the report in its entirety. When he does so, he realizes that most of the redactions are to hide reports from minority lawyers at the department, who have filed numerous complaints claiming work conditions rife with “stereotyping, harassment, and racial tension.” When Kick posts the unredacted version of the Justice Department document, civil rights experts and Congressional Democrats accuse the department of trying to hide its findings to avoid culpability and negative publicity. But the department claims that the portions of the report that were redacted, including the conclusions, were “deliberative and predecisional,” and therefore legal to exclude under the Freedom of Information Act. (Russ Kick 10/21/2003; Savage 2007, pp. 105)
Russ Kick, an author and owner of “The Memory Hole,” a Web site dedicated to presenting information it thinks the government does not want revealed, receives a CD from the US military containing 361 photographs of flag-draped coffins returning to the US from overseas postings—mostly Iraq—through Dover Air Force Base. Kick had filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in October 2003 for photos of coffins at the base, had been rejected, and had appealed. He is surprised to actually receive the photos. None of the photos contain personally identifying information, and most depict row after row of coffins strapped down in the holds of transport planes. Kick immediately posts the photographs on his Web site, writing, “Score one for freedom of information and the public’s right to know.” The Bush administration immediately orders the Pentagon to conceal such photographs in the future, citing the soldiers’ families’ right to privacy, even though the photographs reveal no personal information about the soldiers. Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA), a former Navy officer, says: “This is not about privacy. This is about trying to keep the country from facing the reality of war.” (Russ Kick 4/2004; Savage 2007, pp. 105-106) In 2004, a contractor will be fired for releasing a photo of flag-draped coffins to the press (see April 18, 2004 and After). In 2009, the Obama administration will reverse the Pentagon policy and allow photographs to be published (see February 26, 2009).
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