The Coalition Column

News Briefs, April 2005

Bruce Craig, April 2005

New Humanities Caucus Launched in the House of Representatives

Two members of the House of Representatives have launched a new Humanities Caucus in the 109th Congress. The caucus, co-chaired by Reps. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) and David Price (D-N.C.), "seeks to ensure the continued vitality of the humanities programs that enrich American intellectual and cultural life."

The caucus will work to raise the profile of the humanities through a variety of activities including education briefings and strategy sessions for members and congressional staff; public briefings; special events (such as film screenings, lectures, and tours) for members, congressional staff, and their families. For the kickoff event, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Chair Bruce Cole led a tour for Members of Congress and their spouses at the National Gallery of Art. Cole’s talk, entitled "Renaissance History and its Craftsmen," focused on how political, cultural and religious trends can be studied in the art and architecture of the Renaissance.

The Humanities Caucus currently includes: Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Timothy Bishop (D-N.Y.), Ben Chandler (D-Ky.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.), Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), Phil English (R-Penn.), Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), Dale Kildee (D- Mich.), Ron Kind (D-Wisc.), Tom Latham (R-Iowa), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), José Serrano (D-N.Y.), Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

Readers should contact their representatives and urge them to become members of the Humanities Caucus. To contact your representative, visit http://www.humanitiesadvocacy.org or call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected.

" Open Government" Act Introduced

On 16 February 2005, Senators John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced legislation (S. 394) seeking "to achieve meaningful reforms to federal government information laws, most notably the Freedom of Information Act of 1966 (FOIA)."

Among other things, the measure forces agencies to pay legal costs in more cases than has been the case in the past when faced with a lawsuit over improperly withheld records. The bill also seeks to put in place other measures to hold agencies more accountable for fulfilling public requests for documents under FOIA.

The measure was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee; a hearing has been tentatively scheduled for 15 March. Additional information about the bill and links to other relevant web sites may be found at Senator Cornyn’s web page at http://cornyn.senate.gov/FOIA/ .

NARA Opens Bush Presidential Records

On February 18, 2005, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) opened approximately 9,700 pages of presidential records that are associated with the presidency of George H.W. Bush that were previously withheld under Presidential Records Act (PRA) restrictions. This is the first release of Bush presidential records that are no longer subject to presidential restrictive categories or applicable Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemptions.

The good news for scholars is that representatives of neither former President Bush nor the incumbent President Bush have chosen to assert any constitutionally based privilege on any of these papers that could have been claimed under provisions of PRA implementation Executive Order 13233. This release brings the total number of records now available to scholars and researchers relating to the Executive Office of the President during George H. W. Bush’s presidency to 5.4 million pages.

The records included in the release are drawn from a wide variety of presidential subject files and as such contain materials from some thirty-five general subject categories ranging from agriculture to welfare. The Bush Library is continuing to review some 57,000 pages of other records subject to E.O. 13233 review. Additional releases will be forthcoming "soon," according to library officials.

The next release will probably contain much more targeted information as they will reflect some of the FOIA requests that the library has received to date and that have been processed. Future releases, for example, may contain documents relating to such specific topics as civil rights, and Bush administration Supreme Court nominations for Clarence Thomas and David H. Souter.

For additional information about the contents of the release call the George Bush Library Research Room at (979) 691-4041.

Clinton Papers Released

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum has announced the first public release since the end of the Clinton administration of over 100,000 pages of Clinton presidential records. The opening marks a successful collaborative effort by the National Archives and Records Administration and President Clinton that seeks to allow researchers access to Clinton administration records as quickly as possible.

The 1978 Presidential Records Act (PRA) allows former presidents to restrict certain types of records for 12 years after leaving office. Clinton, however, has opted to allow an earlier release of some categories of records. The records in this first release include files from his Domestic Policy staff, materials relating to Carol Rasco and Bruce Reed, and other records covering a wide range of domestic policy issues—from employment and education to health care and promotion of the arts. Among the records released as those associated with the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States.

Clinton library archivists continue to review additional records for "early" release, such as administrative histories and additional files from other staff of the Domestic Policy Council. For additional information about the release visit http://www.clintonlibrary.gov or contact Emily Robin at (501) 244-2891.

Senate Recommends Nazi War Crimes Board Extension

On February 16, 2005, the Senate approved legislation (S. 384) introduced by Senator Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) along with Senators John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to extend the duration of the Interagency Working Group (IWG) on Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records for another two years. To date, the work of the IWG has resulted in the release of more than 8 million pages of documents including 1.25 million pages of CIA records and those of its preceding agency, the Office Of Strategic Services.

The work of the IWG has captured considerable public attention recently when several government openness and Jewish organizations (including the Anti-Defamation League) claimed that the CIA was refusing to divulge certain records, in spite of the 1998 law championed by Senator DeWine which mandates their disclosure. According to Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, "The dispute is an important test for CIA secret-keepers. If they can withhold highly charged records of Nazi war crimes in defiance of a statutory obligation to disclose, then there is nothing that can ever force them to release more mundane documents. They will be a law unto themselves."

For years, the CIA has resisted the release of formerly classified documents. To the great embarrassment of the agency, the Washington D.C. based National Security Archives managed to secure formerly classified documents under provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and released them. The documents, including a CIA history entitled, "Forging an Intelligence Partnership CIA and the Origins of the BND, 1945–49," provide concrete documentary evidence of what historians have long suspected—that at the conclusion of World War II, U.S. intelligence agencies were waging a contradictory campaign of de-nazification and prosecuting Nazi war criminals, while at the same time they were recruiting Nazi leaders, including Gestapo and SS officials, and protecting them in order to advance broader American national security interests. The documents show, for example, that at least five associates of the notorious Nazi Adolf Eichmann worked for the CIA and no less than 23 other Nazis were also approached.

As a result of the intervention of Senator DeWine and mounting public pressure, the CIA appears to have backed down and has agreed to release more information on Nazi war criminals. The historical community is indebted to Senator DeWine and government openness organizations that have steadfastly refused to cave in to CIA demands to keep secret those records that have no present day national security value but do possess enormous public interest and historical importance.