a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

"Secrecy is the freedom zealots dream of"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on January 24th, 2007

Good line by Bill Moyers in the 1987 documentary “The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis,” a very useful bit of history about Iran-Contra and the secret government it revealed. Moyers continues, “…no watchman to check the door — no accountant to check the books — no judge to check the law.” The thesis:

The Secret Government is an interlocking network of official functionaries, spies, mercenaries, ex-generals, profiteers and superpatriots, who, for a variety of motives, operate outside the legitimate institutions of government. Presidents have turned to them when they can’t win the support of the Congress or the people, creating that unsupervised power so feared by the framers of our Constitution. …

Via Tiny Revolution, King of Zembla, and the miracle of the internets, you can watch the whole 90 minutes right here, right now, if you like, or at least until whoever the copyright owner is complains.

There’s a thin but strong thread connecting those events with today. Moyers mentions that Congress was due to release a report on Iran-Contra as the documentary was aired. But the minority report was chaired by one Richard Cheney and written by one David Addington, now Cheney’s chief of staff. They asserted that there was nothing wrong about a President failing to follow the law when it came to national security. Rather, it was wrong of Congress to expect that, as Joan Didion summarized Cheney’s views in the 10/5/06 New York Review of Books:

…the “mistakes” in Iran-contra, as construed by the minority report, had followed not from having done the illegal but from having allowed the illegal to become illegal in the first place. As laid out by the minority, a principal “mistake” made by the Reagan administration in Iran-contra was in allowing President Reagan to sign rather than veto the 1984 Boland II Amendment forbidding aid to contra forces: no Boland II, no illegality. A second “mistake,” to the same point, was Reagan’s “less-than-robust defense of his office’s constitutional powers, a mistake he repeated when he acceded too readily and too completely to waive executive privilege for our Committees’ investigation.”

No reason to think he feels any differently now; no reason to think he’s hiding anything less illegal.

UPDATE/EDIT, 12/4/07: different access to video embedded. In case this one becomes unavailable as well, see key excerpts and a partial transcript here (

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