Do the American people have a right to know what their government is doing? For President Bush and members of his administration, the given answer would be a resounding “no.”

Listening to the administration, one would get the impression that it believes that every time the press refuses to roll over and play dead — every time it uncovers the barbaric conditions in Abu Ghraib or some other Bush-approved torture chamber in Iraq or Guantanamo, every time the media lets people in on the fact that their government is watching them in a new program with a broader sweep and more personal detail than ever before — the press is unpatriotic, even treasonous.

Don’t worry, Bush officials say. There’s no need for you, the American people, to know anything about secret prisons, spying on you yourselves (under the guise of fighting terrorism), or any of that.

For years after 9/11, the media complied. But recently, slowly, the press has started bringing some stories to light, and the administration is in a tizzy.

Two weeks ago, The New York Times, along with the Los Angeles Times, published stories detailing a massive program by the U.S. government to monitor thousands of international banking transactions, over the objections of government officials.

Instead of engaging in conversation with the American people about why they thought such programs might be necessary, the administration waged a campaign of condemnation of the Times every chance it had.

Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Press Secretary Tony Snow and others have all lined up to accuse the Times of aiding the terrorists. There have even been calls to charge the paper’s editors and journalists with espionage.

Bush and his gang have made a number of arguments as to why the Times should not have reported the stories, all equally ridiculous.

Perhaps, they say, the bank they’ve been using might get antsy and pull out of the program, ruining everything. Wrong: The bank is under legal obligation to stay put.

Or, perhaps the terrorists will suddenly realize that they might be under investigation and start being more careful. One would think that international terrorists might suspect this sort of thing anyway, but especially since, a few years ago, administration officials actually bragged that they were monitoring foreign transactions as part of their anti-terror work.

The stories gave the terrorists nothing they didn’t already know. The newspapers left details fuzzy deliberately, instead focusing on the fact that our government has been engaged in — once again — a massive campaign of surveillance unheard of in recent times. The Times story spent much of its word length discussing whether such a program was constitutional.

People have called the Iraq war another Vietnam. As a parallel, the current assault on the free press is reminiscent of the Vietnam War-era release of the Pentagon Papers.

These documents, released by a disenchanted Rand Corp. employee, Daniel Ellsberg, proved what many had suspected: The U.S. government had secretly and illegally expanded the war, bombed Laos, and much more. The Times and other newspapers, by exposing lies and cover-ups, helped to fuel an already fierce movement to end an illegal war.

This is exactly what the Bush cabal is worried about. They do not want the American people to know what is going on. They don’t want us to know that they set up torture chambers all over the world where human beings are treated like dogs; they don’t want us to know that they are spying on us; they don’t want us to know much of anything involving anything they do.

The vicious assault on the Times is not isolated. It is intended to have a chilling effect on all media. They want the media to get the message: If you reveal our wrongdoings, you will be persecuted. You will be called — or maybe even prosecuted — as a terrorist or a spy.

If we want to save democracy from this gang, we need a free press. We are proud that our paper has never wavered in its commitment to standing up to anti-democratic thugs, and we applaud the mainstream media when it does too.

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