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Common Dreams

Classified: Senators Hide Their Votes on Arming Syrian Fighters from Public

Debate and positions on controversial military aid shrouded in secrecy, conjuring memories of Iraq War buildup

Sarah Lazare, staff writer

After the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week passed the Obama administration's controversial plan to funnel arms to Syrian rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the vote and debate remain hidden from the public under the label of "classified" information.

McClatchy reported on Tuesday:

There was no public debate and no public vote when one of the most contentious topics in American foreign policy was decided – outside of the view of constituents, who oppose the president’s plan to aid the rebels by 54 percent to 37 percent, according to a Gallup Poll last month.

In fact, ask individual members of the committee, who represent 117 million people in 14 states, how they stood on the plan to use the CIA to funnel weapons to the rebels and they are likely to respond with the current equivalent of “none of your business:” It’s classified.

Those were, in fact, the words Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chair of the committee, used when asked a few days before the approval was granted to clarify her position for her constituents. She declined. It’s a difficult situation, she said. And, “It’s classified.”

Critics are furious at the secrecy, recalling the "classified" government meetings that drove forward the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

"It is really undemocratic, frankly, that important policy decisions are debated in secret and that the information on which these decisions are made are kept secret," Stephen Zunes—leading US Middle East Policy scholar—told Common Dreams.


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"That is how the Iraq War was," he continued. "All these members of congress insisted there was evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and when they were questioned they said their evidence was 'classified.' We trusted the government not to lie to us, but they did."

Zunes declared that the secrecy of the proceedings is especially egregious in a case where a majority of people in the US are opposed to sending direct military aid to Syria, as a recent Gallup poll reveals.

"'Classified' has become less a safeguard for information and more a shield from accountability on tough subjects," Steven Aftergood, the director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, told McClatchy.

“Classification can be a convenient pretext for avoiding difficult questions,” he continued. “There’s a lot that can be said about Syria without touching on classified, including a statement of general principles, a delineation of possible military and diplomatic options, and a preference for one or the other of them. So to jump to ‘national security secrecy’ right off the bat looks like an evasion.”

The move to arm Syrian rebels comes amid Obama administration deliberation over potential direct military strikes.

Members of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence who refuse to reveal their position on Syrian arms include: Dianne Feinstein (D), John D. Rockefeller IV (D), Ron Wyden (D), Barbara A. Mikulski (D), Mark Udall (D), Mark Warner (D), Martin Heinrich (D), Angus King (I), Saxby Chambliss (R), Richard Burr (R), James E. Risch (R), Daniel Coats (R), Marco Rubio (R), Susan Collins (R), Tom Coburn (R), Harry Reid (D), Mitch McConnell (R), Carl Levin (D), and James Inhofe (R).


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