Expressing that he finds transparency to be an important characteristic of the United States' government, President Barack Obama has encouraged leaders everywhere to increase the level of honesty with which they guide their countries. According to David Axelrod, a White House senior advisor, Obama has a "belief in transparency" that was one of the major factors he considered when making this important decision (Allen para. 2). The fact that the release of these documents has increased the government's transparency, at least in regards to the matter of torture, cannot be denied. When he chose to release the documents, President Obama knew that they would be damaging to the government's image. Certainly, images of prisoners being harshly interrogated do not bode well for the government, regardless of what one believes about the topic. Thus, this step shows that Obama is ready to show the United States and the world even those images that make the United States look bad, so that all parties concerned can grow from them and citizens have the information that they need to make good decisions about who to vote for as well as when to protect themselves. Thus, the new standards of transparency not only set a new threshold for openness, but also for safety. Once again, the adage that knowledge is power fits here. Armed with the openness that the government has now committed to provide, American citizens can be defenders of their safety, defending themselves from the government's attempt to engage in their lives where this is not necessary. For instance, if the American people know that such methods of torture are being used, they know to be careful in the altercations of authority and to understand that they may need to protect themselves through legal council one day if they find themselves in this type of situation.
Of course, some would argue that President Obama's decision to release the memos does not set a new threshold of transparency. Instead, they would claim that the act was just a publicity stunt done for political motives. Worried that controversy in the news regarding his position on Guantanamo Bay, Barack Obama could easily have decided to release the memos simply to boost his image, without intending to maintain this commitment to openness. In addition, it is a reasonable argument to suggest that the new openness, if indeed a new standard of openness has been set, will not affect the safety of citizens because they are not informed enough to do anything valuable with the information that they hear. Further, some would argue that the decision to become transparent both now and in the future is actually harming these people, as it increases the likelihood of enemies knowing United States' security practices. While these arguments are, certainly, logical, one must listen to them without the pessimism that is innate in their articulation. Thinking hopefully, the American citizen can choose to believe that President Obama's decision to release the memos, a decision that took him weeks to decide, can be seen as setting new thresholds for both openness and safety if leaders continue to live up tot his image and citizens learn how to manage the knowledge that they take in.
In conclusion, while President Obama's decision to release the memos detailing torture in the United States against United States' prisoners is still controversial, a careful examination of it reveals that it was the right decision because through his decision President Barack Obama drew social attention to the issue in an attempt to right an injustice, settled an ACLU lawsuit to show that the government cares about civil liberties, and set a new threshold for openness and safety that can be followed in the future. Because of this, one can understand the importance of knowledge and the question of whether an American Citizen can ever know too much. While the answer is "yes," it comes with a caveat to ensure citizens that they must safeguard and sue their knowledge, as it allows them to be powerful.
"About Us." American Civil Liberties Union. n.d. 19 May 2009.
Allen, Mile. "Obama consulted widely on memos." Politico. 16 April 2009. 19 May