Stressing the paramount importance of transparency and accountability, the ACLU has been commendably relentless in seeking the release of government documents exposing post 9/11 torture and detention practices. But while ACLU staff attorneys combat government secrecy, ACLU board members promote the secrecy of their own deliberations: a policy proposal now pending before the national board would end the longstanding practice of regularly taping national board, executive committee, and foundation board meetings and would require the destruction of historic meeting tapes, of which there are many.
ACLU staff members would have discretion to tape meetings, in order to assist in preparing minutes, and the Deputy Executive Director or General Counsel would have discretion to retain some records for "compelling reasons;" but pursuant to this policy, board members would have no right to ensure that meetings are taped and no right previously enjoyed to obtain meeting tapes. Staff members would enjoy the power to create and destroy important pieces of the organization's historical record.
What prompted this remarkably unabashed rejection of transparency and accountability within the ACLU? Recently, for a few years beginning in 2004, the organization's leadership was embarrassed by meeting tapes that exposed gross violations of principle and misstatements of facts (chronicled in my book Worst Instincts and documented in a publicly accessible Beacon Press archive at the Harvard Divinity School library.)