Keeping information about waste, fraud and abuse from the public is what is “insane”

In a meeting with his new acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, the president called the practice of making watchdog reports about the U.S. military public “insane.” 

The president appears to take issue with reports issued by the so-called SIGAR—the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction—which track reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and expose waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars.

Putting aside the fact that such reports are required by law and can’t simply be willed away by the president or his new defense secretary, the president’s desire to keep the reports secret misses the point. The public has a right to know whether the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan after 17 years of war is succeeding in keeping the Taliban at bay. (For the record, the most recent SIGAR report is dismal on that front.)

The public has a right to know about the hundreds of civilians who were killed by U.S. and Afghan government airstrikes in 2018, and that the U.S. has continued to fund Afghan military units accused of human rights abuses.

The public has a right to know how we have spent more than $100 billion in U.S. taxpayer money in Afghanistan, including the estimated $15 billion we have wasted over the past decade. 

The president’s claim that “the enemy reads those reports” is disingenuous. Information deemed sensitive is classified—and if anything, more information is classified now than is necessary. It also comes soon after the military stopped releasing information on airstrikes in Afghanistan that it had released in the past.

President Trump’s suggestion that the SIGAR reports “should be private reports and be locked up” is a recipe for unfettered fraud, corruption and mistrust of the government, as well as further weakening of the already meager accountability mechanisms for Afghanistan’s civilian victims.  Mr. President, in a democracy, that’s what’s “insane.”

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