But first a little background.
The Army in November 2004 was preparing to award a sole-source contract to IBS to manufacture customized Bibles featuring "Army designed color photographs and text inserts," according to a government procurement document I had obtained. I had requested a copy of the Special Ops custom Bible or, in the alternative, a CD-ROM containing details and instructions that the Army is sending or has sent to IBS to produce the specially made books. I filed the FOIA request to ascertain how the U.S. government intended to combine military messages and images with scripture.
Unlike many critics of the Bush administration, my object isn't to take a swipe at Christianity. On the contrary, one of my goals is to determine whether an executive department under the purview of the Bush White House might be planning to infuse Pentagon propaganda and imagery with the sacred text of the faith I embrace. It is my firm belief that my fellow Christians and fellow non-Christian Americans deserve to know whether the Dept. of Defense (DoD), like the Commander In Chief, is polluting and co-opting the message of peace delivered by Jesus Christ.
If my informed suspicions were wrong, then the Army had a prime opportunity to prove me wrong.
The Army blew it.
The Army's Special Ops unit feasibly could have shown the public that, as my critics have claimed, the project involves nothing more than slapping a camouflage cover on a Bible and inserting pictures of soldiers in prayer. However, by slamming the brakes on its Bible-production plans, the leadership at Special Ops reveals how they are trying to weasel their way out of compliance with the law. I will now show how it couldn't be more clear that the Army possesses something it wishes to keep hidden from public scrutiny.
USA Col. Charles T. Cleveland has advised me that the documents I am seeking - the documents detailing which pictures and what additional text would be added to the Bibles - fall under what is known as FOIA exemption (b) (5). According to letter dated Feb. 10 sent to me by Col. Cleveland, the now-cancelled Bibles have since been categorized as "proposed plans to procure," and the Army may now supposedly may deem those records as exempt from disclosure.
A review of DoD FOIA guidelines reveals how Col. Cleveland conveniently neglected to include all relevant parts of the DoD guidance he is citing.
Simply put, a government document's inclusion in any "proposed plans to procure" is not sufficient to justify exemption from disclosure under the FOIA. Such plans may be exempted, in DoD's own words, only when such information "would provide undue or unfair competitive advantage to private personal interests or would impede legitimate Government functions."
Special Ops intended to carry out the custom-Bible project via a sole-source contract. Awarding a sole-source contract to IBS indeed is legitimate, as the company holds the copyright to the New International Version of the Bibles (which is the version, minus the "Army designed color photographs and text inserts," specified under the proposed contract). However, the critical question isn't whether a one-source contract is permissible under the circumstances; the question is whether the disclosure of the "Army designed color photographs and text inserts" would be unfair to IBS if disclosed to competing Bible publishers. The answer clearly is 'no.' Disclosure furthermore is in the public interest, not for the specific business interests of this segment of the publishing industry.
Similarly, no one could argue - and simultaneously be taken seriously - that disclosure of the Special Ops Bible "would impede legitimate Government functions."
I am appealing to the Pentagon's Office of Freedom Information & Security Review to reverse the Army's decision. I intend to publish the results of that appeal - which hopefully will include the unjustifiably secret pictures and messages in question - in the upcoming first edition of the Susquehanna Indypendent, a print publication under development by the Independent Media Center of Binghamton, N.Y.