Winston Churchill's metaphorical Iron Curtain between East and West may be lifting in these days of glasnost, detente, and other foreign phrases. But there is another Iron Curtain that is holding stronger than ever. That is the one between the American people and their secret government. That's the only substantive lesson to be drawn thus far from the long-awaited criminal trial of Lt. Col. Oliver North.
For the longest while there, it looked as if there might be no trial at all for the former national hero. At every step of the way, the proceedings have been held hostage by the folks in the White House and the "intelligence community" who control the classified information necessary to the conduct of the trial. Reagan, Bush, and their spies have masterfully used the power of information to subvert the principles of democratic governance and an independent judiciary.
First the process of review and declassification of documents dragged on just long enough to preclude the possibility of a trial before last November's elections. Then, in January, the administration's refusal to declassify information forced the prosecutor to drop the most serious and far-reaching charges against North. These were the conspiracy and theft charges that would have been used in court to lay out the known scope of the North-Casey-Secord "Enterprise" and its operations in Iran and Central America.
Finally, in February, after a jury was selected and the trial set to begin, the Bush administration rushed in with last-minute restrictions on the use of classified information which threatened to derail the proceedings entirely. At this writing, in mid-March, the North trial limps onward as a mere shadow of what should have been.