Our Opinion: Credit Guard for revealing investigation

The Missouri National Guard, to its credit, has released information about member involvement in looting following last year’s Joplin tornado.

We criticized the Guard in this forum on Saturday for shielding information behind a comprehensive exemption to the Missouri Sunshine Law.

Although the Guard may legally be empowered to withhold the information, disclosure is the sensible course.

In the absence of facts, the public may have assumed that Guard members — entrusted to protect private property — instead pilfered cherished family heirlooms from tornado-damaged homes.

The investigator found a different set of facts.

According to the investigating officer, four Guard members — a sergeant and three specialists — “made a poor decision in ethics not consistent with Army standards and knowingly took items from a Wal-Mart while conducting recovery operations.” The reports adds the soldiers made the decision based on a “belief that the items taken would have been discarded.”

All four were reduced in rank and received formal reprimands.

Stealing is stealing, but intent also is evaluated in determining punishment commensurate with the offense.

Our purpose here is not to comment on the offense or the degree of punishment. We did not hear the testimony or weigh the evidence.

Our purpose is to credit the Guard for disclosing details of its investigation and, in doing so, restoring public trust.

Government agencies, all too often, hide behind a cloak of secrecy because they can.

What an agency may do, however, differs from what it must do.

Secrecy in government may prompt the public to assume the worst. The public imagination often conjures a more atrocious scenario than that revealed by the facts.

We encourage government officials to ask themselves if concealment is the wisest course.

In this case, and in others, it is not.

We commend the Guard for correcting its error of secrecy.

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