Last week I wrote a post about secret laws, under which the government can charge citizens with criminal offenses that are written in secret and never disseminated to the public.

Yesterday I learned about a stunning Justice Department proposal to allow the government to deny the very existence of “sensitive” documents:

The proposed rule directs federal law enforcement agencies, after personnel have determined that documents are too delicate to be released, to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests “as if the excluded records did not exist.”

Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, says the move appears to be in direct conflict with the administration’s promise to be more open.

“Despite all the talk of transparency, I can’t think of what’s less transparent than saying a document does not exist, when in fact, it does,” Sekulow told Fox News.

Justice Department officials say the practice has been in effect for decades, dating back to a 1987 memo from then-Attorney General Edwin Meese.

In that memo, and subsequent similar internal documents, Justice Department staffers were advised that they could reply to certain FOIA requests as if the documents had never been created. That policy never became part of the law — or even codified as a federal regulation — and it was recently challenged in court.

A final version of the proposal could be issued by the end of 2011. If approved, the new rule would officially become a federal regulation with the force of law.

But the Justice Department got so much pushback in response to the proposal that it took the unusual step of re-opening the public comment period after it had already been closed. That second comment period closed last week.

When the new comment period began, the American Civil Liberties Union became one of the most vocal critics of the proposal. Mike German, Policy Counsel with the ACLU, authored a lengthy letter in opposition.

“It’s shocking that you would twist what is supposed to be a statute — that’s supposed to give people access to what the government is doing — in a way that would allow the government to actually mislead the American public,” German told Fox News.

So, if this is coupled with the secret laws, not only will the contents of the laws remain secret, but the government will not even have to disclose their existence!

Imagine, being charged with a secret crime in secret, by people who don’t even have to admit that there are such secret laws. Why, this might even give legal authority to the government detaining people in secret without even admitting that they have them in custody. (“You don’t have the right to a lawyer, and according to the secret laws we don’t have to admit exist, we do not have to tell you why.”)

Shame on Barack Obama and all those gullible fools who voted for him who imagined he would bring greater openness to government.

But don’t expect any of this to come up during the GOP debates. Power loves power, and I’m afraid it’s an insider game.

No wonder they want to keep it secret.