Saturday, July 11, 2009

What did we expect from the Bush administration?

Saturday's revelation that the CIA deliberately withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from the members of Congress who were supposed to oversee it certainly helps explain, at least in part, the initial reluctance of the new Obama administration to investigate the previous government's illegal activities. This is going to be big -- the Bush administration's excesses violated a lot of laws and principles, and put the future of the country at risk -- and a lot of former officials probably are going to end up in prison or have to fight furiously to stay out. No doubt, President Barack Obama did not want to be distracted from his sweeping domestic agenda at the start of his term. But Congress should have no such reluctance because its authority was compromised -- unless, of course, it is that such an investigation will reveal the failure of elected representatives to properly live up to their oversight responsibilities. Hopefully, the new Democratic Party majority in both houses of Congress will recognize the damage done to the government traditions under the U.S. Constitution and work to see that it never happens again. Assuming reports are true, and there are no indications so far that they are not, new CIA director Leon Panetta told the House and Senate intelligence committees that former Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the agency not to reveal to Congress the existence of a still-secret counterterrorism program, according to the New York Times. Panetta said he ended the program when he took office. The issue of whether the Bush administration was candid with Congress has been roiling Capitol Hill since May, when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said she had not been told that the agency had waterboarded a terror suspect in 2002. The National Security Act of 1947 requires the president to ensure that the Congress intelligence committees are "kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States," the Times said. A CIA spokesman declined to comment on Cheney's purported role in the concealment from Congress. "It's not agency practice to discuss what may or not have been said in a classified briefing," the spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, told the Times. “When a C.I.A. unit brought this matter to Director Panetta’s attention, it was with the recommendation that it be shared appropriately with Congress. That was also his view, and he took swift, decisive action to put it into effect.” Intelligence and Congressional officials told the Times that the unidentified program did not involve interrogation or domestic intelligence activities, but was started following Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

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