Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bush Administration Surveillance And Torture Practices Continue To Surface

Try as President Obama might to put aside calls for the investigation of Bush administration surveillance and torture, those issues are proving too controversial to suppress. The following reports have recently surfaced:

• Dick Cheney has been linked to the concealment of a CIA program–there's a shocker!–that has since been shut down by agency director Leon Panetta:

The Central Intelligence Agency withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress for eight years on direct orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney, the agency’s director, Leon E. Panetta, has told the Senate and House intelligence committees...

The report that Mr. Cheney was behind the decision to conceal the still-unidentified program from Congress deepened the mystery surrounding it, suggesting that the Bush administration had put a high priority on the program and its secrecy.

Attorney General Eric Holder is considering a criminal investigation of Bush-era torture. As he examined reports, he told an associate that what he learned "turned my stomach":

Four knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that he is now leaning toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration's brutal interrogation practices, something the president has been reluctant to do. ...Such a decision would roil the country, would likely plunge Washington into a new round of partisan warfare, and could even imperil Obama's domestic priorities, including health care and energy reform. ..."I hope that whatever decision I make would not have a negative impact on the president's agenda," [Holder] says. "But that can't be a part of my decision."

• CIA director Leon Panetta stated that the agency deceived Congress, a point taken up by a number of Congressional Democrats. Nancy Pelosi, who was criticized by Republicans for speaking about CIA lack of disclosure, has gained credibility on this point:

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta, has told the House Intelligence Committee in closed-door testimony that the C.I.A. concealed “significant actions” from Congress from 2001 until late last month, seven Democratic committee members said.

In a June 26 letter to Mr. Panetta discussing his testimony, Democrats said that the agency had “misled members” of Congress for eight years about the classified matters, which the letter did not disclose...

The question of the C.I.A.’s candor with the Congressional oversight committees has been hotly disputed since Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the agency of failing to disclose in a 2002 briefing that it had used waterboarding against a terrorism suspect. Ms. Pelosi said the agency routinely misled Congress, though she later said she intended to fault the Bush administration rather than career intelligence officials.

• We are still learning the extent of the Bush administration surveillance program–so secretive that even former attorney general John Ashcroft was not fully aware of programs that he was approving for over two years. The legal basis of the program continues to be troubling:

The Bush administration built an unprecedented surveillance operation to pull in mountains of information far beyond the warrantless wiretapping previously acknowledged, a team of federal inspectors general reported Friday, questioning the legal basis for the effort but shielding almost all details on grounds they're still too secret to reveal.

...The report questioned the legal advice used by Bush to set up the program, pinpointing omissions and questionable legal memos written by [John] Yoo, in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. The Justice Department withdrew the memos years ago.

There's a possibility that some or all of these issues will explode over the next few months. President Obama is concerned about bitter divisions between the two major parties and detractions from his ambitious domestic agenda. Bush administration practices, however, were so deceptive and ultimately un-American that exposing them and bringing their perpetrators to justice may be both inevitable and beneficial.

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