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Dealing with the Secret Government

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/08/27/opinion/main5269340.shtml August 27,
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 31, 2009
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      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      August 27, 2009
      Dealing With The Secret Government
      by Christopher Hayes
      A Comprehensive Accounting Is Long Overdue

      (The Nation) Christopher Hayes is The Nation's Washington, DC Editor.
      His wife works in the White House Counsel's office.

      It is now clear that we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed
      objective is world domination by whatever means and at whatever cost.
      There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable norms of human
      conduct do not apply. If the United States is to survive, long-standing
      American concepts of "fair play" must be reconsidered.

      Though these words echo his famous endorsement of working "the dark
      side" in order to triumph in the "war on terror," they were not, in
      fact, written by Dick Cheney. They come from the Doolittle Report, which
      was commissioned by President Eisenhower in 1954 to craft an
      intelligence strategy for winning the cold war. From a strategic
      perspective, the threat posed by global communism, headquartered in a
      massive, nuclear-armed superpower with almost 6 million men under arms,
      and Al Qaeda, a networked, globally distributed group of thousands of
      nonstate actors, could not be more different. But the national security
      state's understanding of each as an existential threat was, and
      continues to be, nearly identical. The enemy is ingenious, relentless
      and unencumbered by the procedural and moral niceties that hamstring the
      bureaucrats of a liberal democracy. Victory--indeed, survival--requires
      us to become more like them.

      And so: the CIA contracted a Mafia boss to murder Fidel Castro, sent
      biotoxins to the Republic of Congo with orders to poison Patrice Lumumba
      and tested LSD on unsuspecting citizens (one of whom jumped out of a
      window to his death). It fomented coups and bloodshed against
      democratically elected governments, while the National Security Agency,
      in coordination with the major telegram companies, read every single
      telegram coming in or going out of the country for three decades. The
      FBI infiltrated peaceful antiwar groups, breaking up marriages of
      activists with forged evidence of infidelity, while surveilling civil
      rights leaders with an assortment of bugs and break-ins. It even
      attempted to blackmail Martin Luther King Jr. into committing suicide,
      shipping him tapes of him midcoitus with a mistress and a note that
      said, "There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your
      filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation."

      We know all this (and much more) thanks to the work of the Church
      Committee. Chaired by Idaho Senator Frank Church in 1975-76, the Select
      Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence
      Activities labored for sixteen months to produce a 5,000-page report
      that is a canonical history of the secret government. Over the past
      three decades the Church Committee has faded into relative obscurity. (I
      was somewhat surprised to discover how few people my age had heard of
      it.) But in the wake of further disclosures of crimes and abuses
      committed by the Bush administration and the escalating war of words
      between the CIA and Congress over just how much Congress knew about (and
      approved) these activities, the specter of the committee has begun to
      haunt Capitol Hill.

      Mostly, the Church Committee is invoked by conservatives as a cautionary
      tale, a case of liberal overreach that handicapped the nation's
      intelligence operations for decades. Dick Cheney bemoaned the fact that
      his time as President Ford's chief of staff was "the low point" of
      presidential authority, thanks to a feckless Congress "all too often
      swayed by the public opinion of the moment."

      But a growing chorus of voices, some of whom served on the original
      committee and some of whom currently occupy oversight positions in
      Congress, have begun to refer to the Church Committee as a model for the
      kind of sustained inquiry needed today. Congressman Rush Holt, a New
      Jersey Democrat, has served on the House Permanent Select Committee on
      Intelligence since 2003. When I met him recently, his office had a table
      full of books and papers about intelligence oversight and the Church
      Committee's legacy. "The intelligence community has not undergone
      comprehensive examination since then," he said, "and it needs it."

      In a recent interview with the Washington Independent, former Senator
      Gary Hart, who served on the Church Committee, said there are
      "sufficient parallels" between the abuses of the cold war and those
      revealed in the past few years to "warrant a kind of sweeping
      investigation." Senators Pat Leahy and Russ Feingold have expressed
      support for a commission of inquiry. Even former White House
      counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, who previously criticized the
      post-Church intelligence community's risk-averse ways, is on board. "In
      a democracy with Congressional oversight...when you've had this period
      where there appears to have been excesses, [where] there appears to have
      been illegality," he told me, "you need a comprehensive checkup."

      The original Church Committee ushered in an era of reforms that we've
      come to take for granted: the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,
      the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Foreign
      Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts and executive orders banning
      assassinations. But it's hard to survey the legal and moral wreckage of
      the "war on terror" and conclude that those reforms have stood the test
      of time. When the country faced another "implacable" enemy, the reforms
      of the Church Committee were subverted, circumvented, rolled back and

      To take just the most recent examples, press reports indicate that the
      CIA may have been training agents to conduct assassinations of Al Qaeda
      leaders during the first six months of the Obama administration, before
      either CIA director Leon Panetta or Congress was notified. What's more,
      according to reports in the New York Times and this magazine, the CIA
      outsourced parts of an assassination program to the private security
      firm Blackwater. As this article goes to press, Attorney General Eric
      Holder has appointed a special prosecutor, John Durham, to determine if
      a criminal investigation should go forward against CIA agents and
      contractors for torturing detainees. Durham's narrowly defined inquiry
      targets fewer than a dozen cases and falls far short of the "sweeping
      investigation" called for by Hart, Clarke and others.

      Once again, it seems a comprehensive accounting is long overdue.

      On December 22, 1974, the New York Times published an explosive
      front-page story by Seymour Hersh. Drawn from leaked portions of a
      704-page internal CIA review of covert activities, known within the
      agency as "the family jewels," the article detailed the activities of a
      massive domestic spying program called Operation Chaos. "Huge CIA
      Operation Reported Against Antiwar Forces and Other Dissidents During
      the Nixon Years," read the headline.

      The article created an uproar. In the wake of Watergate and the
      revelations of Nixon's recklessly lawless executive branch, the public
      was primed to think the worst. Church, a liberal, saw an opportunity to
      ferret out abuses, rein in an out-of-control intelligence apparatus and
      give himself a prime platform from which to run for president. He
      advocated for a special committee to investigate the activities of the
      various intelligence agencies. Senate Republicans objected, and the
      White House sought to cut off momentum by establishing its own
      commission of inquiry, chaired by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. But
      the press didn't let up. Hersh published more startling revelations, and
      CBS's Daniel Schorr began airing reports of the CIA's involvement in
      international assassinations. For a nation that had suffered the
      traumatic deaths of JFK, RFK and MLK in the past dozen years, this was
      the last straw. "Murder," playwright Lillian Hellman wrote in a New York
      Times op-ed. "We didn't think of ourselves that way once upon a time."

      On January 27, 1975, the Senate voted to create the Select Committee to
      Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities.
      (The committee also had a House counterpart, chaired by Otis Pike.) Each
      of its eleven members, six Democrats and five Republicans, appointed a
      staff liaison. The committee was given broad latitude, subpoena power
      and, crucially, a staff of 150. "We were in a huge auditorium in the new
      Senate office building," recalls Barbara Banoff, who joined the staff of
      the committee as a young attorney from New York. "They were just little
      cubicles with office dividers; if somebody was yelling at one place in
      the auditorium, everyone else could hear them."

      The staff was impressive. Chief counsel Frederick "Fritz" A.O. Schwarz
      was a top-flight litigator at a white-shoe New York firm. Other
      positions were filled by career intelligence officers, attorneys and
      academics. "I thought the committee was outstanding," says Loch Johnson,
      who served as Church's special assistant on the committee and now edits
      the journal Intelligence and National Security. "I was kind of amazed by
      that.... Usually in committees you get a hodgepodge.... Look at the
      résumés of the people: a lot of great attorneys and social scientists
      with well-regarded credentials."

      Immediately, Schwarz says, it became apparent that the magnitude of the
      task before them was overwhelming. "We had to pick a few subjects and
      look at the subjects in real depth because if we didn't do that...there
      were so many things that were coming in as tips that we could never get
      any of them well."

      The committee broke its staff up into task forces, each focusing on a
      discrete area, such as the CIA, assassinations and the FBI's domestic
      spying. Sensing the particularly acute outrage over revelations of the
      CIA's assassination plots, the committee worked hard to produce an
      interim report on the matter, which it released on November 20, 1975. It
      contained many of the more lurid examples of CIA high jinks--including
      plans to kill Castro with poisoned cigars--that would come to define the
      agency's image for an entire generation of Americans.

      As the staff dug deeper, they came to realize that something was very
      rotten indeed at the heart of the national security state. "I think we
      were all shocked at the extent of the abuses of power by these
      agencies," says Johnson. "We had, of course, read Sy Hersh's piece.
      Cointelpro--that was not a part of Sy Hersh's article, and that was
      simply shocking. Not only did it involve domestic surveillance but
      domestic covert action. There were a number of things that were really

      The committee's investigations had a radicalizing effect on even the top
      staffers like Schwarz and minority counsel Curtis Smothers. "As they
      were reading our reports," says Banoff, "we'd hear from Fritz, who had
      just read some draft report on some particularly outrageous misdeed:
      'Goddamn it!' And he'd pound the desk. And then from Curtis: 'Those
      bastards!' Pound the desk. It was like a counterpuntal hymn."

      Contrary to right-wing caricature, the committee was not staffed with
      crusading liberals. Indeed, almost every former staff member I
      interviewed made a point of emphasizing that the staff was not
      particularly ideological and operated without fear or favor. "The best
      thing they did," says Banoff, was "they didn't have separate majority
      and minority staff. I never got asked what party I belonged to, at all.
      That wasn't what Fritz was looking for. The staffs were integrated; we
      all worked together. We really did. We didn't have any obstructionism
      from a senator or a senator's designee."

      Bill Bader, a former CIA analyst and naval intelligence officer chosen
      to run the committee's CIA task force, doesn't quite agree. "John Tower
      and Barry Goldwater [Republican senators on the committee] didn't think
      there should be anything at all," says Bader. "That was their whole view
      of the whole thing, and they made Church and [fellow committee member
      Walter] Mondale's life kind of miserable." That said, at the staff level
      Bader says his relationships inside the CIA helped a great deal. "But
      most of the analytical world was very happy for me to have that role
      because they knew me, because they knew I was fair, serious and I didn't
      have an ax to grind."

      Particularly crucial was the reluctant compliance of CIA director
      William Colby. Colby's predecessor, Richard Helms, was of the old
      school: blatantly contemptuous of oversight of any kind. According to
      Bader, Helms felt that "this investigation was traitorous, pure and
      simple; you don't do things like that." Colby, on the other hand, was
      committed to reforming the agency and, some say, privately feared that
      if he fought Congress, there was a possibility it would try to get rid
      of the agency altogether.

      Colby's attitude proved crucial to the committee's success. Though
      endowed with subpoena power, it had no enforcement capability to compel
      the Ford administration to turn over relevant documents, and at first
      the administration stonewalled. But the Church Committee benefited
      greatly from playing good cop to the House Pike Committee's bad cop,
      which quickly became embroiled in an escalating series of showdowns over
      testimony and disclosure, which Henry Kissinger also tried to stonewall.
      The Church Committee emerged as a kind of middle path--the sober,
      responsible investigators the administration could work with. "One of
      the reasons that the Senate committee got along well [with the White
      House]," says staff member Richard Betts, now a professor of political
      science at Columbia University, "is because [White House officials] were
      really pissed off at the Pike Committee, which they considered partisan
      and more flaky."

      Committee investigators ultimately read through thousands of previously
      unreleased files. Without this access, the Church Committee couldn't
      have exposed what it did. Which prompts the question: were Congress to
      undertake a similar inquiry today, would the White House cooperate?

      So far, the White House's record on disclosure has been disappointing.
      With the notable and admirable exception of its decision to release the
      Bush administration's Office of Legal Counsel's (OLC) memos authorizing
      torture, the Obama administration has largely continued to fight against
      disclosure of everything from photos of detainee abuse to even the most
      basic facts about the US detention center at Bagram Air Base in
      Afghanistan. It has invoked the state secrets privilege in federal court
      to keep hidden details about the Bush administration's wiretapping
      program and what exactly happened to detainees at Guantánamo. (Full
      disclosure: my wife works in the White House counsel's office.)

      In these and other cases, however, the White House is fighting outside
      groups like the ACLU, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in
      Washington, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which it can try to
      stonewall in the courts with relatively little press attention. In the
      case of Congressional subpoenas, it would be impossible to replicate
      that strategy without provoking a serious political outcry. Indeed, the
      partisan incentives in such a scenario may work in favor of disclosure.
      As unlikely as it may seem, Republicans on such a committee might find
      themselves zealously pursuing more disclosure. When the White House
      released the notorious OLC torture memos, Dick Cheney responded with an
      uncharacteristic push for more disclosure, arguing that releasing other
      documents would show the effectiveness of torture in foiling terror plots.

      There was a somewhat similar dynamic in effect with the Church
      Committee, one that helped create momentum for greater levels of
      transparency. Since the committee began in the wake of Nixon's
      resignation and revelations about his deceptions, abuses and sociopathic
      pursuit of grudges, Church and many Democrats had every reason to
      believe they would be chiefly unmasking the full depths of Nixon's
      perfidy. Quickly, however, it became clear that Nixon was a difference
      in degree rather than a difference in kind. Kennedy and Johnson had,
      with J. Edgar Hoover, put in place many of the illegal policies and
      programs. Secret documents obtained by the committee even revealed that
      the sainted FDR had ordered IRS audits of his political enemies.
      Republicans on the committee, then, had as much incentive to dig up the
      truth as did their Democratic counterparts.

      As historian Kathy Olmsted argues in her book Challenging the Secret
      Government, Church was never quite able to part with this conception of
      good Democrats/bad Republicans. Confronted with misdeeds under Kennedy
      and Johnson, he chose to view the CIA as a rogue agency, as opposed to
      one executing the president's wishes. This characterization became the
      fulcrum of debate within the committee. At one point Church referred to
      the CIA as a "rogue elephant," causing a media firestorm. But the final
      committee report shows that to the degree the agency and other parts of
      the secret government were operating with limited control from the White
      House, it was by design. Walter Mondale came around to the view that the
      problem wasn't the agencies themselves but the accretion of secret
      executive power: "the grant of powers to the CIA and to these other
      agencies," he said during a committee hearing, "is, above all, a grant
      of power to the president."

      A contemporary Church Committee would do well to follow Mondale's
      approach and not Church's. It must comprehensively evaluate the secret
      government, its activities and its relationship to Congress stretching
      back through several decades of Democratic and Republican
      administrations. Such a broad scope would insulate the committee from
      charges that it was simply pursuing a partisan vendetta against a
      discredited Republican administration, but it is also necessary to
      understand the systemic problems and necessary reforms.

      Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit and
      author of several books sharply critical of Bush's management of the
      "war on terror," says he would be "happy" to testify before such a
      committee to explain the rendition program he designed and supervised
      under Clinton. That program allowed the United States to capture wanted
      terrorists and send them back to other countries to face prosecution
      and, in some cases, likely torture and mistreatment. It was this program
      that would come to serve as the foundation for the Bush policy of
      "extraordinary rendition," which amounted to the extralegal disappearing
      of suspected terrorists around the world.

      We don't know much about what other secret programs Clinton and other
      former presidents implemented, but it's possible that under sustained
      scrutiny the sharp division between the Bush administration and its
      predecessors will begin to blur.

      The Church Committee's final report was released on April 26, 1976, in
      six books. Its recommendations laid the groundwork for a series of
      reforms that more or less constitute the current architecture of
      intelligence oversight. Before the Church Committee, there was no
      stand-alone intelligence committee overseeing the executive. Whatever
      communication there was between the two branches of government was
      decidedly one-way. "[CIA director] Allen Dulles would come up himself to
      the Hill," Bill Bader told me, "not to a committee room. And he would
      sit down with [lawmakers] out in the Congressional corridors and whisper
      things into their ears and say, Can't tell anyone about them. And then
      he would go back up to the CIA."

      In 1976 the Senate created the Select Committee on Intelligence, and the
      House followed suit with its own Permanent Select Committee on
      Intelligence a year later. Also in 1976 President Ford signed Executive
      Order 11905, which flatly stated, "No employee of the United States
      Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political
      assassination." Two years later, Congress passed and President Carter
      signed FISA, which provided clear procedures for covert action,
      surveillance and oversight. The law created the special FISA court,
      which grants warrants for wiretapping and surveillance of anyone on
      American soil as well as Americans abroad. The Church Committee's
      revelations also had a profound effect on the bureaucratic culture of
      the CIA, NSA and FBI. At all three agencies, internal legal controls
      were put in place requiring layers of attorneys to sign off on any
      possibly questionable activities.

      But for all these needed reforms, it's impossible to look at the past
      eight years and conclude they were sufficient. If cold war presidents
      were surreptitious and/or cavalier about the lawlessness of their
      actions, the Bush administration perfected a kind of perverse legalism,
      using sympathetic lawyers to decree legal that which was manifestly
      illegal. It was an ingeniously devious approach. By relying on John Yoo,
      a loyal ideologue inside the OLC, Cheney et al. were able to perform an
      end run around the extensive legal checks and restraints created
      precisely as a response to the Church Committee's findings. Indeed, the
      reason the infamous OLC memos are so garishly specific is that CIA
      lawyers, still operating with a memory of the Church Committee, were
      insistent on obtaining explicit sign-off for every action and technique
      that they (quite rightly) believed to be of dubious legality.

      Similarly, Congressional oversight proved no match for a determined
      executive. Many critics from across the ideological spectrum, from
      Clarke to Scheuer, note that this is at least partly because Congress
      often would rather not know what is going on behind the curtain. But the
      controversy over just what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knew about the
      CIA's use of torture, and when she knew it, underscores how
      dysfunctional the notification system has become. Created as part of the
      Intelligence Oversight Act of 1980, the so-called Gang of Eight system
      allows a president, under emergency circumstances, to restrict briefings
      on covert activities to the leader of each party in both houses and the
      top member of each party of the House and Senate intelligence
      committees. What was intended as a limited briefing to be given only
      temporarily during crises has emerged, instead, as the standard.

      Clarke explained its shortcomings to me this way: "Essentially what
      happens, you're a member of the Gang of Eight. You get a phone call: 'We
      have to come and brief you.' They ask you to go to the vault. They brief
      you. You can't take notes, you can't have your staff there and you can't
      tell anybody." In addition, each member is briefed separately and
      individually, so they can't even discuss the briefing and ask questions
      in a group setting. "That's oversight?" Clarke asks. "That's a pretense
      at oversight. That's a box check. The law required us to do that, and we
      did this."

      That "box check" allowed the Bush administration to claim that Democrats
      in Congress signed off on many of the most obviously illegal programs,
      from warrantless wiretapping to torture. Democrats can counter that they
      were barred by law from acting on whatever they knew. In other words,
      both sides can claim they fulfilled their legal duties.

      "One of the things that would be interesting for a modern version of the
      Church Committee," says Robert Borosage, who worked at the Center for
      National Security Studies to help publicize the original committee's
      findings, "was that they'd be forced to confront the fact that a lot of
      the reforms passed after the first one have failed. So the question
      becomes, What do we do now?"

      While many of the legal and institutional reforms ushered in by the
      Church Committee have been degraded and evaded, I believe it would be a
      mistake to argue that the committee failed. Its most enduring legacy is
      the political and cultural understanding of the relationship between
      secrecy and abuse; it narrated a moral fable about absolute power
      corrupting absolutely.

      Public debates over intelligence are qualitatively different from other
      policy discussions. In a debate over whether, say, the economic stimulus
      has been effective, there is a presumption that all participants are
      working from a common set of data--GDP growth, unemployment, government
      spending, etc.--but with different interpretations and emphases. Such is
      not the case when the issue is the effectiveness of intelligence
      programs or the scope of covert activities. Those debates are conducted
      on fundamentally unequal footing. Critics may charge that torture is
      counterproductive and produces bad intelligence, but defenders of the
      secret government can wave away such concerns by saying, more or less,
      You don't know what we know.

      What the Church Committee did was to eliminate this inequality by
      wrenching an entire segment of the state into the light of day. It
      created a universally accepted set of facts, a canonical public record
      that turned the secret conversations of the powerful and initiated into
      the material for a broad debate. It brought the world of intelligence
      into the public sphere, the place where self-governance ought to take place.

      Selling a contemporary inquiry modeled on the Church Committee won't be
      easy. Since the mid-1970s the right wing has crafted a deeply distorted
      but potent fable about its impact and legacy. The tale goes like this:
      the inquisition pursued by the Church Committee subjected intelligence
      agencies to scorn and burned the agents and analysts. "In the years that
      followed, it was extremely difficult to get FBI agents to volunteer for
      counterterrorism assignments," argued two ex-FBI officials in a March
      op-ed in the Washington Times. "The risk-avoidance culture and excessive
      restrictions on gathering intelligence that resulted from the Church
      hearings and other congressional attacks on the intelligence community
      were major factors in our failure to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks....
      [A] new Church Committee-like public inquiry might easily have a similar
      chilling effect on our ability to recruit good people for future
      counterterrorism activities."

      It's not hard to find lots of people within the intelligence community
      who will give you more or less the same line. Richard Clarke has little
      patience for it. "What bothers me," he says, "is the CIA's tendency
      whenever they're criticized to say, If you do your job, if you do
      oversight seriously--which Congress almost never does--then we'll pout.
      Some of us, many, will not just pout; we'll retire early. Our morale
      will be hurt." And if morale is hurt and the agencies are gutted, they
      argue, the country will be exposed to attack. In other words: "If you,
      Congress, do oversight, then we'll all die. Can you imagine FEMA or the
      agricultural department saying we're all going to retire if you conduct
      oversight?" Clarke asks in disbelief.

      The principle of oversight aside, the right-wing story about the
      committee ruining intelligence capabilities for a generation posits a
      golden age of über-competent intelligence-gathering that simply never
      existed. The activities described in the committee report, more often
      than not, have a kind of Keystone Kops flavor to them. "From its
      beginning," says Clarke, "when [the CIA] does covert action as opposed
      to clandestine activity...it regularly fucks up. I remember sitting with
      [Defense Secretary] Bob Gates when he was deputy national security
      adviser, and he said, I don't think CIA should do covert action; CIA
      ought to be an intelligence collection and analysis [agency]."

      At the peak of its cold war powers, the American security apparatus was
      able to attain all kinds of information about the Russians (secret
      information that KGB files have subsequently shown the Russians knew we
      knew) but was unable to learn the most basic facts about "the enemy." We
      failed to anticipate the invasion of Afghanistan and routinely
      overestimated the strength of the Soviet economy. Indeed, the failure to
      understand and foresee the internal pressures on the Soviet Union may be
      the greatest failure of US cold war intelligence, one that had
      absolutely nothing to do with the Church Committee and its aftermath.

      In his insightful 1998 book Secrecy, neocon patron saint Daniel Patrick
      Moynihan argues that by cordoning off discrete pieces of information,
      secrecy actually impedes intelligence-gathering rather than facilitates
      it. "Secrecy is for losers," Moynihan concludes. "For people who don't
      know how important information really is. The Soviet Union realized this
      too late.... It is time to dismantle government secrecy, this most
      pervasive of Cold War-era regulations."

      It's hard to imagine that the White House would be enthusiastic about
      such an undertaking. Obama has insisted, routinely, unwaveringly, that
      he is "more interested in looking forward than...in looking backwards."
      At one level this seems a shocking abrogation of the executive branch's
      chief constitutional responsibility, to "take care that the laws be
      faithfully executed." But presumably the thinking goes something like
      this: the president has a limited amount of political capital, and he
      can spend it on major, once-in-a-generation reforms of the American
      social contract--universal healthcare and cap and trade--or he can spend
      it pursuing justice for the perpetrators of the previous
      administration's crimes. As morally worthy as the latter might be, it
      won't get anyone healthcare or stop the planet from melting; it won't
      provide a new foundation for progressive governance.

      But as self-consciously pragmatic as this posture is, it's proving
      wildly impractical to implement. The reason is that the White House has
      limited control over when and what is revealed about crimes and misdeeds
      of the Bush years, and every time a new revelation hits the papers, such
      as the recent disclosures of Blackwater's involvement with the CIA
      assassination unit and interrogators' use of "mock executions," it
      dominates the news cycle. Since the White House itself has defined such
      revelations as a "distraction," every time they are in the news it is,
      by its own definition, distracted.

      The benefit of a new Church Committee would be that it would corral
      these "distractions" into a coherent undertaking, initiated in Congress,
      within a fixed time period. It would also provide a framework for
      systematic investigation of the policies rather than selective
      prosecutions of those at the bottom of the hierarchy who carried them out.

      "Because try as Obama [may] to avoid investigations and looking
      backwards, he's being dragged into it over and over again," says Clarke.
      "It would be better for him if Congress just said, You know, Barack,
      we're just gonna provide these wise men, give them subpoena authority.
      It's not on you, Barack. There was this excess and that excess and a
      pattern of excesses, and you know, it clears the air.... Now you have
      the impression that there's a bunch of stinking turds under the rug."

      Perhaps the greatest argument for such an undertaking is the simplest:
      citizens have a right to know what crimes have been committed in their
      names. Many of the relevant and damning facts have already been
      conclusively established. We know we waterboarded Abu Zubaydah, a
      borderline mentally ill member of the Al Qaeda entourage, eighty-three
      times in one month. We know the NSA spied on an untold number of
      Americans without warrants. We know that the CIA sent captured detainees
      to the custody of regimes with abysmal human rights records, with the
      explicit understanding they would be tortured.

      The Church Committee came at a time when the public was in the midst of
      a wrenching (and necessary) loss of innocence. But in our age, secret
      government crimes and plots are almost a cliché. Polling shows trust in
      government has returned roughly to its mid-'70s nadir. The danger now
      isn't naïveté but cynicism--that we just come to accept that the
      government will commit crimes in our name under the cover of secrecy and
      that such activities are more or less business as usual, about which
      nothing can be done. But something can be done. Something must be done.
      And Congress should do it.

      Dan Clore

      My collected fiction: _The Unspeakable and Others_
      (Wait for the new edition: http://hplmythos.com/ )
      Lord Weÿrdgliffe & Necronomicon Page:
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      Skipper: Professor, will you tell these people who is
      in charge on this island?
      Professor: Why, no one.
      Skipper: No one?
      Thurston Howell III: No one? Good heavens, this is anarchy!
      -- _Gilligan's Island_, episode #6, "President Gilligan"
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