Here's what that list consists of:
1. Restore habeus corpus
2. Stop illegal spying
3. Ban Torture, really
4. Close the C.I.A. prisons
5. Account for "Ghost Prisoners"
6. Ban extraordinary rendition
7. Tighten the definition of combatant
8. Screen prisoners fairly and effectively
9. Ban tainted evidence
10. Ban secret evidence
11. Better define "classified" evidence
12. Respect the right to counsel
As the editors point out, many of these policies were written into law last fall via the passage of the Military Commissions Act which was developed after the Bush administration was rebuked by the Supreme Court.
Even if the Democrats could use their majority status to overturn that act however, long ingrained American traditions would remain.
There's no doubt that Bush has used his unitary executive power to override and sidestep congress every step of the way since he kicked off his so-called war on terrorism, but it's also important to examine how America reached the point where that type of unchecked power could actually come to exist.
Take the actions of the CIA, for example. Since its formation, it has acted virtually unimpeded through its use of covert operations worldwide in order to do everything from causing coups d'etats to carrying out assassinations. The investigations done by the Church Committee in the 70s were supposed to ensure more oversight - a fact that some people claim actually hamstrung the agency and led to the 9/11 intelligence failures.
While the old CIA may have been noted for the “cowboy” swagger of its personnel, the new CIA is, in the words of one critic, composed of “cautious bureaucrats who avoid the risks that come with taking action, who fill out every form in triplicate” and put “the emphasis on audit rather than action.” Congressional meddling is primarily responsible for this new CIA ethos, transforming it from an agency willing to take risks, and act at times in a Machiavellian manner, into just another sclerotic Washington bureaucracy.
The agency obviously didn't stop taking those risks, as we all know now.
That 2001 article by Stephen F. Knott led to this conclusion, the effects of which we are all now witnessing:
The response to the disaster of September 11th starkly reveals that members of Congress are quite adept at invoking “plausible deniability.” They are often the first to criticize, and the last to accept responsibility, for failed U. S. policies and practices. Oddly enough, a restoration of executive control of intelligence could increase the potential that the president, or his immediate deputies, would be held responsible for the successes and failures of the intelligence community. But this is a secondary consideration, for only by restoring the executive branch’s power to move with “secrecy and dispatch,” and to control the “business of intelligence,” as Alexander Hamilton and John Jay put it in The Federalist, will the nation be able to deter and defeat its enemies.
I wonder how professor Knott feels about endorsing that position today.
Regardless of all of the revelations over the decades of the "work" the CIA is doing in America's name, the mythology of the sexy spy with the nifty gagdets whose death-defeating tactics are pushed by Hollywood and applauded by millions won't end any time soon. Who would dare accuse CIA agents of being treasonous (besides people like Cheney and his henchmen who choose to out them when it's politically convenient rather than protecting them, as they're bound to do)?
While it's the job of the Democrats to try to wrestle power back from the Bush adminitration for those items detailed in the NYT's "must-do" list, the public also needs to remember that their party has used covert methods and actions when they thought it would be expedient as well.
As Scott Ritter notes*:
I personally witnessed the Director of the CIA under Bill Clinton, James Woolsey, fabricate a case for the continued existence of Iraqi ballistic missiles in November 1993 after I had provided a detailed briefing which articulated the UN inspector's findings that Iraq's missile program had been fundamentally disarmed. I led the UN inspector's investigation into the defection of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, in August 1995, and saw how the Clinton administration twisted his words to make a case for the continued existence of a nuclear program the weapons inspectors knew to be nothing more than scrap and old paper. I was in Baghdad at the head of an inspection team in the summer of 1996 as the Clinton administration used the inspection process as a vehicle for a covert action program run by the CIA intending to assassinate Saddam Hussein.
I twice traveled to the White House to brief the National Security Council in the confines of the White House Situation Room on the plans of the inspectors to pursue the possibility of concealed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, only to have the Clinton national security team betray the inspectors by failing to deliver the promised support, and when the inspections failed to deliver any evidence of Iraqi wrong-doing, attempt to blame the inspectors while denying any wrong doing on their part.
Obviously, this culture of covert corruption has a very long history that runs through the administrations of both of the big two parties, yet we're now expecting the current crop of Democrats (including many longstanding members who have been complicit in these affairs) to turn around and bring everything to light in order to end these types of activities? Isn't that rather like the fox guarding the hen house, as the old cliche says?
This Democratic congress may hold hearings, may investigate the Bush administration's horrendous abuses, may even impeach the president (although Nancy Pelosi has made it clear that impeachment is "off the table"), but do they have the power or the willingness to end the disastrous policies of the CIA? Will they stand up to an administration full of ex-CIA officials who now run the White House? And where does the American public stand on these issues?
It's clear the majority are outraged over the Bush administration's abuses, and so they should be. Are they willing, however, to give up the power exercised on their behalf as members of the so-called "greatest country in the world" by CIA agents and those in the numerous other intelligence agencies that are a part of the US government in order to keep them "safe"? My guess would be that only a small minority would actually demand full accountability and transparency and, even if they did, they wouldn't get it from the Republicans or the Democrats who are so entrenched in the use of those powers that they'd be loathe to surrender many of them in the end.
That's the dilemma the American people face, as do those worldwide who've been affected by these covert actions. It's doubtful they'll find much justice any time soon and time is already running out for the Democrats to deal with all of what Bush has wrought prior to the end of his term. Perhaps they should be spending less time speechifying and fundraising on the '08 campaign trail and more time actually working on the business of the country. As for the CIA, the more it changes, the more it stays the same.
* h/t Madman in the Marketplace whose work you can find at Liberal Street Fighter.
crossposted from liberal catnip