Sunday, March 04, 2007

About that "must-do" list...

Sunday's New York Times editorial board has produced a must-do list, encouraging the Democrats to fight back against the assaults on human rights and civil liberties perpetrated by the Bush administration.

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


catnip said...

This isn't exactly "meta" except that it deals with topics that many of us have had difficulties talking about on the big box blogs (BBBs): American exceptionalism, the possible viability of third parties to offer remedies, the policies of the Democrats that some of their supporters would rather not talk about, the complicity of the Democrats in arriving at this horrific place in US history etc etc.

None of that is off-base here. You will not be told to STFU if you have a different opinion on these issues. Feel free to throw your barbs. Just try not to get them in my hair because that sucks.

Arcturus said...

well done! it's a way to combat the meta-narratives that surround events as presented to us in media, etc

S Lendeman, btw, has a summary/review of chalmers johnson's latest book - cia as prez' private army - worth a looksie

catnip said...

Do you have a link, arcturus?

(Thou shalt provideth links!) :)

ms_xeno said...


Arcturus said...

lc, sorry, I was rushing - also doesn't help much when I mispell his name does it? here, Steve Lendman's review of Chalmers Johnson's Nemesis, which makes for a nice little cliff notes version

Arcturus said...

"Today more than two centuries later, Benjamin Franklin's warning [nice Republic if you can keep it] hits home harder than ever as the Founders' constitutional framework has nearly disintegrated. The president is more powerful than a monarch. Along with the military, he has his own private army in the form of a clandestine CIA plus control of all 15 extraconstitutional intelligence organizations. They and the military answer to no one including the Congress because they operate secretly with undisclosed budgets (even the Pentagon has in part), and the law of the land is just an artifact, powerless to constrain them.

"In Nemesis, Johnson concentrates on the power of the military and a single intelligence agency, the CIA. He says upfront he believes "we will never again know peace, nor in all probability survive very long as a nation, unless we abolish the CIA, restore intelligence collecting to the State Department, and remove all but purely military functions from the Pentagon." Even if we do it, he now believes it's too late as the nation once called a model democracy "may have been damaged beyond repair (and) it will take a generation or more (at best) to overcome the image of 'America as torturer'"and rogue state showing contempt for international law, human rights, and ordinary people everywhere."

catnip said...

Looks good. I'll add that to my reading list. Thanks, arcturus!

Of course I agree with him that America's image (and democracy) has been severely damaged. I just wonder how much of a willingness there is to fix that.

For years now I've been on the sidelines as a Canadian watching too many Americans who are absolutely horrified by what's happening to their country. The agony is very, very real - as is the powerlessness. But what can you do when your so-called leaders seem to be more interested in getting re-elected while the handful of liberals in government who desperately want to change things just wander in the wilderness? That's the perpetual question. I certainly wouldn't want to be an American at this point in time. I don't know how some of you cope. I really don't.

scribe said...

It ain't easy, Catnip. Not easy at all. I am finding it very necessary to stay involved with things I DO have some influence over, just to stay sane most days. Otherwise, it just hurts and enrages me too damned much.

catnip said...

Well, it's also been a very cautious tale as far as dealing with our minority Conservative government goes here too. They're pounded daily in question period for pushing neocon ideology and being in Bush's back pocket. We need to keep a very close eye on them and do everything we can to make sure they don't win a majority in the next election. Otherwise, we'll be in the same boat. Your experiences certainly push me to fight harder here.

I should add too that it's not like our government is a perfect model of an open democracy either. We've definitely had our share our secrecy and scandals (like Maher Arar's situation, for example) that's shown us the mistake of putting blind faith in our institutions like the RCMP. At least we managed to have hearings that reached some very necessary conclusions about oversight needed to avoid that type of mistake again. That comes with open leadership though and a willingness to keep it that way - which is what I wrote about in this post.

So, we're not at the same place exactly but we do share the same concerns. It'll obviously take more than hope to set things straight.

/end o' rambling

Arcturus said...

Well, I'll venture the view that the damage to our image is, longterm, a good thing - necessary, if painful, & quite likely to have some horrific consequences come our way (not that I'd celebrate that event). The better part of the rest of the world has pretty much been looking through our veils of self-deception for a long time now. I honestly don't know if this country is capable of honest self-reflection in the mirror.

& with all that's going on, all the evidence before us, I'm not so sure that self-image has changed much at all - other than re-inforce a truly perverse vitim mentality which shd scare the shit out of everyone

the damage to the constitution is unlikey to be rversed in my lifetime. if ever.

Janet said...

Incredible stuff here..

as to the image of America... it's already ruined and will be for a long time. All you got to do is think of Hitler and the Good Germans.

My country kidnaps and tortures... and the damn democrats think it would be too messy to impeach over a war that has killed half a million Iraqis...