Friday, July 31, 2009

Congressional Commission to Examine CIA Crimes?

According to a July 15 report at the Newark Star-Ledger, Representative Rush Holt (D-12th Dist.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, is pushing for a "comprehensive" Congressional investigation of the activities of the CIA.
Holt said he believes the investigation, which he also called a review, should be as intense and comprehensive as the probe conducted more than 30 years ago -- in the wake of the Watergate scandal -- by a special committee headed by U.S. Sen. Frank Church, an Idaho Democrat.

The Church committee's findings shocked the public and lawmakers with revelations about attempted assassinations of foreign leaders, undermining of foreign governments, domestic spying, and other abuses.

"I think any new investigation will produce revelations that are as jaw-dropping as those that were uncovered by the Church committee," said Holt in an interview.
It certainly seems Rep. Holt is aiming at something similar to the Church and Pike Committee hearings of the early 1970s. These hearings, and others contemporaneous at the time, brought forth a cornucopia of revelations of misdeeds and crimes that are mind-boggling to consider, even at this historical distance.

The investigations covered "Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders," CIA paramilitary operations, domestic spying, the MKULTRA drug and mind control program, torture, the support and organization of foreign coups, infiltration of the press, interference in foreign elections, operating domestic and foreign college student front groups, and more.

Today, the domestic psych ops program that supports the CIA's activities is more powerful than ever. They will work hard to prevent any openness and transparency and derail any investigation before it gets off the ground. When the Pike Committee released its report, whose first half consisted of complaints against CIA obstruction into the investigation, the CIA was able to get the report suppressed and withheld from the American public.

It has long been recognized that secrecy and democracy are counterpoised. Recent revelations of CIA torture of so-called "unlawful enemy combatants" have called into question whether the CIA is not, as so often in its past, a rogue elephant, a law unto itself, and a danger, not a savior, for democracy in this country.

I don't know all the particulars as yet of the Holt proposal. Spencer Ackerman at The Washington Independent quotes the congressman in an 7/27 article that Rep. Holt "did not have a concrete proposal prepared for the creation of such an investigation, and was at the stage of seeing what colleagues and members of the intelligence community made of such a move." Ackerman also notes that many in the intelligence community considered the Church and Pike committees to have been "an apex of progressive congressional attempts to geld the intelligence community." But for all their important work, the main problem with the Church and Pike Committees was that they failed to pursue the logic of their own findings and call for an end to covert action, and a dismantling of the CIA.

This country is a crossroads, where the pursuit of empire and world domination and the continuance of even an ideology -- never mind the flawed reality -- of a democratic republic and protected civil liberties, is at total odds with the kinds of actions a massive, secretive spying bureaucracy undertakes in this world. The recent reports of "fusion" centers, where FBI, military intelligence, and police surveillance join to spy on political dissidents within the U.S. is an ominous example of what we are facing.

I would hope that any investigation by Congress would expand to include the entire intelligence apparatus: CIA, DIA, NSA, Homeland Security, etc. While there are dangers in the world, and it would be utopian to believe there is no need for national security by all nation states, the temptation for misuse of power, for corruption, for devolution of agencies into power-seeking entities is too great. We need oversight and checks and balances that are real. The reforms of the 1970s have proven too weak to control agencies such as the CIA.

It remains to be seen if Congress if even up to Rep. Holt's challenge. The Star-Ledger reports that Holt is close to Nancy Pelosi. Of course, the CIA and Pelosi got into a tangle recently when Speaker of the House Pelosi said the CIA had lied to her during briefings on interrogations and torture.

If there is going to be an investigation, it will be a real battle between the intelligence professionals and bureaucratic apparatus, and those who seek societal openness and transparency, embodied in the elected representatives of the people. I hope Rep. Holt and his supporters are prepared for that. They must call on support from their constituents. If there were ever an important struggle that was not high enough on the public's radar right now, it's the fight for control over the untrammeled operations of the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

For news on the Holt proposal, H/T to buhdydharma

UPDATE: Jordan Fabian at The Hill's Blog Reading Room reports that House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), is not supportive of a large-scale investigation into CIA activities.
Holt indicated that he was pushing hard for a broader investigation of the intelligence agency, saying that he doesn't "have, you know, the Congress behind this yet"....

A broader investigation into CIA practices may steal some of the focus from the Obama administration's domestic agenda, which includes healthcare and climate change legislation.
And so it goes. I'm not sure if that last paragraph is Fabian's editorializing, or a surmise of the mood of Reyes and his pals. In any case, Holt obviously has a high hill to climb to convince his colleagues. The difficulty in getting investigations off the ground appear to be due to a successful push by pro-intelligence forces to keep their turf free of Congressional interference. Or one might surmise that the congressmen and women, and the senators of our day are epigones of those flawed heroes of a prior age, who even if they left the job half-done, took up their quest with zeal and courage.


Susie said...

I don't understand why Congress has so little interest in investigating just how US policies lead to torture.

What gives?

Valtin said...


I think it says loads about the nature of our government, and perhaps, our society as well

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