Dereliction Of Duty
David Corn writes The Loyal Opposition twice a month for TomPaine.com. Corn is also the Washington editor of The Nation and is the author of The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). Read his blog at http://www.davidcorn.com.
Mr. Paul Pillar, thanks for joining us today. After other members of the intelligence committee and I read your recent article in Foreign Affairs—in which you declared that the Bush administration had "misused" the prewar intelligence to justify the decision to go to war, had purposefully ignored intelligence analysis that did not fit its preconceived notions (such as the intelligence community's finding that Iraq was years away from developing a nuclear weapon), had created an environment in which intelligence analysts did not feel free to reach conclusions that clashed with White House assumptions, and had essentially perverted the intelligence process— we felt it was crucial for the security of the nation to hold a hearing that examined in public your profoundly troubling allegations. After all, you were the top intelligence officer dealing with Iraq before and after the invasion.
In your opening statement—and take as much time as you need—please feel free to expand upon and fully explain your allegations. After you finish, we're going to ask former CIA director George Tenet and former national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who are both here with us today, to respond. We will demand answers from them. We spend over $30 billion a year on our intelligence agencies. With the national security challenges we face today, we—the entire American public— need to know that our intelligence professionals are doing everything possible to understand these threats and that our policymakers are making life-and-death decisions on the basis of sound information. Nothing could be more important. Please proceed….
That's not something you're going to hear on Capitol Hill anytime soon. And the question is, why not? Oh, I know the obvious answer is that Republicans control both chambers of Congress and have long ago abandoned their obligation to conduct meaningful oversight of the George W. Bush administration. But that dereliction of duty ought not to be so easily accepted with an it's-all-politics shrug of the shoulders. Wasn't 9/11 supposed to change business as usual in Washington? Don't Republicans care as much about the security of the country as they do about partisan gain (or loss)?
You don't have to answer those questions. But the perils of one-party government become more apparent each day. Not only do the Republicans pass a so-called "deficit reduction" act that includes tens of billions of dollars in cuts in social programs while proposing to extend tax cuts that will benefit the well-to-do, congressional Republicans have run out on their responsibility to act as a check on executive power. In the Clinton years, any piece of Bill-and-Hill sleaze (or potential sleaze) was worthy of a full-scale inquiry. In the Bush years, King George and his courtesans are rarely questioned. The recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program—organized by Republican chairman Arlen Specter—was an exception that proves the rule. Not all but several GOPers grilled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. It had been some time since Republicans were so aggressive toward a Bush Cabinet member. (Beating up on former FEMA chief Michael Brown does not count— especially since he now is peddling an account that undercuts the White Houses defense of its Katrina response.)
There is much happening these days that merits the intervention of a congressional busybody. But the Republicans in charge have decided not to waste their time. (Hey, why hold an oversight hearing when you could be fundraising?) Here's a very partial list of matters going unexamined by the non-watchdogs of Capitol Hill:
One plane for a war? In late January, the British media disclosed the existence of a British government memo that apparently detailed a conversation that Bush had with Prime Minister Tony Blair in January 2003, during which Bush raised the possibility of orchestrating an incident—the shooting down of a U2 flight over Iraq—that would create a causus belli justifying an invasion of Iraq. Is this memo accurate? Did Bush truly contemplate such a cynical scheme to push the United States into war? Were there other ideas of this sort? No leaders within Congress appear to care (not even the Democrats). But this is no shocker. Last year, congressional Republicans refused to hold hearings on the Downing Street memos.
It's only 5 percent of a trillion dollars. "60 Minutes" noted the other day that $50 billion has been handed out to security contractors in Iraq, and billions have gone unaccounted for, as allegations of waste, fraud and profiteering have spread. This is just one slice of the whole mess in Iraq. With tens of billions of dollars going down the drain in Iraq, shouldn't Congress take a peek? But Republicans have been reluctant to examine Halliburton's contracts and related matters. (Democrats have conducted unofficial hearings.) If only Bill Clinton's brother was somehow involved.
Jackgate. Sen. John McCain has been holding hearings on how Jack Abramoff and his pals fleeced several American Indian tribes. But there's much more to the Abramoff scandal than that. Murder in Florida. Big-money energy interests in Moscow seeking influence in Washington. Special-interest lobbyists buying special access. Yet none of this is under review on the Hill. Could it be because the most questionable activity involves GOP members of Congress, including Tom DeLay? Must be a coincidence. While much of this could be taken up by the sluggish (if not moribund) ethics committees, other committees are free to probe away— if they are so motivated. There is a Justice Department investigation. But as Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of the CIA leak demonstrates, criminal investigations zero in on narrow issues related to prosecution. They are not designed to reveal all wrongdoing. Jackgate might extend far beyond any indictments to come. In the past, Congress has not shied away from investigating scandals already under examination by prosecutors: Watergate, Iran-Contra, Whitewater, the Clinton fundraising scandal. Jackgate need not be an exception.
When did you stop beating the prisoner? Congress did pass legislation—over the objections of George Bush and Dick Cheney— that seems to ban torture of detainees or prisoners held by U.S. military forces or the CIA. (With the Bush administration and its lawyers, you never know whether such a law will truly be followed.) But allegations of torture (at Guantanamo, at secret prisons) continue to emerge. Couldn't a bipartisan group of senators and representatives investigate and tell the rest of us whether there is reason for concern?
Hot air. Decades from now, historian might look back and not see the war in Iraq as Bush's most misguided action. They could well point to his inaction on global warming. These days, the discussion among climate experts no longer centers on whether global warming is underway or how bad the consequences might be. The consensus is, it's happening and the results will be nasty. The talk now focuses on whether a tipping point will soon be reached—if it has not been already—when it will be too late to implement any remedy. You would think that a profound change in the earth's atmosphere—one that could cause massive, worldwide flooding, the spread of disease, the eradication of species, and the shutdown of critical ocean currents— and the tipping-point problem would merit a major set of hyped-up hearings. But you would be mistaken. Nor does there seem to be interest on the Hill in hearings that would examine the recent case in which NASA tried to silence its top climate scientist, James Hansen, who was calling for immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Dick Cheney. Not the hunting mishap— though imagine the conspiracy theories that GOPers would have cooked up had Vice President Al Gore nearly killed an associate and then kept the incident quiet for almost a day. What I have in mind is Scooter Libby's claim that he had been authorized by a "superior" to disclose classified information to a reporter. Apparently, Libby has told Fitzgerald that, in the summer of 2003—when no WMDs were being found in Iraq— he received a green light to tell journalists what had been in the classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's WMD. The aim was to share selective portions of the NIE with reporters to bolster the White House's argument that it had reason to believe Iraq possessed WMDs before the invasion. Libby did not tell journalists about those parts of the NIE that undercut the administration's case for war. So what's standard operating procedure for leaking this kind of information? Sure, leaks happen all the time. But now that this one is out in the open, why not talk about it? Even Sen. George Allen, a Republican eying the White House, said on Sunday that an investigation is needed. Go, George, go. (But I'm not putting any money on this.)
There's lots more that could—and should— keep Congress hopping. A full list would be rather long. It's customary for Democrats to cite all the investigations they could mount if they win back control of the House or the Senate. They're right to do so. But I'm not seeking to score partisan points or motivate the base. I'm merely looking for the guys and gals on the Hill to do their jobs. Is that asking too much? Of course it is.