It’s not easy being the CIA now a days. Between the torture at Abu Gharib, Guantimo Bay, and at other secret prisons around the world, America’s intelligence community has been taking a beating in the media which has led to a collapse in public confidence.
In the movie A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson argues we need him (a four star general) on that line defending America and argues the people turn a blind eye because (as he yells at Tom Cruise) “You can’t handle the truth!” Recently though, a lot of truths have come out.
While Jack was arrested for giving an order to kill a American soldier, the latest real controversy is over former Vice President Richard Cheney and what he told the CIA not to do. The CIA was planning assassination attempts on top Al Qaeda officials. Currently, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) are conducting the same type of missions on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan where these officials are thought to be hiding. What the CIA was trying to plan was to place spy’s in foreign countries in order to be able to find and kill the Al Qaeda leaders. During the planning, Vice President Cheney told the CIA not to tell Congress about these plans.
Congress is having a frenzy with this. Key members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are threatening the White House that they will pass legislation granting them more oversight authority. President Obama has said if they do he will veto the legislation. Of course no public statements by President Obama of other White House officials have been made because they want to keep the focus on health care. Why pour gasoline on a small fire?
Now, the Vice President should not have told the CIA to withhold information from Congress. Congress has every right to oversee what the executive branch is doing. When Leon Panetta came out and said the CIA was not truthful when informing Congress about the use of torture, a commission should have been convened to investigate why this information was withheld, and make recommendations to make sure it does not happen again.
In the case of torture, the past administration was clearly trying to cover it up. The only way the public and Congress found out about what was going on at Gitmo was because a memo by the Red Cross was leaked to the press. American’s were shocked by this news and President Bush even claimed the tactics being used were not torture. If you’re going to fight a war to protect your way of living, you should also make sure the laws that bind your society are being followed.
It is important to note that the plans for the assassination attempts never came to be implemented, and Panetta stopped the Agency from developing them. But let’s assume for a second that Congress did know about what the CIA was planning. Is it really plausible to believe that those members who knew about the plans would come out and say those people (who planned the attacks on September 11th 2001) should not be gone after? I don’t think so. Even now there has been no talk about whether the CIA should or should not have been doing these plans, Congress was only mad because they weren’t told that these plans were being developed. If they were, what controversy would we be talking about?
How people perceive things in the media greatly affects the way Congress goes about making laws. People hated the fact that TARP was a bailout. Congressional Democrats should know that they are not going to win their next election based on what authority the Intelligence Committees have. It is easy to get caught up in the frenzy of what is almost a secret world. Movies and television shows are made about it. So while I’m no fan of the former Vice President, my advice to Democrats is not to take your eye off the ball and work on something (like healthcare) which scores big points with the public.
Between the news of torture, having not found any WMD’s in Iraq, and 9/11, people still seem to be trying to get on with their lives. So there you have it, American’s can handle the truth, and so should Congress.