Investigate Everyone Who Knew? Don't Believe Those Who Claim Ignorance

Article excerpt


We have the media, the Obama administration and members of Congress all using the word torture but skipping over the real issue: whether what actually was approved, what actually was reported to Congress or what actually happened was really torture as the word is defined by applicable law.

While belittled by critics, the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) addressed the legal issues in a series of memos. OLC determined that the interrogation measures the CIA sought approval to use were not torture if employed consistent with the guidance in the memos.

It's one thing to argue that our OLC political appointees disagree with your OLC political appointees - which is what the debate has been about so far - and another to claim the George W. Bush administration approved torture after Sept. 11, 2001, which it clearly did not. Did some interrogations of terrorist suspects in CIA custody go beyond what was authorized? If so, the interrogators should be prosecuted, just as were a few U.S. soldier interrogators at Abu Ghraib.

Should Congress and the Justice Department investigate? Sure; however, they both must be acutely aware that they have had substantial institutional involvement on the merits of these CIA activities with the approval and oversight of them. This practical realization is necessary because asking who knew what, and when, is a blood political sport in Washington.

This brings us to the I didn't know about it shtick - the way-overused defense of some members of Congress who apparently were told long ago about what the CIA was doing. Now they have to claim that they didn't know or were not told or were lied to.

If you have small children, you are intimately familiar with this specious shrug of responsibility. To the contrary with Congress, two basic requirements keep members up to speed on intelligence activities.

First is the generalized requirement to keep the Congress fully and currently informed about what the intelligence community is doing. Beginning with the creation of the House and Senate Intelligence committees in the 1970s, this requirement has been facilitated by the excellent professional relationship between the committee staffs - many of whom are former committee employees - and the respective intelligence agencies with which they liaise daily.

Another part is the budget process itself, when the agencies go into meticulous detail about their programs to get funding for them. Then there is an ongoing formal briefing process for the most sensitive intelligence activities and programs in which the committees are particularly interested. For example, the programs with privacy and civil-liberties aspects; high-tech, research and high dollar programs; applications of new technologies; and the more exotic intelligence-collection programs. Finally, the chairman, vice chairman and ranking member of either committee can get briefings on whatever they want whenever they wish - all they need do is ask, and they do.

Second, there's the very specific requirement to brief the committees on covert actions, which are defined as intelligence activities intended to influence political, economic or military conditions abroad, without attribution to the United States. This statutory requirement was added after the Iran-Contra investigations in the 1980s and is a regular and routine process intended to keep the leadership of the committees informed in detail about the most sensitive activities of the CIA, the agency primarily responsible for carrying out covert actions. …