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Scandals, Dick Cheney, and Lies July 17, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in CIA, Dick Cheney, National Politics, Politics.
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nm_cheney_090120_ssvI was 12 years old during the summer of 1974 with only boys, softball, boys, ice cream, boys, tennis, and boys on my mind.  All things considered, I was a pretty normal pre-teen girl spending a long, hot summer waiting for middle school to start.

What was far from normal that summer were the growing calls for the impeachment of President Nixon – one of those watershed events in American history that you can’t help remembering if you were alive.  On the night of August 8, 1974, my entire family was gathered around the television watching the President resign in disgrace.  My parents – ever products of the 50’s and fearful of activists and hippies – were stunned.  They had supported Nixon and even worked for his re-election; their feelings of betrayal and shame were palpable.

The actual Watergate break-in was a clumsy and stupid action by the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP) in order to find out who the Democrat’s donors were.  Had the burglars from CRP fallen on their swords and “taken one for the team”, the American people may have never found out how deep within the government the scandal ran – and they would have never known that it touched the President at all.  Instead, the CRP began the obstruction of justice that would bring down the Presidency.  As many have said about Watergate – it wasn’t the crime, it was the cover-up.

What were the lessons of Watergate?  To the naive and ever-hopeful American people they were that justice would always prevail and that nobody – not even the most powerful men in the world – were above the law.  The darker lesson, learned by a young White House Deputy Counsel named Dick Cheney, was that as long as the wrong-doing did not touch the President – everything was permissible.  Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush the Elder, Ronald Reagan, and Bush the Younger began to craft the ideas and policies that lead them to the doctrine of the unitary executive – and to the looming scandal surrounding Cheney’s use (or misuse) of the CIA.

The neocons further refined their positions during the Iran-Contra affair in the later years of the Reagan administration.  In Iran-Contra, the United States – contrary to President Reagan’s pledge to never sell weapons to Iran – sold TOW anti-tank missiles, HAWK surface-to-air missiles, and other military hardware to Iran to secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon.  At the same time, Congress had passed legislation that prohibited the United States from providing military aid to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels – who were battling the Communist Sandinista government there.  A rabid anti-communist, Reagan was frustrated by his inability to provide assistance.  Thus, the plot was hatched whereby the U.S. government would secretly sell arms to Iran to secure the release of the hostages – then divert the funds to the Contra Rebels to purchase military equipment.  The CIA – who had a duty to report the program to Congress – failed to do so.

When the scandal broke a then-unknown member of the National Security Council, Marine Corps Lt Col Oliver North, said he diverted the funds with the full knowledge of National Security Adviser John Poindexter and, it was assumed, President Reagan.  The White House denied involvement in the affair and no direct evidence linking the President or Vice-President was ever uncovered.  Though 14 members of the administration were charged with “cover-up” crimes, not one spent any time in jail.  Oliver North, the loyal soldier who “fell on his sword”, had his conviction overturned on a technicality and six other co-conspirators were issued executive pardons.  The event was scandalous, but a success for the Cheney crew, the President remained untouched.

Fast forward to the news this last week regarding the counter-terrorism “hit squad” that the CIA was formulating.  According to CIA Director Leon Panetta, Congress was not briefed on the program at the direct behest of former Vice President Dick Cheney.  An absolute storm of controversy has exploded on both sides of the aisle at this disclosure.  Democrats are calling for an investigation – the National Security Act of 1947 states that the CIA must inform Congress of “the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity.”  Republicans are trying to wiggle put of the obligation by pointing out that the program was never operational (an assertion disputed by Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist from The New Yorker).   Furthermore, several Republican Congressmen, Senators, and talking heads are trying to deflect attention from the issue at hand – that the Vice President of the United States subverted the Constitution and directed an agency of the United States government to lie to Congress – by publicly saying, “Who wouldn’t want to assassinate members of Al Qaeda?”  It’s not the program, fellas, it’s the cover-up.

This is just the latest in a string of disclosures that show the Bush Administration continually operating to subvert the Congress and the Constitution.  The Obama Administration has shown little stomach for investigating these matters and bringing them to light in the name of “moving forward” and “healing the nation”.   Unfortunately, history has shown us that sweeping this under the rug will only allow it to happen again and again – a lesson learned and appreciated by the man at the periphery of all the scandals – Dick Cheney.

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Be Careful What You Wish For May 20, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in CIA, Iraq War, National Politics, Politics, Torture.
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As a story that just will not die, the CIA-Nancy Pelosi torture memo debate fascinates me.  This latest Republican “look over here” tactic regarding the Bush Administration war crimes is breathtaking in its ballsy-ness.  What nobody is talking about is that the GOP seems to be saying, “OK, our guys tortured people.  But Nancy Pelosi – a DEMOCRAT – knew about it.”  It also amazes me that most of the media – who should be digging a little deeper here – are so in the tank for the Republican talking points (God, we need a Woodward and Bernstein!).

The latest to step into the fray is the ethically-challenged ex-Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.  Gingrich told ABC’s “Good Morning America” today that Pelosi should resign.  

“She really disqualified herself to be the speaker,” Gingrich said. “She has a unique responsibility for national security. … She made this allegation that smears everyone whose trying to defend her.”

Leaving her in her place would be “very dangerous for the country,” Gingrich added.

This faux indignation on the part of Republicans that somebody would actually accuse the CIA of lying is laughable.  Of course they lie – they’re spies.  Doesn’t anyone remember Iran-Contra, Iraq had WMDs, or that Iraq was seeking yellowcake from Niger?  The Republicans themselves initiated an investigation (that is ongoing) into the CIA lying to Congress over providing intelligence that got a civilian jet carrying an American woman and her child killed.  The CIA’s own Inspector General reported that the agency obstructed justice and repeatedly lied to Congress and the White House.  The leader of this investigation is GOP congressman Pete Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee and one of the loudest voices calling for Pelosi’s head.

What’s more, facts in the briefing records are being repeatedly questioned.  Rep. Hoekstra has asked CIA Director Leon Panetta – who released the briefing records with the caveat that they may be incorrect or incomplete – to review the facts presented in the records.  Wisconsin Democrat David Obey has joined Senators Rockefeller and Graham in pointing out that while the briefing records say an Appropriations committee aide attended briefings, he was actually turned away because his clearance level was not high enough.  There is no record who gave seven of the briefings nor is there any indication when Senator John McCain was briefed except for “October 2005”.  The record also shows that Congressman Porter Goss was briefed on March 8, 2005 when he was no longer a Congressman but was, in fact, Director of the CIA.  In a final bit of obfuscation, the briefing record references the term “EIT” as far back as 2002 when it was not coined until 2006.

Jack Rice, former CIA agent and current radio host, told Keith Olbermann on “Countdown” last night that controversy will “drive the agency to react” and to say things that may or may not be true.  Isn’t that lying?

What is true is that whether Nancy Pelosi was briefed on waterboarding or not, the United States of America tortured individuals in our custody.  What is becoming clearer is that those individuals were not tortured because they presented a clear and present danger to the United States, but because the psychotic ex-Vice President was desperately looking for a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq.  What is true is that we need to know what was done in our names and by whom.  And if that also means Nancy Pelosi did something illegal, she should be prosecuted and tried with the rest of them.

 One has to wonder what the Republican’s goals are in the current controversy.  There have been several theories, from keeping terrorism in the public’s mind (and – ergo – their “better” ability to handle it) to the simple embarrassment of a major Democratic political figure.  Whatever the motivation, it seems to me that the Republicans better be careful about kicking these political rocks over.  After all, the slugs that would be exposed by such an action are probably mostly Republicans.

Be careful what you wish for, GOP!