Congress Enjoys the “Sgt. Schultz” Defense

How is it that the Administration can flout a law that requires it to tell all the members of the Intelligence Committee what it is up to? According to White House Has Tightly Restricted Oversight of C.I.A. Detentions, that's what it's doing.

The White House is maintaining extraordinary restrictions on information about the detention of high-level terror suspects, permitting only a small number of members of Congress to be briefed on how and where the prisoners are being held and interrogated, senior government officials say.

Some Democratic members of Congress say the restrictions are impeding effective oversight of the secret program, which is run by the Central Intelligence Agency and is believed to involve the detention of about three dozen senior Qaeda leaders at secret sites around the world.

By law, the White House is required to notify the House and Senate Intelligence Committees of all intelligence-gathering activities. But the White House has taken the stance that the secret detention program is too sensitive to be described to any members other than the top Republican and Democrat on each panel.

My first reaction was, 'these people don't care at all about the law.'

My second reaction was, 'Congress could force disclosure if it wanted to. The problem here is that Congress is being supine.'

To date, Congress has not opened any inquiry or held hearings on the C.I.A.'s detention program, despite indications that agency personnel were involved in abuses of some prisoners. That record is in contrast to the public scrutiny that the Congressional armed services committees have imposed on the military's involvement in interrogation and detention, including the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Yup, pretty supine.

But then there's a third reaction, and that one is if anything worse than the first two: Congress doesn't want to know. Could it be that lots of Senators — especially the Republicans who, were they guilty with knowledge might have to take part in internecine warfare — are secretly grateful to have the secrets kept away?

[Plus, on close reading, call it a fourth reaction, the NYT article is a little ambiguous as to whether the Admnistration is flouting the law overtly, or just abusing the classification system. And it being late, I haven't the energy to research it right now.]

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One Response to Congress Enjoys the “Sgt. Schultz” Defense

  1. Mojo says:

    The classification thing is just a red herring. The matters at issue are completely unrelated to the location where the prisoners are being held, the ostensible reason for the classification in the first place. This is a pure case of Congress (or a majority of Congress anyway) simply deciding to abdicate their oversight responsibility. And since Porter Goss is the original “Sgt Schultz” of congressional oversight, his claims that everything has been properly disclosed are singularly unconvincing.

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