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Obama Picks a Conscience for the CIA

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Over at the Washington Post's editorial section, however, the big worry is that the CIA (and, gosh, maybe even the Post) will be held to account for complicity in, and minimizing the significance of, the many misdeeds.

One of the Post's neoconservative columnists, David Ignatius, has pleaded for someone to "protect the agency and help rebuild it after a traumatic eight years under George Bush, when it became a kind of national pincushion."  Sorry, David. Under the direction of Cheney and Bush, the CIA became more like a kind of Gestapo than pincushion, doing the White House's bidding – while the co-opted leaders of the House and Senate "overlook committees" sat by silently. It is high time your editorial page commented on that sorry story.

The Take From Torture

One of the high ironies in all this is the fact that, as Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, head of Army intelligence, put it publicly on Sept. 6, 2006:

"No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that."

Now if it's inaccurate "intelligence" you're after – to "justify" a preordained policy like invading Iraq – well, that's another story. Then, torturing captives on your own or rendering them to countries skilled in torture practices can be quite effective indeed.

Take Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, for example, who was captured and rendered to Egyptian intelligence. And, wouldn't you know, he "confessed" to knowing that Iraq was training al-Qaeda members in the use of terror techniques and illicit weapons, just the "evidence" the Bush administration was looking for.  Al-Libi became a poster child for the Cheney/Bush propaganda machine — that is, until he publicly recanted and explained that he only told his interrogators what he knew they wanted to hear, in order to stop the torture.

Covert Action

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Without proper congressional oversight -- or a strong ethos among intelligence professionals -- a rogue President and brown-nose director can use the CIA at will—all of this enabled by an ill-starred sentence that was inserted into the National Security Act of 1947 to find a home for "covert action."

The inserted language charged the CIA director with performing "such other functions and duties related to intelligence" as the President might assign.

Reflecting on this after he left office, President Harry Truman, in a Washington Post op-ed on Dec. 22, 1963, publicly bemoaned that the CIA had been "diverted from its original assignment … from its intended role."  Mincing few words, Truman argued that the CIA's "operational duties be terminated or properly used elsewhere."

That was a good idea in 1963.  And today, 45 years later, it is still a good idea.

Whether or not President-elect Obama decides to curtail or move the covert action functions of the agency, it is a truly encouraging thought that the country will soon have a President well versed in the Constitution and respect for the law, a President whose most recent appointments also spell the end of a corrupted Department of Justice.

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Fair warning: Obama can expect little if any help from the co-opted chairpersons of the intelligence overlook committees in the House and Senate — Silvestre Reyes and Dianne Feinstein, respectively. Obama and Panetta will have to do it themselves.

The incoming President has his work cut out for him, but he has an excellent model in the late Barbara Jordan, an African-American educator and member of Congress from Texas. Jordan made an extremely valuable contribution on the House Judiciary Committee during the hearings on impeaching President Nixon—at a time when that committee was not the lamentable laughingstock it has now become.

I will not soon forget Jordan's words on July 25, 1974, two days before articles of impeachment of Nixon were approved and sent to the full House:

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 

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