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CIA Director Issues a Warning to Congress

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Message Bill van Auken
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From 4 August 2009

In an extraordinary column published Sunday in the Washington Post, the director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, issued a blunt warning to the US Congress to forego any investigation of the agency's operations under the Bush administration.

"I've become increasingly concerned that the focus on the past, especially in Congress, threatens to distract the CIA from its crucial core missions: intelligence collection, analysis and covert action," Panetta writes.

In other words, accounting for the crimes of the past must not be allowed to interfere with the crimes of the present and the future.

Panetta's essay is ostensibly aimed at reforging what he sees as the proper relationship between an elected Congress and US imperialism's powerful covert intelligence agency. Essentially, he argues that this relationship should be founded on "consensus"; i.e., Congress agreeing to the secret operations in which the CIA is engaged and keeping its mouth shut.

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"We need broad agreement between the executive and legislative branches on what our intelligence organizations do and why," Panetta writes. Presumably, he is referring to the bipartisan support that has long existed in Washington for crimes ranging from the assassination of popular leaders like Patrice Lumumba to the overthrow of elected governments in Iran, Guatemala, Chile and elsewhere, to the waging of covert wars from Nicaragua to Angola that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands.

Panetta complains that the "consensus" has broken down as a result of policies carried out over the last eight years, citing in particular "the detention and interrogation of terrorists," by which he means the abduction, arbitrary imprisonment, "extraordinary rendition," torture and murder of thousands of individualsmost of them guilty of nothingin the so-called "war on terrorism."

The breakdown of consensus, he adds, has led to "growing frustration and more frequent leaks of properly classified information."

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What "properly classified information," he doesn't say. Among the leaks that have shaken the CIA in recent years were those dealing with its "black sites"secret prisons scattered around the globe where people were subjected to tortureand the existence and destruction of videotapes showing CIA personnel engaged in torture.

The secrecy surrounding such practices was not a matter of the CIA having "properly classified information," but rather its cover-up of crimes, which is itself a criminal offense.

Claiming that the CIA has abandoned the illegal policies carried out under the Bush administration, Panetta stresses that "the CIA implements presidential decisions; we do not make them." He adds, "Yet my agency continues to pay a price for enduring disputes over policies that no longer exist."

Torture, assassination and arbitrary detention are violations of both US and international law for which no one responsible has paid any price. The argument made by Panetta boils down to the defense made infamous during the Nuremberg war crimes trials at the close of World War II: "We were only following orders."

Rejected then, it remains illegitimate today under international law, which also requires that governments prosecute citizens who are credibly charged with engaging in torture. President Obamalike his predecessor in the White Househas effectively repudiated the treaties on torture signed by Washington by publicly guaranteeing a blanket amnesty for the CIA.

But Panetta doesn't stop at those at the CIA who were "following orders." He makes it clear that impunity must be extended to those who gave the orders as well.

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"The time has come for both Democrats and Republicans to take a deep breath and recognize the reality of what happened after Sept. 11, 2001," Panetta insists. "The question is not the sincerity or the patriotism of those who were dealing with the aftermath of Sept. 11. The country was frightened, and political leaders were trying to respond as best they could."

What nonsense! Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others were not patriotic leaders "trying to respond as best they could" on behalf of a "frightened country." They headed a conspiratorial cabal in the White House that used the attacks as a pretext to launch wars of aggression long in preparation against Afghanistan and Iraqwars aimed not at protecting the American people, but asserting US hegemony over the oil-rich regions of Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.

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Bill Van Auken (born 1950) is a politician and activist for the Socialist Equality Party and was a presidential candidate in the U.S. election of 2004, announcing his candidacy on January 27, 2004. His running mate was Jim Lawrence. He came in 15th (more...)
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