On Monday, the ODNI awarded the recently established National Intelligence Distinguished Public Service Medal to Senator John D. Rockefeller IV. It’s not known if there were others in the running, but a prior commitment to keeping numerous briefings about wiretapping and torture on the down-low and opposing the appointment of special counsel to investigate the destruction of the infamous "torture tapes" may have sealed the deal.
This A-list recipient and outgoing chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) fought valiantly at the behest of the telecom companies who aided the NSA in warrantless wiretapping. This not only provided a public service to telecom giants like Verizon and AT&T, but likely prevented unsavory details about the Bush administration and the National Security Agency from surfacing. The little people would just have to deal while the big boys - including Rockefeller - could breathe a sigh of relief.
Senator Rockefeller’s public service credentials also include a vote to suspend habeas corpus for anyone designated an unlawful combatant by an unlawful president. This act would prevent them from challenging their detention in court - a right spelled out in the increasingly redacted document that President George W. Bush referred to as "just a g-damned piece of paper."
In addition, the senator's vote gave sole power to the president to "interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions." No death, organ failure or permanent damage? No whining. There are plenty of other ways for the CIA to gather flawed intelligence.
Going above and beyond the call of duty, Senator Rockefeller voted for retroactive immunity to save the hides of U.S. officials who authorized or engaged in torture. One could conclude that it would also protect those who were briefed on methods like waterboarding and raised no objections.
For those who couldn’t withstand the act of drowning, extreme temperatures, sensory deprivation, or excruciating stress positions, he helped to ensure that whatever they spilled could be used against them in military tribunals provided the "enhanced" interrogations occurred before December 30, 2005. They did confess after all - right?
During the ceremony, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, remarked that "Senator Rockefeller’s advocacy for the change in the law provided the Intelligence Community with a critical capability for ensuring national security while respecting the privacy and civil liberties of Americans."
Mr. Rockefeller - wearing a Navy blue suit and lavender tie - graciously accepted the medal "with gratitude and with a deep appreciation for the men and women of the Intelligence Community."
In a post ceremony photo-op, the senator held a commanding presence towering over Director McConnell and Principal Deputy Director, Donald Kerr. But, it was McConnell’s mischievous grin and Kerr’s strained smile that served as a visual reminder that something was amiss in the awarding of this newly founded Distinguished Public Service Medal by the Director of National Intelligence.
That something can be found in the jurisdiction of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence which was established "to provide vigilant legislative oversight over the intelligence activities of the United States to assure that such activities are in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the United States."
Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who conducted one-on-one presidential daily briefings of Reagan's most senior advisers, remarked that the award "Really points to the pernicious marriage of the intelligence committees and the spies who con them."
Without a director who demonstrates integrity and courage, he added "The committees are the only check to the CIA becoming the personal Gestapo of the president and vice president . . . look at torture, eavesdropping, and the rest of it. The key committee members were all compromised, coopted, and, I'll bet, eavesdropped upon, to ensure complicity and silence."
That both Sen. Dianne Feinstein, incoming chair to the SSCI, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller made such a stink at the unexpected announcement of Leon Panetta as Obama’s pick for CIA director - a man that McGovern believes embodies the necessary courage and integrity - is rather telling.
Meanwhile, politicians from both parties, with the help of the corporate media, are working overtime to convince president-elect Obama that the Bush methods have been essential to keeping America safe. If Obama can be persuaded to continue some of these practices, even in an altered form, they’ll have successfully eliminated any real chance for investigation and prosecution.
The Wall Street Journal threw a fit when the Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody found abuses were authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration thus opening the door for prosecutions. The WSJ called the report a "disgrace" and charged that Bush officials were simply "protecting the country."
The Washington Post pointed out last week that president-elect Obama has a tough decision ahead of him. They suggested that the Bush administration’s "detention and interrogation policies" have "ensured the nation’s security." In demonstrating the case for these policies, they deferred to Vice President Dick Cheney - of all people - who declared "Those were programs that have been absolutely essential to maintaining our capacity to interfere with and defeat all further attacks against the United States."