Monday, August 3 2009 - Accountability
Panetta: 'Reality' of 9/11 excuses Bush scandals
By Stephen C. Webster
CIA director and Democratic appointee Leon Panetta, in an article published Sunday, said Democrats must recognize the "reality" of 9/11 is what drove the conduct of George W. Bush administration in the months following September 11, 2001, which somehow justifies not looking into suspected crimes.
He added, in an apparent warning to the House Intelligence Committee, that that "focusing on the past" could hurt the CIA's core mission amid a climate of recriminations over its practices.
"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 opined in the online edition of The Washington Post.
"In our democracy, effective congressional oversight of intelligence is important, but it depends as much on consensus as it does on secrecy," he continued. "We need broad agreement between the executive and legislative branches on what our intelligence organizations do and why. For much of our history, we have had that. Over the past eight years, on specific issues -- including the detention and interrogation of terrorists -- the consensus deteriorated. That contributed to an atmosphere of declining trust, growing frustration and more frequent leaks of properly classified information."
Several paragraphs later, he appears to offer a blanket excuse for torture, CIA black sites, kidnapping, indefinite detention, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and warrantless spying, among a litany of other notable scandals.
He says: "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. 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. Judgments were made. Some of them were wrong. But that should not taint those public servants who did their duty pursuant to the legal guidance provided. The last election made clear that the public wanted to move in a new direction."
Panetta, a California democrat who was once a staunch critic of the CIA's interrogation programs, continued to press for an end to the inquiries.
"Intelligence can be a valuable weapon, but it is not one we should use on each other. As the president has said, this is not a time for retribution," he added.
Panetta added the agency has ended controversial interrogation and detention practices authorized by the administration of president George W. Bush. "Yet my agency continues to pay a price for enduring disputes over policies that no longer exist," he wrote. "Those conflicts fuel a climate of suspicion and partisanship on Capitol Hill that our intelligence officers -- and our country -- would be better off without."
Panetta further cited the uproar following a briefing he gave last month to congress on his decision to cancel a classified anti-terrorist program.
New Yorker investigative reporter Seymour Hersh was the first to reveal the existence of the program, a so-called a special "assassination squad" that reported to the Office of the Vice President and was supposedly aimed at alleged terror leaders in foreign countries. It was authorized by the Bush administration after the September 11, 2001 attacks, though official sources claim it never became fully operational.
"After 9/11, I haven't written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state," Hersh told a crowd at a public discussion of "America's Constitutional Crisis," held at the University of Minnesota.
"It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently," he explained. "They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. ... Congress has no oversight of it."
Hersh continued: "It's an executive assassination ring essentially, and it's been going on and on and on. Under President Bush's authority, they've been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That's been going on, in the name of all of us."
Rather than setting a precedent for closer cooperation with Congress, Panetta argued in his editorial that his Congressional briefing "sparked a fresh round of recriminations about the past."
"Debates over who knew what when -- or what happened seven years ago -- miss a larger, more important point: We are a nation at war in a dangerous world, and good intelligence is vital to us all. That is where our focus should be."
Democratic Congressman Silvestre Reyes of Texas, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, has accused the agency of having "deliberately lied" to his panel and said they will undertake an investigation of the intelligence agency.
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