I’ve written several times about all the important aspects of the Bush torture regime that the Senate report does not bother to look at, but David Ignatius adds another one: The lack of attention paid to Congress itself, which was informed of the use of torture and did nothing about it.
“The CIA briefed Congress approximately 30 times” on interrogation, according to six former CIA directors or deputy directors in an article Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal. “The briefings were detailed and graphic and drew reactions that ranged from approval to no objection.”
Are the former directors right? Not according to the Senate report, which claims: “The CIA has actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program.” For example, the report notes that the leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee wasn’t briefed about the brutal interrogation techniques until September 2002, a month after they were first used against Al Qaeda member Abu Zubaydah.
Let’s look at the 2002 complaint. A CIA review of “contemporaneous records” shows that this initial briefing to Sens. Bob Graham and Richard Shelby and Reps. Porter Goss and Nancy Pelosi included “a history of the Zubaydah interrogation, an overview of the material acquired, the resistance techniques Zubaydah had employed, and the reason for deciding to use the enhanced measures,” along with a description of “the enhanced techniques that had been employed.”Did the members of Congress push back hard, as we now realize they should have? Did they demand more information and set stricter limits? Did they question details about the interrogation techniques that were being used? It appears that, with rare exceptions, they did not. Like the CIA contractors and officers who devised the program, the Justice Department officials who endorsed the legality of the harsh techniques, and the Bush administration that authorized their use, members of Congress made mistakes. They were silently complicit. They just don’t own up to that fact.
The Senate report doesn’t hold members accountable. Instead, it blames others. This culture of blame-shifting and hypocrisy matters because it undermines oversight of intelligence activities: History (including the latest dark chapter on interrogation) suggests that members are for questionable activities when they’re politically popular, and against them when public opinion shifts.
Bingo. Congress does the same thing with every war proposed by every president. They know that war is almost automatically popular in this country, at least until the bodybags start coming home in large numbers or it becomes clear we aren’t going to “win” the war, so Congress never actually uses their Constitutional authority to declare war or to reject it, preferring to give it tacit approval that allows them to later claim they were against it (I’m looking at you, Hillary Clinton). Congress is a bunch of cowards. Always has been.