Are Employees of the CIA above the law?

Update:  CNN’s Peter Bergen points out all the flaws in Dick Cheney’s logic here.

Over the last few days there have been a plethora of conservative commentaries that range in their argument from Dick Cheney accusing the Obama administration of a political vendetta to The Wall Street Journal repeatedly arguing that the prosecutions are just wrong headed (such as this one) to Debra J. Saunders in the SF Chronicle, arguing that the employees in question should be pardoned.  There are at least two problems with the arguments now appearing on the street:

  1. In all cases, torturer sympathizers seem to forget that we, the American People, don’t actually know what happened yet.  That is what an investigation is for.
  2. In some cases, the argument seems to be that members of the CIA who were acting on orders should be shielded by the fact they were just following orders.  We tried people and convicted them, not withstanding that defense, in Nuremberg.  They were known as Nazis.  We as a society need to send a message that no one is above the law.  It may take years to catch up with people who have been politically shielded from their crimes, but they will be brought to justice.
  3. According to the CIA, torture has been shown to be unreliable.

That leaves the argument that the current investigation by the Justice Department is politically motivated.  I would have to say that if one’s politics require one to believe that torture is illegal and immoral, then the answer is yes.  Our morality throughout the world has been called into question.  Do we condone the torturing of human beings?  What, then, separates us from those we accuse of being evil?

On the other hand, I do not see any evidence that this is some sort of game of political Gotcha.  While Debra Saunders writes that General Holder has in the past been inconsistent in his views when it comes to pardons, that means nothing in the context of a factual investigation.

As to Mr. Cheney, let him speak.  He may, at best, be shielded by the fact that the vice president cannot order anyone in the executive branch outside his own staff to do anything.  He would be the wrong person to go after, anyway.  If President Bush ordered a crime to be committed, let him be held accountable, assuming a crime was committed.

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Dick Cheney Orders CIA to not inform Congress?

The news media is reporting a story that former Vice President Dick Cheny ordered the CIA to not inform Congress about a secret, and presumably controversial, program.  While there are almost no details about what the program is, there are, nevertheless a few interesting items of note.

First and foremost, constitutionally, outside his personal staff, the vice president of the United States has no authority to order anyone to do anything.  That doesn’t stop the president from delegating power to him or anyone else, and if all we are reading about is true, it demonstrates the enormous amount of trust President Bush placed in Mr. Cheney, and the disdain Mr. Cheney had for the democratic process, and for Congress.  Perhaps he would say that he was protecting America’s security by withholding such information, but in the end we have to ask what sort of a government we had that he could do this and get away with it.

Supposedly, the program in question has to do with some form of surveillance.  When the Director of CIA discovered the program, he reportedly terminated it immediately and reported its existence to Congress.  Any such breathtaking speed within the halls of government indicates that someone didn’t want to be stained with illegal activity.  And hence this calls for an immediate investigation of what the program was, who had the authority to authorize it, and if it was illegal, who had the responsibility to stop it.

And if the program was illegal, someone must go to jail, preferably multiple someones, both from the civil and appointed/elected ranks.  This is important so that civil service employees can’t simply say that they were following orders, and so that current and future politicos know that they cannot get away with violating peoples’ civil rights, and that their day to face justice will come.

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