Nat Hentoff: Can the CIA survive Dianne Feinstein’s artillery?
Future American historians will marvel at how long the CIA engaged in such utter unconstitutional lawlessness as the torture of its captives and drone-plane executions of alleged terrorists — including U.S. citizens — without trials, using “kill lists” provided by President Barack Obama (“Obama’s kill list — All males near drone strike sites are terrorists,” rt.com, May 30, 2012).
Historians will also marvel at why none of the agents —including those at the highest levels of our government —were punished for violating U.S. and international law.
They may also marvel that the one person who came close to actually bringing this vicious cabal to justice was Dianne Feinstein, the previously uncritical chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. She pledged from the Senate floor that the CIA’s “un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted.”
Moreover, with regard to her committee’s prolonged research of the CIA’s crimes, Feinstein accused the agency “of secretly removing documents, searching computers used by the committee and attempting to intimidate congressional investigators (of the CIA) by requesting an FBI inquiry of their conduct” — adding more unconstitutional conduct to her charges (“Feinstein: CIA searched Intelligence Committee computers,” Greg Miller, Ed O’Keefe and Adam Goldman, The Washington Post, March 11).
Coming from this wholly unexpected source, Feinstein’s fiery March 11 floor speech on the CIA began to foment bipartisan outrage, and inspired longtime Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy, to announce, “I cannot think of any speech by any member of either party as important as the one the senator from California just gave.”
Leahy, a primary protector of the Constitution, released a statement, which read in part: “This is not just about getting to the truth of the CIA’s shameful use of torture. This is also about the core founding principle of the separation of powers, and the future of this institution and its oversight role.
“The Senate is bigger than any one senator. Senators come and go, but the Senate endures. The members of the Senate must stand up in defense of this institution, the Constitution and the values upon which this nation was founded” (“Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, on CIA Interference with Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Investigation,” March 11).
And what was Obama’s response? His lapdog White House Spokesman, Jay Carney, said: “The president has great confidence in (CIA Director) John Brennan and confidence in our intelligence community and in professionals at the CIA.”
Professionals? In the kidnapping, waterboarding and drone targeting of American citizens?
Or do you prefer Patrick Leahy’s message to the Senate: “Now let’s stand up for this country.”
Surprisingly, Republican Lindsey Graham, hardly known as a civil libertarian in the Senate, appeared to be troubled by Feinstein and Leahy’s warnings: “Heads will roll. If what they’re saying is true about the CIA, this is Richard Nixon stuff. This is dangerous to a democracy, heads should roll, people should go to jail, if it’s true.
“The legislative branch should declare war on the CIA — if it’s true” (“Dianne Feinstein’s CIA charge scrambles Senate,” Burgess Everett and Manu Raju, politico.com, March 11).
Sen. Graham, keep demanding the release of the completely declassified Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA; you’ll be shaken to your roots by what the CIA has done in your name and ours — and you may be driven to know more about what is still being done.
What I find unexpected and disappointing in the reactions to Feinstein’s unsparing unraveling of the CIA is the criticism by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, a hero of mine. He described Feinstein as “an elected official (who) does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies” (“Snowden: Feinstein a Hypocrite for Blasting CIA Spying,” Matthew Cole, nbcnews.com, March 11).
The senator, however, is stirring at least some of Congress and other Americans to bring the CIA into our rule of law, with possible consequences to its continued existence.
How can such deeply entrenched CIA criminality be “reformed”?
Snowden, of course, was not defending the CIA. He was reacting to the previously non-civil libertarian Feinstein, who — as The Hill reported last summer — characterized his huge disclosure of the government’s mass surveillance of Americans as “an act of treason” (“Sen. Feinstein calls Snowden’s NSA leaks an ‘act of treason,’” Jeremy Herb and Justin Sink, thehill.com, June 10, 2013).
Snowden remains a hero of mine, but I wish he had thought of the courage it took Feinstein to so utterly transform herself. She went from being an influential supporter of Obama’s rejection of the constitutional separation of powers to now exposing the CIA as so deeply, cruelly unconstitutional.
Virginia Sloan, my old friend, is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Constitution Project, an invaluable and bipartisan law watchdog, whose research should be read and discussed in all our schools. Of Feinstein’s accomplishments up to this point, she said:
“The American people deserve a full accounting of what was done in our name. The CIA’s institutional legitimacy depends on this increased transparency. So does our system of constitutional checks and balances” (“TCP: Senate Outrage at CIA Intrusion a ‘Defining Moment,’” constitutionproject.org, March 11).
Because this is “a truly defining moment,” she added, “for President Obama’s legacy on torture,” he should not only ensure the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA; he should also “declassify the (CIA’s) rendition, detention and interrogation program itself.”
That’s not going to happen, Virginia. Obama remains Obama. But the next president and Congress can begin to do that — and, with due process, they can also bring to court these CIA criminals and their protectors at the top of the legislative and executive branches.
Possible Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul would be perfect; I believe the Kentucky senator could begin to clear our past and future from what We The People have permitted in our name by the execrable CIA.
Nat Hentoff is a renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights.