Church Committee Redux?

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Christopher Hayes, the Nation’s DC editor, has a long essay out explaining the history of the Church Committee, which was one of the most remarkable products in the history of any Democratic system of checks and balances. As a result of the committee’s work, we now know, as Hayes explains:

[T]he CIA contracted a Mafia boss to murder Fidel Castro, sent biotoxins to the Republic of Congo with orders to poison Patrice Lumumba and tested LSD on unsuspecting citizens (one of whom jumped out of a window to his death). It fomented coups and bloodshed against democratically elected governments, while the National Security Agency, in coordination with the major telegram companies, read every single telegram coming in or going out of the country for three decades. The FBI infiltrated peaceful antiwar groups, breaking up marriages of activists with forged evidence of infidelity, while surveilling civil rights leaders with an assortment of bugs and break-ins. It even attempted to blackmail Martin Luther King Jr. into committing suicide, shipping him tapes of him midcoitus with a mistress and a note that said, “There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”

Hayes argues that it is time for another Church Committee to investigate the excesses of the Bush Administration. He also gets at a central historical fact that is key to understanding the governing philosophy of Dick Cheney, who had lived through, with disapproval, the reforms that followed the Church Committee as a former Richard Nixon staffer and Gerald Ford chief of staff. The view of the Bush Administration, as demonstrated through their actions on a variety of legal issues, was that the Church Committee reforms, on foreign surveillance, on limiting executive power, on restricting assassinations, had been a mistake, dangerously limiting the power of the president to defend the nation against threats foreign and domestic. Even the rhetoric that Cheney used echoes the pre-Church rhetoric of the Cold War. Hayes points to the words of the Doolittle Report, which was given to Dwight Eisenhower in 1954, leading the way to many of the worst U.S. abuses. Said the report:

It is now clear that we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination by whatever means and at whatever cost. There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply. If the United States is to survive, long-standing American concepts of “fair play” must be reconsidered.

As Cheney put in on Meet The Press, just five days after the 2001 attacks on Washington and New York:

We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.

Read Hayes’ entire essay here.

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