Upon finding out that our government is engaged in a violation of American law, a violation of international law, and a violation of human decency, our congressional leaders have leapt into action, demanding we find the whistleblower and punish them.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert on Tuesday called for a congressional investigation into who told Washington Post reporter Dana Priest about previously undisclosed CIA interrogation centers.
On Nov. 2, Priest's report on the so-called "black sites" -- which she describes as a "covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago" to interrogate some of the most important al Qaeda captives -- drew worldwide interest and focused attention on the Bush administration's anti-terror strategy.
"If accurate, such an egregious disclosure could have long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consequences, and will imperil our efforts to protect the American people and our homeland from terrorist attacks," Frist and Hastert said in a letter to Senate and House intelligence committee chairmen.
They are, of course, correct. If it is true that the United States is so blatantly violating principles that we have championed for the past half century or more, it will have "long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consequences." We will lose the last bits of moral credibility not already demolished by this administration.
According to the AP, Frist and Hastert said the joint probe by the House and Senate intelligence committees should determine who leaked the information and under what authority.
"What is the actual and potential damage done to the national security of the United States and our partners in the global war on terror?" the draft letter obtained by AP asked. "We will consider other changes to this mandate based on your recommendations."
The letter went on to say that the leaking of classified information by employees of the U.S. government appears to have increased in recent years, "establishing a dangerous trend that, if not addressed swiftly and firmly, likely will worsen."
While the irony is almost laughable, the facts are so ugly I can't laugh. There are three issues here.
The first issue is the cynical propaganda game that Frist and Hastert are playing. John Averosis points out the top layer of their hypocrisy.
It's a sad day when the Republican Senate leader and the Republican House leader don't care that our country is now acting as criminal, as brutal, and as immoral as the Soviet Union and other petty dictatorships we fought so long to overcome. They only care that someone found out.
It's deeper than that. They are drawing a direct parallel between this crime and the Plame leak and muddying the seriousness of both issues by taking the direct opposite issue than they did with Plame.
With Plame, the official Republican talking points have been that the leak may not even have been a crime and, if it was a crime it wasn't a serious one. The real crime, they said, was the supposed nepotism by which Joseph Wilson got an unpaid trip to Niamey, Niger, one of the poorest capitols in the world, located on the edge of the Sahara Desert, and not the nice edge, either. Now they are saying that the very real crimes of torture and secret prisons are not important, but exposing them is a crime, or, at least, should be.
This line of argument has been a standard tool of Republicans and conservatives since Watergate. When caught committing a crime, they announce that it's only a crime when Democrats do it; it's okay if you're a Republican (IOKIYAR). If they have to admit to a crime, they say it's no worse than some crime a Democrat committed. Nixon tried to use the CIA to stop a criminal investigation into numerous burglaries by his re-election committee, but JFK had sex with Marilyn Monroe. Bush lied to start a war in which thousands have been killed, but Clinton lied about an affair. It's all the same. This callous relativism has done far more to create an atmosphere of voter apathy and cynicism than all of the deconstructionist college professors or PC speech codes on the planet.
The second issue is the damage that is being done to the good name of America by a tiny group of extremists. The best way to begin to repair the damage would be to have an open and public house-cleaning. Investigate the crimes, boot the guilty from power, try them in public, and jail them in a dark, damp place till they forget their own names. This will never happen. We will have a hidden investigation with inconclusive results. If anyone is punished, they will be low-level scapegoats. The really guilty will finish their terms and resign to take up high-paid corporate board positions.
The last, though, at the moment, the most important issue, is the secret gulag itself. It's wrong, it's illegal, and it must be stopped. A crime has been committed and is ongoing. First we must stop the crime. Congress and the administration show no intention of doing that.
As I've said before, the sad fact is that we are not going to fix the damage inflicted by this administration by a simple change of parties. Some of the damage they have done--the shredding of international law, the dismantling of the regulatory apparatus, and the smearing of our reputation--is permanent. It will take a generation to repair these things and their is no guarantee that we can succeed.
The US has spent the past five years as a lawless bully. No matter how well the administration behaves, the world cannot trust that the next election won't return the bully. They would be foolish to do so. I expect the US to be come increasingly irrelevant in the next century. The other countries, including many who were formerly some of our closest friends will look for ways to work around and without the US. We will still trade, because our economy is too big and useful to ignore. But our day as a moral and diplomatic leader is over. They can't trust us.
None of that matters to Frist and Hastert. They just want to make a few short sighted political points. If they can get a good indignant-sounding sound-bite on the Sunday talking head shows and an advantage in the next election, that's all they care about. If they contribute to the long-term moral disgrace and decline of the United States, that doesn't matter.
Update: Maybe Frist and Hastert jumped too soon. Trent Lott is saying he thinks it was a Republican Senator who leaked. If Frist and Hastert also think that, then they must be trying to threaten McCain and the Republicans who have been breaking party discipline lately. It's still a cheap political ploy that obscures the real seriousness of the issue. It's just a different cheap political ploy than I originally assumed.