“I Got Hit by a Swinging Pendulum” (Updated)

(noon. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

(crossposted at orange)

I’ve been reading some of the arguments over whether or not we should, as citizens, pressure the Obama Administration and, specifically, Attorney General Eric Holder, to appoint a Special Prosecutor over torture, with the aim of holding the most powerful accountable for their actions.

I have been dissapointed in reading comments suggesting that applying this pressure, as is our right as citizens, would somehow be insulting, disrespectful, or destructive to the Obama Administration.

What the naysayers seem to ignore is that the Obama Administration is already being pressured — and heavily — by the powers that be.

One example.  First we hear Mark Lowenthal saying:

“If Panetta starts trying to feed people to that commission (ed. a congressional commission), his tenure at C.I.A. will be over,” said Mark M. Lowenthal, a former senior C.I.A. official and an adjunct professor at Columbia University.

“If it happens, C.I.A. people are not going to start plotting against the president, but they are going to withdraw from taking risks, and then the C.I.A. becomes useless to the president,” Mr. Lowenthal said.

Then shortly thereafter Obama responds to George Stephanopoulos on This Week about Bob Fertik’s question on whether or not there will be a special prosecutor:

And part of my job is to make sure that for example at the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering.

I am not trying to read Obama’s mind here.  I have no idea what decisions he will make when it comes to our intelligence agencies and how we investigate them.  But it shows he is listening to what the CIA says, their objections.

Who is going to counter that?  Who, if not us, We the People?

Politics is a messy business.  If there isn’t a loud public outcry to move ahead and really cut to the root of the evils that have been done in the past eight years, how can those of good conscience move forward in this daunting task?   I read the naysayers crying out to give Obama “more time,” as though somehow by citizens petitioning their government, the Obama Administration will be hurt in some way, obstructed from carrying out their decisions.  To me, that notion is utterly laughable.  I am a citizen of this country and I will not cede my right to petition my government for fear I’ll be so powerful as to mess up the secret heroic plans of the good guys in government, who only wish us to shut up so they can save us all.  The pressure from the other side is so much greater.  Let me repeat:  The pressure from the other side is so much greater.

These are grave times.  We have not yet restored the rule of law so long as there are citizens who are held above the law.

I watched the Leahy hearings last week and was immensely puzzled as to what was accomplished there.  Valtin wrote an excellent diary on the hearing and although I watched the whole thing, I really missed the implications of this:

According to Emptywheel’s liveblog, there was this interesting exchange with Schwarz, supposedly one of the good guys from the Brennan Center, and once a counsel for the Church Committee back in the 1970s.

Cornyn: Thank you for having this hearing. On record of saying an independent unaccountable truth commission is a bad idea.  The idea that this subject can be dealt with in nonpartisan fashion asks us to suspend our disbelief and ignore the over 150 oversight hearings on this. The idea that this is going to overcome our disagreements (unrealistic). Levin report I disagree with all the conclusions. I don’t believe truth commission is necessary to arbitrate between me and Levin report.

Shorter Cornyn: I want to be able to disclaim all the crimes, and a truth commission won’t let me.

To Schwarz: Are you concerned about changing the rules after the fact?

Schwarz: Actual record of Church Committee, director said it helped the CIA. Lawrence Houston said conduct of Congress before Church actually harmed intelligence services. Church Committee said in 1976 that intelligence community should pay more attention to terrorism. Those who say Church hurt intelligence is wrong.

Cornyn: You disagree?

Schwarz: No, they’re wrong. Pike is not Church.

The Church Committee, for all its important investigation, stopped short of a full exposure of CIA activities. The Pike Committee in the House of Representatives went further, called the CIA a rogue, exposed its contacts with the press, and a result there report was suppressed, and remained so to this very day.

I’d like to see our civil liberties watchdog types call for the final declassification of the Pike Committee report. Imagine… months of Congressional investigation and then suppression. That’s our government, and that’s what Schwarz is promising Cornyn: we don’t advocate anything that tough as the Pike report.

There, disbelievers, it is in all its glory for anyone to see. We will cover-up just enough. We’ll keep the lid on.

Fer god’s sake.

(As for the Feinstein hearings… no, hadn’t read about it, but this kind of thing is starting to be SOP under the new administration, i.e., keep the secrets safe from the public.)

And further:

I suggest you look at the comment below I made in reply to a comment by Patriot Daily, re Schwarz telling Cornyn that he wanted an investigation like Church’s, not Pike’s, i.e., nothing so revealing they would have to suppress it; they’ll honor certain skeleton’s in the closet.

I think you know about the Pike Committee. McJoan has mentioned it a couple of times lately. I think you get the idea.

Leahy is a good liberal. It’s just that these days, liberals still quiver when faced with the CIA and top military generals and admirals. I haven’t seen any of the latter faced down by anyone in government in years and years.

It’s no secret that the intelligence apparatus of our country has gone over the line since the 70s and perhaps since their inception in the 40s.  The mess we find ourselves in today didn’t start in 2000 when George W. Bush appropriated the Office of the Presidency.

And we’ve tried before to bring out the truth.  Each time we have failed.  Under both Reagan, Bush, Sr. and Dubya, even the most flimsy restrictions on the CIA and FBI have been torn away.  We are seeing the obscene results of that most notably in the act of torture authorized by the highest powers in the land.

In the 70’s there were two investigations, one by the Senate, the Church Committee and one by the Congress, the Pike Committee.  Neither were able to halt the abuses of power being committed by our Intelligence agencies.  The FISA courts that were formed as a result of the Chuch Commission did nothing to prevent the “unitary executive” from blasting their authority to pieces.

The findings of the Pike commission were classified, Pike was destroyed politically, the reporter who courageously leaked the information to the Village Voice was smeared by all, including the media of the time, our fourth estate, and the intelligence agencies grew even stronger as a result.

A little background:

Prior to establishing the permanent select committee in 1977, the House of Representatives established the “Select Committee on Intelligence”, commonly referred to as the “Pike Committee”, so named after its last chairman, Otis G. Pike of New York. The select or special committee (United States Congress) had originally been established in February 1975 under the chairmanship of Congressman Lucien Nedzi of Ohio. Following Nedzi’s resignation in June, the committee was reconstituted with Pike as chair, in July 1975, with its mandate expiring January 31, 1976. Under Pike’s chairmanship, the committee investigated illegal activities by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The final report of the Pike Committee was never officially published, due to Congressional opposition. However, unauthorized versions of the (draft) final report were leaked to the press. CBS News reporter Daniel Schorr was called to testify before Congress, but refused to divulge his source. Major portions of the report were published by The Village Voice, and a full copy of the draft was published in England.

Pike had the idea of finding out the CIA’s budget, asking them to justify to the taxpayers their expenses, heck, just to reveal their expenses.  Then, as now, our intelligence services are able to spend billions of dollars without accounting for them.

From Gerald K. Haines, the CIA’s Agency Historian and head of the CIA History Staff:

A storm broke over the CIA on 22 December 1974, when Seymour Hersh published a front-page article in The New York Times headlined “Huge C.I.A. Operation Reported in U.S. Against Anti-War Forces.” Hersh’s article alleged that the Agency had been engaged in massive domestic spying activities. His charges stunned the White House and Congress.

In response, President Ford established a blue-ribbon panel, the Rockefeller Commission, to investigate CIA activities in the United States. Ford later complicated the already-delicate issue further by hinting of CIA involvement in assassination attempts against foreign leaders. Congress soon launched its own investigation of the entire Intelligence Community (IC) and its possible abuses. On 27 January 1975, the US Senate established the Senate Select Committee to Study Government Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities (the Church Committee). On 19 February 1975, the House voted to create a House Select Intelligence Committee (the Nedzi Committee, which was replaced five months later by the Pike Committee.)

These Congressional investigations eventually delved into all aspects of the CIA and the IC. For the first time in the Agency’s history, CIA officials faced hostile Congressional committees bent on the exposure of abuses by intelligence agencies and on major reforms. In the Congress, there was no longer a consensus to support intelligence activities blindly. The old Congressional seniority system and its leadership was giving way. With the investigations, the CIA also became a focal point in the ongoing battle between the Congress and the executive branch over foreign policy issues and the “imperial presidency.”

The investigations of the Pike Committee, headed by Democratic Representative Otis Pike of New York, paralleled those of the Church Committee, led by Idaho Senator Frank Church, also a Democrat. While the Church Committee centered its attention on the more sensational charges of illegal activities by the CIA and other components of the IC, the Pike Committee set about examining the CIA’s effectiveness and its costs to taxpayers. Unfortunately, Representative Pike, the committee, and its staff never developed a cooperative working relationship with the Agency or the Ford administration.

The committee soon was at odds with the CIA and the White House over questions of access to documents and information and the declassification of materials. Relations between the Agency and the Pike Committee became confrontational. CIA officials came to detest the committee and its efforts at investigation. Many observers maintained moreover, that Representative Pike was seeking to use the committee hearings to enhance his senatorial ambitions, and the committee staff, almost entirely young and anti-establishment, clashed with Agency and White House officials.

The story of the Pike Committee is stranger than any novel and I won’t try to do it justice here.  The parallels to our times are downright eerie.

Suffice to say, the intelligence community and their allies in Congress won.  And there is one factor in the defeat of those Committees that I find very applicable today.  Reading some excerpts from Kathryn Olmsted’s book “Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigation of the CIA and FBI” (University of North Carolina Press 1996, paper), I found this passage talking about Daniel Schorr, the journalist who dared to report on the Pike Committee’s findings (emphasis mine):

Daniel Schorr thought he was upholding the First Amendment by publishing the Pike committee’s final report; in return, he was fired by his boss, investigated by the government, and scorned by his colleagues. And Schorr was only the most visible victim of a larger phenomenon: the backlash against all of the congressional and journalistic investigators. After the triumphs and high expectations of the year before, the investigations had collapsed in embarrassment, frustration, and despair.

Why were the media so reluctant to defend Schorr? Many observers at the time blamed Schorr’s gift for making enemies as well as the pressures of competitive journalism. As with Seymour Hersh, it was easy for rivals who had missed the story to denigrate their more successful colleague’s accomplishments.

But the number and scale of the attacks on Schorr indicate that something more was happening than simple revenge on an unpopular colleague. In leaking the report, Schorr had defied not only Congress and the president but also the public mood. As David Ignatius said in a perceptive piece in the Washington Monthly, Schorr had “misjudged the public temper. This was not the Pentagon Papers and he was not Daniel Ellsberg, and this was not even the same country, anymore, that had needed the press to batter its corrupted institutions, force a lying President out of office, strip the cover of national security from the CIA.” A December 1975 Harris poll had shown that slightly more respondents disapproved of the investigators than approved of them-and this poll was taken before Welch’s death and the leak. Much of the public was tired of the Daniel Schorrs and Seymour Hershes and Otis Pikes who seemed to be threatening the security of the nation and its secret agents. Anthony Lewis reported that congressmen were hearing from their constituents that they did not want to know about any more American crimes or embarrassments. Watergate was over; the “necessary demolition,” as Ignatius said, had been accomplished. “But Dan Schorr-ever the reporter-was still battering away.”

Schorr partly understood this at the time. In his first major speech after his suspension, he used the metaphor of a pendulum to explain how the public mood in the United States had alternately shifted from valuing liberty to prizing security. “I got hit by a swinging pendulum,” he said.

Yeah, the citizens of this country were tired of hearing the truth.  I think times are different now.  Folks are hurting, hurting badly.  And they are angry and waking up to what has happened, to what those in power have done that shames us all.

So let’s look at this equation.  We have powerful forces who are pressuring the Obama administration to tread lightly when it comes to prosecutions, to investigations, to finding out the truth of what happened to make these past eight years a stain on our country’s conscience.  Those forces aren’t going to shut up, they’re not going to back off.

So what is the countervailing force to be used, what is left?  We have a few congressional representatives who are willing to fight, but they are not in the majority.

What is left?  Who will provide the countervailing force that the Obama Administration can use to deal with entrenched powers that have every intention of retaining their power?

The task is daunting.  One the one hand, the notion of the “unitary executive” must be destroyed.  On the other, the legitimate powers of the Executive Branch must be preserved.  The checks and balances of our government have been destroyed.  They must be restored.  It is a grave and daunting challenge.

As a citizen of the United States I have the right and the obligation to make my voice heard in petitioning my government.  I have the liability of not knowing the facts, of being blinded by the intense secrecy promulgated by the previous  misAdministration.  Yet still I will speak out.  If we as citizens do not apply pressure to right this wrong and restore the balance that has been destroyed the only voices to be heard will be those of complicity.

I don’t believe Obama has opened up this process of transparency with the thought in mind that we won’t respond to it and demand changes.  I don’t believe he is that stupid.  And I don’t believe it serves him or our country to advocate “giving him a little more time,” or having blind faith.  He is not being “given more time” by those who are working to preserve a bad and evil system.

We’ve been down this road before and seen what happens when we do not have an active and informed citizenry.

It’s time to end that passive complicity.  The stakes are too high to do otherwise.

Update: Such synchronicity — over at the orange, Frederick A.O. Schwarz has put up a diary on the Leahy Commission.  Schwarz worked on the Church Committee back in the 70s.  Small world.


Skip to comment form

  1. … I have the right to demand the truth.

    It’s up to us.

    • kj on March 7, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    you ask:

    If there isn’t a loud public outcry to move ahead and really cut to the root of the evils that have been done in the past eight years, how can those of good conscience move forward in this daunting task?

    and i answer:

    The Judgment of the Birds

    but, i made a choice some years ago, when i first read this quote:

    “You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round… Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing. Our tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle. The nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.

    ~~Black Elk

    Oglala Sioux Holy Man”,

    i think there are many ways to cut to the root of the evil, and they don’t all include pressuring Obama.

    • kj on March 7, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    i typed and pasted this poem on the clock on my desk:

    If each day falls

    inside each night,

    there exists a well

    where clarity is imprisoned.

    We need to sit on the rim

    of the well of darkness

    and fish for fallen light

    with patience.

    ~~Pablo Neruda

    The Sea and the Bells

    that is also when i was first introduced to Loren Eiseley, specifically his “Judgment of Birds.”

    it’s the same place i find myself now.  ie, sans retribution.  i can not explain it.

  2. I quit.

    You guys can have the blog.


    • kj on March 8, 2009 at 2:54 am

  3. great essay NPK. Politic and spiritual may be personal but they are also universal. They both require being active and involved. Public life and affairs, we are as a species political, because we organize in societies, states. To say politics are personal, seems a contradiction, it seems to me that your separating the horse from the cart. For years I professed to be ‘apolitical’ an anarchist above the fray, but in the end that only leaves those seeking power with power. Disassociation from a state this whacked spiritually is not possible if your aware, either politically or spiritually. When you disassociate as a society, it allows tyranny and its attendant atrocities to take root, and grow.

    btw- This blog has not been taken over by this ‘subject’. There are many essays which while not directly ‘political’ in nature are dealing with the same issues. Pendulums swinging and circles themselves are created by action and reaction. When the human clockworks are invisible and rotten, making circles becomes impossible. Call it karma, Tao or whatever we all as humans regardless of our political and spiritual, personal stances, create the outcome. One of the things about this blog is that when I grow weary of looking into the dark, I can read about the circles and the light.                


    • RUKind on March 10, 2009 at 3:09 am

    Just askin’. Cuban missile crisis is the last time I can recall them getting anything right. Apart from that it’s been the Domino Theory in SE Asia, Viet Nam, Cambodia (don’t forget that little Parrot Beak thingie) the unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union, A-Q, and WMDs plus anything and everything to do wrt Central and South America and almost all of Africa. Did I leave anything out? I wouldn’t even fully trust their hindsight analyses.

    And George “Slam Dunk” Tenet got a Presidential Medal of Freedom for the WMDs. Fucked up. Totally fucked up.

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