Sunday, November 19, 2006

Send in the Subpoenas

In the Washington Post, Ron Suskind lays out the investigation plan Dems should pursue against the crooks, liars and petty tyrants in this administration now that they have the majorities in both the House and Senate:

The vast U.S. energy industry may be the ripest target for a corruption investigation. When Vice President Cheney's energy task force was meeting in early 2001 -- meetings whose secrecy Cheney has managed to protect against legal challenge -- the goal of U.S. energy independence was barely an afterthought. Now, with the United States mired in the affairs of petro-dictatorships in the Middle East, even the president has emphasized the need to cure our addiction to oil.

Studied inaction on this front stems from the coziness between the administration and big oil -- a relationship that affects the global warming debate, Iraq, gas prices and oil company profits. Investigations into that relationship are a sure win for the Democrats. Just lining up oil company executives under the hot lights -- much like the seven tobacco company chief executives were lined up in 1994, looking like gray-suited deer -- creates the image, if not necessarily the fact, of activist government. (Suggested witnesses: Lee Raymond, chief executive of Exxon Mobil until this year; Spencer Abraham, former energy secretary; Cheney; and David Addington, Cheney's deputy on many energy matters.)

While some inquests set the table for responsible policy -- much as hearings on pollution helped spur 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act -- most are designed to strengthen accountability and deter future perfidy. The administration's repeated practice of strong-arming experts who stray off message makes for a bevy of high-intensity witnesses. They include global warming experts in various departments as well as Richard Foster, the Health and Human Services accountant who was threatened with dismissal for trying to alert Congress about the deceptive cost estimates on the Medicare prescription drug program. Hearings would show who gave the order to mislead the public on these issues of pressing concern -- a proper investigation for any Congress. (Suggested witnesses: Tom Scully, Foster's boss; James Hansen of NASA; Rick Piltz, formerly of the U.S. Global Change Research Program; and former Environmental Protection Agency director Christine Todd Whitman.)


Oddly, Iraq may be the last place that Democratic investigators want to go, precisely because it is the arena from which the party's key above-the-fray "action plan" must emerge. So much is known from this year's host of Iraq books and stream of media disclosures that hearings would mostly unearth common knowledge -- a patience-trying prospect for a war-fatigued public.

Some Republicans would disagree. The goal of an investigation, and public hearings, they argue, is to destroy the targets. Ruin them, and whatever public purpose they champion is ruined as well. You have to make it personal. That's what people understand -- and that's what will create a public "moment" at a hearing table, one that will echo forward, even if the events in question are long passed.

Over in the people's chamber, some House investigators are quite clear on how to make things personal: Force administration officials to say that they lied or to take the Fifth Amendment. Two areas of modest public purpose, but fierce public passions, are the rescue of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch and the death of NFL star-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman. In both cases, government officials willfully distributed false information. To show how that sort of thing happens -- who crafted and authorized the release -- would lead to the question of whether the practice is part of approved policy, an issue that drives at the very character of this administration. (Suggested witnesses: Jim Wilkinson, deputy national security adviser from 2003 to 2005 and spinmeister for the Iraq war; Dan Bartlett, special assistant to Bush for communications; and Gen. John P. Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command.)


Unfortunately, as I've encountered repeatedly in my own reporting, discernible reality in the war on terrorism is mostly locked in a vault marked "classified." There is no realm in which more misinformation has been passed to the public, a result of the creative license that a largely secret war affords this -- or any -- government.

A mission of the Democratic Congress that would please both the gods of politics and of public purpose (they don't always intersect) may be to drag that war from the shadows. But it will be difficult. Though members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees know from interrogation and wiretap scandals that they are ill-equipped to oversee such wide swaths of classified activities, the administration's position on keeping secrets secret is strong. Virtually no one now in the government advocates disclosure -- the default setting is to classify everything.

Democratic-run congressional committees could push for some modicum of transparency in public hearings. Start with whether any Americans who are clearly uninvolved in terrorist activities have been, or are being, wiretapped. The list is long, and addressing it would encourage judicial oversight of that program -- as well as various financial surveillance programs -- rather than keeping it caught in partisan gridlock between executive and legislative branches. (Suggested witnesses: Michael V. Hayden, formerly National Security Agency director, now head of the CIA; Robert S. Mueller III, FBI director; and Charles T. Fote, former chief executive of First Data Corp.)

The list of areas crying out for inquiry is quite long as well. The "war on terror" is a vast undiscovered country. The erosion of global U.S. human intelligence assets since the start of the Iraq war, for example, is harrowing. The fraying threads of international cooperation (as anti-Americanism becomes a path to political success throughout the world) correspond to a dizzying growth of self-activated terrorist cells. And it gets worse. A September 2003 meeting of all pertinent top officials in government, including the president and vice president, discussed how suspected terrorists, identified by the CIA, were lost by the FBI once they entered the United States -- even after the 9/11 attacks. The heated exchanges that day, and numerous similar ones over the past three years, suggest a breakdown in process that will surely be discussed by some commission after the next terrorist attack. (Suggested witnesses: Cheney, Mueller and FBI counterterrorism chief Phil Mudd, formerly at the CIA.)

Frankly I would like to see the gods of both politics and policy satisfied here. Nothing would please me better than to see Cheney subpoenaed before the House and the Senate to tell the American people how suspected terrorists identified by the CIA were lost by the FBI once they entered the U.S. - after 9/11. Of course, Cheney wouldn't show up. He'd hide in the shadows like the chickenhawked coward he is - but his absence at the hearings would tell the American people all they need to know about DeadEye Dick and the administration's supposed "successes" in the war on terror, especially if and when terrorists strike again in the United States.

It would also be nice to get former NSA Director and current CIA Director Michael Hayden under oath and force him to admit the administration has been deliberately spying on Americans who are clearly not involved in terrorism while they are losing suspected terrorists identified by the CIA once those suspects enter the country.

And finally, it would nice to draw the current back from the war mythology and put face and voices to all the mismanagement and lies perpetrated by this administration on the American people regarding the war in Iraq, both pre- and post-invasion.

Yeah, now that true oversight is returning to Washington D.C., this might be a fun few months coming up.

UPDATE: It's a shame more reporters aren't like Ron Suskind.


In this article Suskind comes off like an uninformed clown.

He writes:
"Just lining up oil company executives under the hot lights -- much like the seven tobacco company chief executives were lined up in 1994, looking like gray-suited deer -- creates the image..."


What did the government do after it determined that cigarette companies were aware that smoking causes cancer?


By hammering out the Master Settlement Agreement, the government created the Tobacco Utility which pays hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars to the federal and state governments every year. The money goes into the general funds of every state.

Now every politician clamors for more and more Tobacco money. In other words, politicians want citizens to smoke more and more so that more and more cash rolls into the treasury of every state.

The leaders of the Tobacco Industry reached a revenue and profit sharing agreement with the government.

Are you suggesting that oil companies should enter joint-venture agreements with state and federal governments?

Energy companies already pay for drilling rights. The gov't takes in some good money from offshore leases in the Gulf of Mexico. The gov't could take in a lot more if ALL areas known to hold oil reserves were opened for exploration.

Meanwhile, other than uncovering low-level shenanigans, subpeonas and depositions of oil-company execs will lead to nothing more than an explication of the difficulties of keeping oil supplies flowing to the whole world.
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