NY TIMES EDITORIAL
Notes From the Global War on Terror
Published: December 14, 2007
During the presidential campaign, candidates from both parties will warn of the risk of another terrorist attack on this country. Americans should insist that they also explain how they will repair the damage President Bush has done to America’s intelligence-gathering capabilities in the name of fighting terrorism.
Congress certainly has not done the job. For six years, it stood by mutely or actively approved as President Bush’s team cooked the books to justify war, drew the nation’s electronic spies into illegal wiretapping and turned intelligence agents and uniformed soldiers into torturers at outlaw prisons.
Now, with the opposition party in control on Capitol Hill, lawmakers have a chance to start setting right some wrongs in these areas. But there are disturbing signs that they will once again fail to do what is needed.
EAVESDROPPING After the disclosure that Mr. Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans’ international phone calls and e-mail messages without a court warrant, Congress has been struggling to write a law that does three important things: force the president to obey the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA; preserve the power of judges to approve and monitor surveillance of Americans; and update FISA to keep pace with technology. Last summer, Congress gave Mr. Bush a bill that had the needed updates but made it easier to spy on Americans.
That law expires in February, and the House has passed a bill that updates FISA while doing a great deal to ensure real judicial and Congressional oversight of any eavesdropping. The Senate Judiciary Committee also wrote a bill that does those things — with a sensible two-year expiration date.
Mr. Bush, of course, wants fewer, not more, restrictions and wants those powers to be made permanent. He also wants amnesty for telecommunications companies that gave Americans’ private data to the government for at least five years without a warrant.
Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, seems intent on doing the president’s bidding. He has indicated that instead of the Judiciary Committee’s bill, he may put on the floor a deeply flawed measure from the Senate Intelligence Committee that dangerously expands the government’s powers and gives undeserved amnesty to the telecommunications companies. The White House says amnesty is intended to ensure future cooperation but seems truly aimed at making sure the public never learns the extent of the companies’ involvement in illegal wiretapping.
That will leave Democratic senators like Christopher Dodd and Russ Feingold in the absurd position of having to stage filibusters against their own party’s leadership to try to forestall more harm to civil liberties.
INTERROGATIONS AND TORTURE The recent disclosure that the Central Intelligence Agency destroyed videotapes of the interrogation of two Al Qaeda prisoners was a stark reminder of the catastrophic blunder that Congress made by enacting the Military Commissions Act of 2006. In addition to creating kangaroo courts to try the Guantánamo detainees, the bill permitted Mr. Bush to abrogate the Geneva Conventions by creating secret, extra-legal rules for interrogations by intelligence agents.
It was obvious that the tapes were destroyed to protect interrogators or their bosses from being held responsible for illegal acts like waterboarding. Congress must investigate the destruction of the tapes, using subpoenas, if necessary, to officials like John Rizzo, the C.I.A.’s senior lawyer, and Jose Rodriguez, the former chief of clandestine services, who ordered the tapes’ destruction in 2005.
USE AND MISUSE OF INTELLIGENCE Americans were stunned when the White House released a new intelligence assessment that said that Iran had halted its covert nuclear weapons program in 2003. Beyond those startling facts were questions about whether Mr. Bush knew of this assessment when he was warning about World War III if Iran were allowed to get a nuclear weapon.
And that was a reminder of another time when Mr. Bush misled the nation about Iraqi weapons programs that had long disappeared. The Senate Intelligence Committee was supposed to have an investigation years ago into what Mr. Bush and other officials knew about the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons when they used it to stampede the country into war.
For more than two years, the Republican chairman of the committee, Senator Pat Roberts, made sure that a report would never be finished. It has now been in the hands of his replacement, Democrat Jay Rockefeller, for nearly a year, and there is still no report. That means Americans still don’t know whether Mr. Bush deliberately hyped and distorted the intelligence on Iraq or was also misinformed.
Americans need to know what Mr. Bush knew on both Iraq and Iran, and when he knew it. Anything less is unacceptable.
Resolving these issues will require leadership, political courage and candor — from Congress and the president. The country has had enough acquiescence, excuse-making and obfuscation.