Sunday, March 25, 2007

Congressional oversight, a linchpin of how democracy works

Glenn Greenwald at his best:

It is so inescapably clear that Alberto Gonzales repeatedly lied about what occurred with the U.S. attorney firings that the national media and even many Bush supporters are clearly acknowledging that fact. But what needs to be constantly emphasized is that there is nothing aberrational in any way about Gonazles' behavior in this case.

There is one thing and one thing only distinguishing this U.S. attorneys scandal from all of the others over the past six years: namely, because Democrats now have subpoena power and seem willing to use it, the administration is forced to disclose actual evidence and documents -- rather than simply issue unscrutinized and uninvestigated denials of wrongdoing -- and that evidence demonstrates that their claims are false. In the past, this is how every scandal transpired:

1. Questions about administration conduct are raised.

2. Administration denies wrongdoing.

3. Administration officials selectively and voluntarily disclose exculpatory documents, appear before Congress, assure everyone that safeguards are in place, deny wrongdoing, and claim the conduct in question is used only for proper purposes (e.g., protecting country again terrorism).

4. Administration followers -- led by those controlling Congress -- insist that no investigation is needed because Official X made clear that there are safeguards in place protecting us and everything is being done for proper purposes.

5. Congressional Republicans block Congressional investigations, compel no disclosure of evidence, do nothing to investigate administration claims.

6. Scandal ends, unresolved.

That pattern has repeated itself over and over and over for six years now -- from controversies over secret and illegal surveillance programs to torture, black sites and rendition. In the U.S. attorneys case, everything proceeded according to script -- Alberto Gonazles did what he and other Bush officials always do: namely, issue false statements about what they did in order to conceal their wrongdoing and mislead everyone about what our Government is doing.

And had it not been for the forced disclosure of internal DOJ emails and other documents -- something which never would have occurred prior to the November, 2006 election -- the same thing here would have happened: namely, Alberto Gonzales and top DOJ officials would have lied about what they did and nobody would have been able to prove that. Congressional Republicans would have blocked all investigations, insisting that we can trust the Attorney General, and Gonzales would have proceeded blithely along, having lied to Congress and the country with total impunity.

The only thing that changed is that there is now some minimal amount of oversight -- and already, within a mere three months of that oversight finally being exercised, our country's Attorney General stands revealed as a serial liar on a matter of obvious significance.

That is why oversight is so critical -- because as a country we simply do not trust, and never have trusted, our government officials to act properly when they can act in secret and with no checks. The most staggering fact, as always, is that this principle -- what used to be the very bedrock of our country's political framework, what defined "America" as a country -- is really no longer a principle which so many of our elite opinion-makers embrace. Hence, Beltway journalists from Michael Kinsley to David Broder to David Igantius continue to insist that investigations and oversight are so very improper, so disruptive, so gauche, so wasteful, so destructive, so wrong.

But a country that allows its political leaders to operate without oversight and in secret will, in every case, become not only dysfunctional but tyrannical. That is just obvious.


But that which the Court said is "unavailing" -- namely, relying on "mere requests for such information" and remaining content with only that which is "volunteered" -- is precisely what has been happening in this country for the last six years. As a result, the information we have received about what our government is doing has been incomplete, misleading, and often outright false.

And the fact that Alberto Gonzales and top DOJ officials simply got caught lying the minute that minimal amounts of oversight were exercised -- the minute that their statements were investigated for accuracy rather than blindly assumed to be true -- demonstrates just how pervasive this corruption and deceit has been at the highest levels of the Bush administration. And this has occurred principally as a result of a Republican-led Congress that did not just fail to investigate, but deliberately sought to help the administration conceal wrongdoing so as to politically prop up and protect the President.

In light of how quickly and powerfully evidence of wrongdoing and deceit is spewing forth with minimal amounts of prodding, it is just inconceivable that our Beltway stars -- including alleged journalists -- would be more worried about the unpleasantness and disruption that comes from uncovering corruption and illegality than they are about the corruption and illegality itself. But that is exactly the message they are conveying.

And none of that should be surprising, even though it is so destructive. After all, our government would not have been able to spend the last six years blocking all forms of accountability and checks if not for the support of our national media. So it should hardly come as a surprise that so many of them do not believe in that which lies at the core of our political system since its founding -- namely, a belief that all political leaders must constantly be subjected to rigorous scurtiny and compelled disclosure of their conduct.


Update: "Checks and balances" is something that "we all learn about in fifth grade civics class," and that is why it is has been so genuinely confounding and frustrating that our media and political classes have been perfectly content to allow this President to rule over our country for the last six years in virtually total secrecy and without any checks or balances of any kind.


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