For the last week or so, rumors have swirled around Washington of a secret program undertaken by the CIA in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. While details of the program have not yet been made public, the critical information in the story is that the existence of the program was deliberately hidden from Congress. Even more ominous are reports that the program was kept secret from Congress at the instigation of Vice President Dick Cheney (who is, incidentally, about the least Jeffersonian political figure in modern life).
This matter merits a full investigation, because if these rumors are true, it represents an extremely dangerous breakdown in the separation of powers, the key pillar in the maintenance of our republic.
Obviously, it is often necessary to keep critical military or intelligence information from the general public for reasons of national security, as its public revelation might serve the interests of our enemies. We certainly don't want details of our next covert raid in Afghanistan plastered on CNN for all to see, for example. But there can be absolutely no justification for one branch of government to operate free from oversight from the other branches of government. Down that road lies tyranny.
There are other troubling stories emerging about the Bush-era Central Intelligence Agency in recent days. We are now learning that the unconstitutional program of warrantless wiretaping was of effectively no value in fighting terrorism, and that its legal analysis within the Bush administration relied on the opinion of a single Justice Department official. And, of course, we will certainly see more information regarding CIA torture and secret imprisonment of terrorist suspects come to light.
As we learn more and more about the unconstitutional actions that were taken by the Bush Administration, Thomas Jefferson's archenemy Alexander Hamilton comes to mind. The man whom we illogically honor by placing him on our $10 bill (from which he should be removed, by that's another story) was willing to engage in outright electoral fraud to keep Thomas Jefferson from winning the Presidency in 1800, and dreamed of leading the federal army into Virginia to put down his political opponents by force. When the political leadership of the nation is willing to ignore the Constitution, the liberty of the American people is in peril.
President Obama has largely rejected the idea of investigations into the unconstitutional actions of the administration of his predecessor, probably because the partisan struggles which would ensure would threaten his legislative agenda. But as more and more information becomes public, it becomes increasingly clear that we must have a full investigation. Recent reports that fact that Attorney General Eric Holder is considering appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the claims of CIA torture represent a step in the right direction, but is not sufficient in itself.
We must have a full investigation into the unconstitutional actions of the Bush Administration, both for basic reasons of justice and to ensure that such things never happen again.