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You can't make this stuff up.

William McGurn, once a foreign correspondent, then Washington correspondent for National Review, then chief editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal, then chief speechwriter for George W. Bush, and now speechwriter for News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch is recommending that Barack Obama pay attention to Richard Cheney because the soon-to-be ex-Vice President has kept America safe. Since Obama "is no fool...he has no intention of allowing another 9/11 to happen on his watch." So Cheney is the man.

No doubt the thought provokes apoplexy among the Daily Kos types who have already had to stomach the retention of Bob Gates at the Pentagon. ...

Most would agree that the demonization of Dick Cheney has its roots in his steadfast defense of three of the most controversial Bush administration policies: enhanced interrogation for terrorists, the detention of terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, and the National Security Agency's surveillance of terrorist communications.

On all these issues, Mr. Cheney could have stayed on the sidelines and cultivated his own reputation. After all, before signing on with George W. Bush, the vice president was a paid-up member of the Beltway establishment, enjoying its good favor and moving comfortably in its circles. All that is now gone. Whatever critics might say about him, he cannot be accused of having cut his conscience to fit the latest fashion.

Some of Mr. Cheney's views have been shaped by what he saw in the 1970s. As a member of President Gerald Ford's senior staff, Mr. Cheney watched the Pike and Church Committee hearings on our intelligence services. He saw decent men and women who had acted with the approval of their political leaders suddenly find themselves standing alone when Congress started asking questions. Lives and careers were ruined, and in crucial ways our intelligence operations were crippled.

 

It's true that the topknots who in the '50s, '60s and '70s ordered illegal CIA domestic spying and FBI emulation of totalitarian secret police techniques avoided major repercussions and the little guys caught the grief. That scapegoats are found to deflect punishment for the order-givers is hardly a revelation. But McGurn isn't making that argument. Rather he's excavating that old lie about the intelligence community being hamstrung by the consequences of the investigations of the Pike and Church committees.

In fact, almost no reform came out of those two investigations despite what they uncovered, as digby recently pointed out in her excerpt from Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI:

When Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974, the United States concluded one of the most traumatic chapters in its history. During the Watergate scandal, Americans had been shocked by the crimes of the Nixon presidency. Investigations by the press and Congress had exposed previously unimaginable levels of corruption and conspiracy in the executive branch. The public's faith in government had been shaken; indeed, the entire "system" had been tested. Now, with Nixon's resignation, two years of agonizing revelations finally seemed to be over. The system had worked.

Yet only four months later, New York Times reporter Seymour Hersh disclosed that the government's crimes went beyond Watergate. After months of persistent digging, Hersh had unearthed a new case of the imperial presidency's abuse of secrecy and power: a "massive" domestic spying program by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). According to Hersh, the CIA had violated its charter and broken the law by launching a spying program of Orwellian dimensions against American dissidents during the Vietnam War. The Times called it "son of Watergate."

These revelations produced a dramatic response from the newly energized post-Watergate Congress and press. Both houses of Congress mounted extensive, year-long investigations of the intelligence community. These highly publicized inquiries, headed by experienced investigators Senator Frank Church and Congressman Otis Pike, produced shocking accusations of murder plots and poison caches, of FBI corruption and CIA incompetence. In addition to the congressional inquiries, the press, seemingly at the height of its power after Watergate, launched investigations of its own. The New York Times continued to crusade against CIA abuses; the Washington Post exposed abuses and illegalities committed by the FBI; and CBS's Daniel Schorr shocked the nation by revealing that there might be "literal" skeletons in the CIA closet as a result of its assassination plots.

In this charged atmosphere, editorial writers, columnists, political scientists, historians, and even former officials of the CIA weighed in with various suggestions for reforming an agency that many agreed had become a ''monster.'' Several policymakers, including presidential candidates Fred Harris and Morris Udall, called for massive restructuring or abolition of the CIA. Media and political pundits suggested banning CIA covert operations; transferring most CIA functions to the Pentagon or the State Department; or, at the very least, devising a new, strict charter for all members of the intelligence community.

Few barriers seemed to stand in the way of such reforms. The liberal, post-Watergate Congress faced an appointed president who did not appear to have the strength to resist this "tidal shift in attitude," as Senator Church called it. Change seemed so likely in early 1975 that a writer for The Nation declared "the heyday of the National Security State', to be over, at least temporarily.

But a year and a half later, when the Pike and Church committees finally finished their work, the passion for reform had cooled. The House overwhelmingly rejected the work of the Pike committee and voted to suppress its final report. It even refused to set up a standing intelligence committee. The Senate dealt more favorably with the Church committee, but it too came close to rejecting all of the committee's recommendations. Only last-minute parliamentary maneuvering enabled Church to salvage one reform, the creation of a new standing committee on intelligence. The proposed charter for the intelligence community, though its various components continued to be hotly debated for several years, never came to pass.

The investigations failed to promote the careers of those who had inspired and led them. Daniel Schorr, the CBS reporter who had advanced the CIA story at several important points and eventually had become part of the story himself, was investigated by Congress, threatened with jail, and fired by CBS for his role in leaking the suppressed Pike report. Seymour Hersh's exposes were dismissed by his peers as "overwritten, over-played, under-researched and underproven." Otis Pike, despite the many accomplishments of his committee, found his name linked with congressional sensationalism, leaks, and poor administration. Frank Church's role in the investigation failed to boost his presidential campaign, forced him to delay his entry into the race, and, he thought, might have cost him the vice presidency.

The targets of the investigation had the last laugh on the investigators. "When all is said and done, what did it achieve?" asked Richard Helms, the former director of the CIA who was at the heart of many of the scandals unearthed by Congress and the media. "Where is the legislation, the great piece of legislation, that was going to come out of the Church committee hearings? I haven't seen it." Hersh, the reporter who prompted the inquiries, was also unimpressed by the investigators' accomplishments. "They generated a lot of new information, but ultimately they didn't come up with much," he said.

Indeed, the only real legislation, enacted in 1978, was the weak-kneed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that was supposed to curtail egregious overreach by the intelligence agencies, but instead provided a rubber-stamp secret court to approve their actions.

When it comes to "enhanced interrogation," the mini-concentration camp at Guantánamo and warrantless wiretaps, McGurn plunges head first into the memory hole. He fails to mention secret renditions of suspects to torturers in foreign lands, secret incarceration in off-the-books prisons and secret orders to circumvent various laws, including FISA. This allows him to say:

This president and this vice president resolved to do things differently. From day one of this war, and in very public ways, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have made it clear that the good people who carry out these sensitive programs have done so with the go-ahead from the White House.

To the left, of course, that is just more reason why they ought to be charged with war crimes and the whole antiterror apparatus scrapped.

From day one, the Cheney-Bush team concealed their "very public ways" of doing things until a slumbering media finally chose to expose some of the criminality they engaged in, supposedly on behalf of the victims of 9/11, allegedly to protect other Americans from becoming fresh victims.

Some of us on the left, though not, I believe, even close to a majority, certainly seek to charge Cheney and Bush and other high muckety-mucks with war crimes. Although we are unlikely to shut up about it, many of us are pessimistic about the chances this will come about. Typical of leftists on any issue, we have various and conflicting views on how exactly to reconfigure the "antiterror apparatus." These range from dismantling it entirely to starting over and operating under strict rules of civilized behavior to merely tweaking it around the edges. But the implication McGurn presents is the same old, same old: at best we're naive about the machinations and designs of the enemy or we're fifth columnists eager to see American values and America crushed.

McGurn's bogus revisionist history combines with a not-so-subtle neo-McCarthyism and masquerades as good advice for the new President. We're going to be seeing a lot of that in the coming months.

 

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Mon Jan 12, 2009 at 11:41 PM PST.

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