Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Um, because it was illegal?

Dick Cheney, meet Oliver North.

Donald Rumsfeld, meet Caspar Weinberger.

George W. Bush, meet Ronald Reagan — he who, knowingly or not, presided over a rogue operation that resulted in 11 criminal convictions in the Iran-Contra scandal.

Eric Holder, meet Elliott Richardson.

Richardson was the attorney general who refused to fire Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox under Richard Nixon's orders, resigning instead.

Holder this week appears poised to do something President Barack Obama says he doesn't want: Probe the Bush administration for criminal acts in the use of torture.

At the same time, Congress is getting into the spirit of seeking truth under oath after CIA Director Leon Panetta said an anti-terrorism program illegally was kept secret from Congress under Cheney's direction.

Even amid partisanship thicker than snow-cone syrup, the responses about these matters seem odd.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn said Panetta's claim "looks to me suspiciously like an attempt to provide political cover" to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who accused the CIA of lying to her in 2002 on its use of waterboarding.

Wait. Panetta providing cover for Pelosi? If you recall, he and she almost came to blows over her claim. Oh, bother.

Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., called the uproar over Panetta's revelation part of a "continued attack on the CIA and our intelligence-gathering organizations." And an assault on freedom, too. Right, Senator?

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., sounds like the only one who should have the keys to the Capitol cloakroom. He said Congress should investigate Cheney and the secret CIA program "because it could be illegal."

Do you think?

We interrupt our carnival of equivocating for this from the sporting world:

The NCAA is investigating whether former Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford got two free tickets to an NFL game.

That's right. Two free tickets, illegal inducements for an amateur jock.

The NCAA is committing its institutional weight to making sure that such a micro-infraction is taken seriously. For, you see, it has rules. What in Hades' name is Congress doing?

I understand why Obama would not want Bushites testifying under oath for alleged crimes. What a distraction for an administration calling itself forward-looking.

But Holder's job is to do what the NCAA does — take violations seriously. In the tradition of Richardson, who appointed the special prosecutor who took Nixon down, Holder's job is to do what the law requires, not what the president prefers.

Dick Cheney? He's become a caricature of Ollie North, with worse posture. North, when caught funding an illegal war in South America with arms sales to our enemies, wrapped himself in the flag and posed as freedom's champion. That didn't make it legal. He was convicted on felony charges. For his role in the gambit, so was former defense secretary Weinberger (the latter pardoned by Bush).

For Cheney to say, "Trust me, everything I did was for your safety," rationalizes nothing. Particularly when we find that surveillance programs were far more vast than Americans and Congress were led to believe, and that little of what was gleaned has anything to do with terrorism. Particularly when we find that torture yielded far less useful information than claimed.

Everything the Watergate burglars and their White House enablers did was within their sense of what was good for the nation.

So, too, with Team Reagan apparatchiks who armed and trained South American rebels to wage a secret war. It's no excuse.

The whole idea behind the enterprise we know as America is that nobody can decide that he or she can command the horsepower of government and take it for a joy ride without clearing it with the owners: us.

John Young writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald. E-mail:

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