As if there were any doubt, the latest CIA scandal once again reminds the nation that whatever former vice-president Dick Cheney touched turned to slime.
At issue is CIA plans to develop special commando hit squads to kill or capture senior Al Qaeda terrorists. When, on June 23, CIA chief Leon Panetta learned of the scheme, he ordered the program — which, for logistical and political reasons was never fully operational — canceled.
Whatever its viability, though, targeting top terrorists was authorized by President George W. Bush in 2001 after the 9/11 terror attacks on New York and the Pentagon, which also saw a commercial airliner crash in rural Pennsylvania after passengers tried to wrest control of the plane from hijackers.
All told, 2973 died in the 9/11 attacks.
Cheney ordered the CIA to keep the plans secret. That appears to be in violation of federal law requiring that the CIA notify Congress of covert operations.
Cheney argues that since the plan was never acted upon, congressional notification was not necessary. Common sense, however, suggests that presidential approval triggers a willingness to act. It also prompts the uncomfortable question of why the CIA allowed itself to be silenced.
But then, an agency that allowed itself to be bullied by Cheney into providing Congress with false or shoddy intelligence about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction as a bogus precipitant for Bush's attack on Iraq has already revealed itself to be spineless.
No one should be surprised that the Bush-Cheney junta would be capable of violating a mere federal law. This is the same duo that subverted the United States Constitution with its program of warrant-less wiretaps — a program, by the way, that the inspectors general of five of the nation's intelligence agencies recently found to be of, at best, limited use in fighting the very real terrorist threat.
There can also be little doubt that Cheney was acting on orders from Bush — just as there is little doubt that Scooter Libby acted at the behest of Cheney when he torpedoed the CIA career of Valerie Plame in retaliation for the finding of her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, that the African uranium supposedly used by Iraq to develop nuclear weapons was a myth.
When a president lies to get a nation into a war, he and his administration have to keep lying and slandering and even breaking the law to keep the whole show afloat.
Congress should act quickly and decisively on this latest outrage by Bush and Cheney. And instead of involving a special prosecutor, the House and Senate should put their full combined strength behind the investigation and resolution of this disgraceful matter.
We would have no problem seeing Bush and Cheney behind bars. In fact, we would welcome it. But that is not about to happen.
Since Democratic President Harry Truman created the national security state in 1947, Congress has too often rolled over for the White House. That is how the United States became embroiled in Vietnam. And that's how the nation landed in Iraq.
Cheney has delivered to Congress a perfect opportunity to reassert its rightful foreign-policy and intelligence oversight.
The question now is not whether Cheney broke the law. It is whether Congress will have the stomach to prove it.