The Senate Intelligence Committee had to release details on its multi-year investigation into how, under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the Central Intelligence Agency employed tactics that the world understands as torture. A decision to sit on the findings of what the 500-plus-page summary of the report begins by describing as a “brutal” and “flawed” program that was “in violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values” would have put senators who are elected to serve and advance the public interest at odds with a basic American premise: the idea that a government acting in the name of the American people must regularly seek and obtain their informed consent.
This premise does not deny the necessity of action in an emergency. Nor does it require consultation so constant or picayune that all flexibility would be lost. But it does expect that officials can and shall be honest with the American people about long-term initiatives, about accepted tactics and about the values that guide this country as it engages domestically and internationally. In particular, it expects frankness and cooperation in interactions with the Congress that the people elect to check and balance the executive branch.
The Bush-Cheney administration did more than simply abandon this premise.
As Arizona Senator John McCain said, in defending the release of the report, the CIA interrogation program as it operated during the Bush-Cheney years "stained our national honor, did much harm, and little practical good."
With Cheney taking the lead, the former administration aggressively and repeatedly rejected the principles of transparency and accountability that are essential to maintaining not just national honor but meaningful democracy. And the assault continues, as Cheney, in particular, maintains the pattern of denial and defense that characterized his tenure as the most powerful—and secretive—vice president in American history.
Without reading the Senate Intelligence Committee’s lengthy summary, or the broader 6,000-page study that has not been made public because of what’s been described as “a prolonged tussle between the CIA and the committee over how much of the material should be classified,” Cheney was already attacking it. With his typical combination of bombastic aggression and refusal to face the facts—especially when those facts reveal the extent to which his own statements have been untrue—Cheney on the eve of the summary’s release decried the study as “a bunch of hooey.”