Can Congress handle the truth?

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The battles over what war-time powers the Bush administration can and cannot assert have been slogged out mostly in the courts. But they should be happening in Congress. The New York Times reports today that the Bush administration has been withholding information about the CIA’s detainment operations, even from members of Congress. “Since the detention program was established in 2002, officials said, the C.I.A. detention effort has been classified as a ‘special access program,’ a category that puts it off limits even to most of those with top secret security clearances.” That has effectively limited the number of members of Congress who are in-the-know to about eight people.

You might be tempted to throw up your hands and say, “That’s the Bush administration for you, keeping everyone in the dark.” But in fact, it looks like Congress itself could be doing a whole lot more to oversee the White House. As Phillip Carter points out, Congress doesn’t seem to want to gain access to these administration secrets. “Bottom line: the President has the information and the authority here; Congress has the money. Whether Congress leverages its appropriations authority to exercise meaningful oversight over executive operations in the war on terrorism remains an open question.” Similarly, GWU’s Center for National Security Strategy’s Kate Martin notes that Congress “shares with the President the constitutional prerogative to declassify information.”

So there are a few possibilities: 1) the Republicans leadership is actively preventing anyone from finding out what the Bush administration is concealing; 2) Congress is just too busy doing other things; 3) Congress just doesn’t really want to know what’s going on in the CIA’s detention centers. I’d wager it’s a combination of all three.

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