In every corner of the world, the United States of America touts the “rule of law” as a central principle to its democracy. So important is the rule of law that successive US administrations justify foreign policy initiatives inclusive of intervention into the affairs of foreign states on the basis of an absence of the “rule of law” in those societies. Curtailing, if not outright preventing human rights abuses is one of the primary rationale that successive U.S. administrations use to justify invasion of foreign countries or oxymoronically, engaging in warfare.
In contemporary democracies and international relations and foreign policy where political Dwarinism is hard it hard at work, imakes sense to employ “bad boys” cloaked with the responsibility and authority to gather, interpret and report on sensitive information that often rests on national security pillars. Without question, intelligence gathering is a central feature of international relations. Gathering information about foreign governments, organizations, and individuals is a painstakingly tedious exercise. It cannot be seriously contended that the CIA plays no important role in world affairs. Similarly, CIA activity must, at all times, maintain the interests of the US administration.
Any serious commentator on matters of public policy knows that the US Executive Branch of government must have wide latitude when selecting the appropriate methods for the collection of intelligence. Recent events draws into sharp focus the extent to which “bad boys” in the CIA have been left to work seemingly unsupervised and the tactics they have employed when gathering intelligence information. The United States Senate Committee on intelligence released its report recently about CIA use of torture as part of its five-part mandate.
No one in their right mind would label the CIA as a rogue organization. Such a posture is simply untenable. That however, does not mean that there are no rogues employed by the organization. American democracy demands that its Executive Branch be accountable. In fact, America’s entire political system is arguably structured for the single purpose of achieving accountability. All of the checks and balances in American political structure and processes are designed to ensure that the Executive Branch of government remain accountable.
With respect to the Executive branch of government accountability has two distinct, but interrelated dimensions, namely: accountability of the President of the United States for acts and omissions taken personally; and, accountability of those employed by the Executive Branch to achieve policy and political ends.
Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceeding over the Monica Lewinsky affair is one example of accountability for the actions and omissions of the President of the federation. That Clinton had sexual relations with an intern Monica Lewinski was not his biggest problem. When the Clinton story first broke, had Clinton simply said that he and his wife have already talked about any and all of the issues related to the alleged sexual relation, he would have perhaps escaped less scathed than ultimately occurred. His biggest problem was that he lied. And he did so under oath, a fact that contributed to him being barred from appearing before the US Supreme Court and his five year suspension from the practice of law. Clinton, obviously, received bad advice because such flagrant disregard for the “rule of rule” became his biggest nemesis. Clinton’s obstruction of justice charge grew out of his alleged perjury. The rule of law, then applies to the political class, elected officials in the same way that it applies to employees of the Executive Branch of government.
The rule of law applies to employees of the Executive Branch of government in the same way that it applies to those elected. In fact, it is not uncommon for a member of one party to hold another elected official accountable for the works and misdeeds of her or his staff. For example, in the aftermath of the Benghazi affair Republicans sought to hold president Obama accountable for the acts of the Secretary of State as well as others.
CIA operatives are employees of the state. The US, as employer, can terminate the employment of any person found to have lied in the course of a job interview, or more generally. An employer has the unfettered right to make sure that its employees are truthful and honest, particularly those employees who provide advice on which political decisions are made. An employer’s right to demand truth from employees is such a fundamental principle of master-servant law, that there is a principle called revelation of character. In some respects, an employer who fires an employee because of illicit or other untoward social media postings is relying on a version of the doctrine of revelation of character.
How is it then that a government can deny hiring an otherwise qualified person because she or he lied on the interview, but then rely on liars to execute some functional and political responsibilities. While some of the tactics that the CIA used in torturing people pose different issues for American style democracy, the fact that they lied to their employers and to Congress is a huge thing. Would any administration approve of a CIA job wanted ad containing these words: “ability to lie effectively to Congress and the American public is a pre-requisite for this job”? Should any House of Representative approve of such skill being part of the prerequisite for retaining ones job.
Just ask George Bush of the political risks associated with simply repeating misrepresentations provided by the CIA. On one occasion, Bush represented to the United Nations that
Every administration must balance the extent to which sensitive political information is disclosed to the public. That is why the principle of confidentiality of Executive discussion is so central an Anglo-American democratic principle. It is precisely because of the existence and application of this principle that CIA operatives and all other employees of the Executive Branch of government never have to lie, regardless of the availability of the Fifth amendment to a specific fact situation.
The Senate Report on CIA post 911 activities of torture contains problematic information for American democracy, especially in the context of foreign policy and America’s role in achieving free market democracy around the world, including in the Middle East, North Korea, and elsewhere. Is it possible, for instance, that CIA lying to the Senate and Congress can and is perhaps seen by many as American-style corruption? Is this the desired end?
Any administration’s ability to lead by example is frustrated when the very operatives cloaked in part with the tools to gather intelligence lie to their elected superiors. The act of lying creates tough question for which answers become immediate. For example when CIA operatives lie, the political masters and senior administration officials must start to ask whether this the kind of leading by example that is desired of US democracy? Are we as a society saying that the ends justify the means?
Any administration to which the CIA lies is placed in a difficult domestic and international position. Failing to hold those responsible for lying creates other problems for an administration that has campaigned and won elections on the basis transparency, and honesty. Political and senior management leaders who fail to hold those in the CIA accountable who lie about intelligence information acquiesce in their responsibility to the American people. Consider the message being communicated by a failure to act. Are we saying that rogues in the CIA are an exception to the rule of law? Could it be that what is good for the goose is not good for the gander?
Some Republicans have opted to make the issue of CIA lying a partisan issue. Rhetoric of this kind is simply political noise at best and political irresponsibility at worst. In some sense, framing the issue along partisan lines is an abdication of responsibility of political office.
When Senate Report is examined from a non-partisan, employment perspective it matters not that the lies occurred under President Bush’s watch. It should make Republicans especially cringe. Why it happened on President Bush’s watch. The Republicans now control the House and the Senate. So, what guarantee does either Chamber has that the lying has been abated? It is true that America was pushed into a collective frenzy post 911. Yet, does that mean that as a society Americans should discard the very value, Rule of Law, that is a defining feature of its democracy, particularly when it wages war on foreign nation states to achieve the “rule of law”. If so, what message is communicated to those around the world who hate Americans and seek to destroy its society? Better yet, what message does the fact that CIA operatives lied to an elected branch of government communicate in terms of governmental corruption, and an administration’s ability to govern and have confidence in its operatives’ integrity, and the cogency of the intelligence presented and upon which policy and its effectiveness will be measured?
Now that the Senate Report is out, it seems to me that to preserve American style democracy and its national and international efficacy the Executive Branch of government has to act as a prudent employer would. Failing to restore faith in American democracy by adherence to the rule of law may well be the biggest threat to American democracy as well as foreign policy efficacy. Erosion of this cornel principle weakens any President, effectiveness on the world stage, regardless of party stripe and political affiliation. Permitting CIA’s lies to stand without taking concrete and decided action erodes, both substantively and optically, the ability of future Presidents to influence other world leaders. Why? Well, in simple terms, how will any President be able to convince even its allies that it practices what it preaches?
In the aftermath of the controversy of the likelihood that some CIA operative may have lied, President Obama seem to want to put the matter behind him without seemingly play into the political quagmire of partisan politics. One source noted when “asked if he was concerned the CIA could still be hiding things from him, Obama said no: “I have been very explicit … in prohibiting these techniques. Anybody who was doing the kind of things described in the report would not simply be keeping something from me, they would be directly violating the orders I have issued as commander-in-chief.”Obama stuck to his line of condemning past actions without taking sides in the debate over whether there was a cover-up or people should be held accountable.”
It is not sufficient for Obama now simply to pass the buck to the Minister of Justice to determine whether to open or reopen a criminal investigation. It seems to me that the Executive Branch of government must now determine whether there is a culture of lying within government as a whole and then act as a prudent employer, one governed by the rule of law would. The world is now watching President Obama, Congress, and the Senate, now controlled by Republicans, to see the steps American democracy will take to restore international confidence in American style democracy. The Republican controlled house would be remissed to treat this central issue of American democracy in partisan ways. It needs to demonstrate leadership and help to restore faith in the Rule of Law. Why? This is a matter of good governance. President Obama do not pass the buck. Be the strong leader that you are touted to be and act like a prudent employer not only to restore international faith in the administration but to preserve American style democracy.