(updated below - Update II)
Until later today, several items to note:
(1) As the scandal over the destruction of interrogation videos heats up, Sen. Joe Biden yesterday called for the appointment of a special counsel to conduct a criminal investigation. Sen. Chuck Hagel explicitly doubted administration denials about the President's involvement, stating that "he finds it hard to believe the White House did not know." Sen. John McCain sharply criticized what was done, calling it "absolutely wrong," and even Mike Huckabee suggested the CIA destroyed the videotapes to cover-up wrongdoing.
That's quite an impressive, bipartisan list of administration critics. So is there anyone leaping to the administration's defense? Of course there is. They can always count on two of their best enabling friends in Congress. First, here's Jay Rockefeller, rejecting Biden's call for an independent criminal investigation:
"I don't think there's a need for a special counsel, and I don't think there's a need for a special commission," Rockefeller said. "It is the job of the intelligence committees to do that."
And then we have Dianne Feinstein, offering only the most tepid of comments and warning that we should not reach premature conclusions, saying: "based on facts so far known, 'it was a big mistake. Whether it's a crime or not, I think we're going to have to find (out).'" Destroying key evidence relating to multiple investigations was all just "a big mistake" and we can't yet say if it involved anything remotely criminal.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is the absolute last venue that ought to be assigned investigative responsibilities, at least with Rockefeller at the helm. He was notified of everything that would be the subject of the investigation and either acquiescened to it or affirmatively supported it. He's complicit in what occurred and probably a key witness to much of it. At the very least, as someone who has a vested interest in the outcome, he ought to recuse himself from overseeing any such investigation.
Independently, Rockefeller has proven conclusively that he is completely incapable/unwilling to take any meaningful steps upon learning of administration lawbreaking. That's precisely why the administration was able to do what it did, because he so profoundly failed to fulfill his oversight responsibilities.
The very idea that the same Jay Rockefeller should now be put in charge of an investigation into serious acts of wrongdoing that he helped enable is just absurd. But it's hardly difficult to understand why he wants to ensure that he maintains full control over such an investigation. And it is quite predictable that he is explicitly opposing efforts to have a genuine, independent investigation take place regarding the conduct of his friends in the intelligence community and the White House.
(2) I continue to be amazed and disturbed by the number of people willing to defend the actions of Rockefeller and his comrades by claiming that these poor, victimized Congressional members just have no ability to do anything when they learn about outright lawbreaking by the administration. As I asked yesterday, why would they even bother to attend briefings if they believed that they were "powerless" to act even upon learning of serious illegalities? Here is the central purpose of the Select Committee on Intelligence -- the primary reason it exists, as stated by the resolution which created the Committee:
It is further the purpose of this resolution to provide vigilant legislative oversight over the intelligence activities of the United States to assure that such activities are in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the United States.
The Intelligence Committees were created as a response to the discovery in the 1970s of illegal conduct by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. The core function is to monitor what the intelligence community does and to "assure that such activities" are legal. It is a complete travesty for the senior Democrats on those Committees (and their apologists) to claim that they are powerless to act when learning of lawbreaking. Anyone who thinks that way should not be on the Committee. The idea that they can't do anything once learning of lawbreaking is the very opposite of the Committee's core purpose. But, of course, they were not and are not powerless to act. They simply chose not to act.
In addition to the other mechanisms for action identified here and elsewhere thus far that are available to Senators who learn of patently illegal behavior in a classified setting, key members of the Intelligence Committee could also refuse to cooperate in the enactment of legislation, block nominees, and otherwise thwart the administration's needs until there is some resolution. Such Senators could hold closed door hearings or announce publicly that they have learned of serious lawbreaking by the CIA (without specifying what the lawbreaking is) and demand that the administration agree to a classified setting to resolve those concerns (such as appointing a special counsel with security clearances or empowering a court able to investigate and adjudicate highly classified matters).
But they did none of that. They did the opposite: they continued to cooperate meekly with the administration, pass all of their demanded legislation, and keep quiet. Even for those who say that it's terribly unfair to expect our political leaders to subject themselves to any risk whatsoever in order to put a stop to such gross abuses, they could have acted in ways far short of some sort of melodramatic civil disobedience which would have risked imprisonment (i.e, they would not have had to go as far as actual leaders and patriots who did take risks in order to expose serious governmental wrongdoing).
If someone wants to defend these Democrats' complicit behavior (on the craven ground that what they did was understandable because it was politically wise), then they should make that argument. But nobody should pretend that these Senators and Representatives were "helpless" and had no options for putting a stop to Bush's torture programs and other lawbreaking if they were actually interested in doing so.
(3) Apropos of nothing in particular, this video explains quite a good deal about many things. For those who need to do so, separate the messenger (and the specific beliefs that are referenced) from the principal point being made:
(4) As part of her newly designed site, Jane Hamsher has created an effective tool for those interested in supporting the writer's strike, by contacting the producers of various television shows.
(5) Blogger Gary Farber is disabled and has been experiencing the sorts of difficulties in obtaining disability benefits that are, as he points out today, detailed in today's NYT. He is asking for help from readers and those inclined can read about his request at the linked post.
(6) One of the most interesting aspects of the presidential campaign thus far (and there have actually been dreadfully few of those) is the almost universal animosity towards Mike Huckabee from the right-wing establishment (animosity that matches and even exceeds that which they had been directing at Ron Paul). The party's dominant neocons, its business interests, its hard-core immigration restrictionists, and its chattering class all seem alternatively embarrassed by Huckabee's support and furious that their top-down decrees are being ignored.
Most of all, they seem resentful that the monster they created and exploited for so long -- the infusion of evangelical dogmatism into their party -- is now a monster they can't control. Barbara O'Brien has an excellent analysis of Huckabee's popularity and the spasms of anger and confusion it is causing for the Republican establishment.
(7) If there is any group of people more eager to turn themselves into victims -- or more prone to self-absorbed panic -- than our nation's super-tough guy war cheerleaders, I don't know which group that might be.
Several days ago, I noted that grizzled warrior and war expert Jonah Goldberg was to appear as the featured speaker at an event hosted by the University of Massachusetts College Republicans, entitled "Give War a Chance," at which the conquering warrior-hero Goldberg would expound on the "benefits of war," while a group of super-tough, prime-fighting-age, combat-avoiding College Republicans would sit around in awe, with vicarious sensations of Epic Churchillian Toughness and Greatest Generation nostalgia pulsating through their resolute bodies, as Jonah Goldberg -- this Jonah Goldberg -- regaled them with Tales of Glory from the Bunker.
This morning, Goldberg went to his computer to claim petulantly that, as a result of my item, he has suffered "a spike in [his] hate mail of late," and his Churchillian, Freedom-fighting College Republican "hosts are getting harassed with angry email from lefties furious about [his] coming up." He further claims that these mean emails have "required getting more security than they would normaly [sic] have and [Jonah's] speakers bureau wanted to warn [him] about the potential for a very hostile reception."
As a grizzled, courageous warrior, Jonah wants everyone to know that he's "not particularly worried." But in the last sentence of his cry for help, he reveals the true purpose of unveiling this complaint (other than his inability, endemic to right-wing tough guys, to resist depicting himself as the beleaguered Victim): "I do hope friendlies will attend as well," Jonah pleads.
Notice that there is no suggestion that there has been a threat of any kind (nor should there be). Rather, our Amherst-based College Republican Civilization Warriors received some "angry emails" about the war-celebrating event; they called for "more security"; Jonah was told to expect some opposition at the event, and now he's begging "friendlies" to attend and help him. Why, it's almost like Jonah is about to go on a mission to defend Fallujah and he's strapping on a helmet and calling in his comrades to come provide back-up. Give War a Chance indeed.
(8) Sensing Jonah's concerns (which he's intrepidly hiding), National Review Editor John O'Sullivan steps in to recount his own war story whereby he bravely faced down "honor students at Yale" during some event at which he once spoke, thus providing some fatherly assurances to Jonah that he need not be so scared. O'Sullivan assures Jonah "that it takes time for the inhibitions we all have against using violence to break down -- maybe as long as seven or eight minutes" and that "the best ploy is to shout 'police.'"
All of this shrieking drama erupted because the College Republicans received some oppositional emails to their war-loving event and Jonah ran to the computer to type about how upset he was. These are the people who endlessly prance around as the Paragons of the Traditional Masculine Warrior Virtues, lecturing us on the need to embody strength and resolve and courage, all because they want to bomb new countries and send others off to war. O'Sullivan ends his pep talk by stiffening his upper lip, patting Jonah on his worried back, and saying:
Well, that's it, old sport. Best of luck. I'm off to the Madrid launch of my book in Spanish at a reception hosted by Jose Maria Aznar, the former prime minister here, followed by a delicious dinner. I anticipate no riots.
Maybe Kathryn Jean Lopez will be next, offering to pack Jonah a sandwich and an emergency quarter for a telephone call as he sets off to run into battle.