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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, February 05, 2014

 
Otis Pike RIP

by digby

Former congressman Otis Pike has passed away. Here's his obituary in the local paper.  It's very nice.  But it omits the most important part of his 20 year congressional career. And that's very, very sad.

In case you didn't see my earlier exclusive excerpt of Rick Perlstein's forthcoming book, here's a big part of what made Otis Pike a great American lawmaker
...The [Pike] report, drafted by an Ervin Committee veteran, was, for a government document, a literary masterpiece, and hard-hitting as hell: it opened with seventy pages savaging the Ford administration's lack of cooperation with Congress's work, and continued, more aggressively than Pike's public hearings—which had been plenty aggressive themselves, far more so than Senator Church's—by documenting the CIA's wasteful spending (where it could figure out what it spent), its bald failures at prediction, its abuses of civil liberties and its blanket indifference that any of this might pose a problem. It singled out Henry Kissinger for his "passion for secrecy" and statements "at variance with facts"; it detailed a number of failed covert actions—not naming countries, but with plenty enough identifying details to make things obvious enough for those who cared to infer. For instance, how the Nixon administration encouraged the Kurdish minority in Iraq to revolt, then abandoned them when the Shah of Iran objected. "Even in the context of covert action," it concluded concerning that one, "ours was a cynical exercise."

And something about all this seemed to spook cowed congressmen—who soon were voting to neuter themselves. 

The House Rules Committee approved a measure by nine votes to seven to suppress publication report unless President Ford approved its contents. The full House debated whether to accept or reject the recommendation. Those against argued that the "classification" system itself violated the canons of checks and balances that were supposed to be the foundation of the republic. A moderate Republican from Colorado pointed out that the executive branch was desperate to serve as judge and jury in the very case for which it was plaintiff: that the report definitively established that the CIA had committed "despicable, detestable acts," but that "we are being castigated by those who perpetrate the acts and classify them." Pike made a demystifying point: that each of these things called "secrets," and hemmed around with such sacralizing foofaraw, talked of as if they were blatant instructions to our enemies on how to defeat us, "is a fact or opinion to which some bureaucrat has applied a rubber stamp." A Democrat from suburban Chicago drove home the bottom line: "If we are not a coequal branch of this government, if we are not equal to the President and the Supreme Court, then let the CIA write this report; let the President write this report; and we ought to fold our tent and go home."

To no avail. On January 29, the full House voted by two to one, led by conservatives, to suppress the very report it had authorized a year of work and several hundred thousand dollars to produce.

It all was too much for Daniel Schorr. He took his copy to his bosses at CBS: "We owe it to history to publish it," he said. They disagreed. He went to a nonprofit organization called the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to see if they could find a publishing house that might be interested, with the proceeds perhaps going to their group. They could not. Finally the alternative weekly the Village Voice agreed to publish it, in a massive special issue, and since the Reporters Committee now controlled the document, theVoice made a contribution to the group. This set off a fierce backlash among the polite guardians of journalistic decorum; the New York Times editorialized that by "making the report available for cash" Daniel Schorr was guilty of "selling secrets." On ABC, anchor Sam Donaldson said, "There are those that argue that in an open society like ours nothing should be concealed from the public. Depending on who espouses it, that position is either cynical, or naive." He said "mature and rational citizens" understood this—but not, apparently, Daniel Schorr. Nor his bosses at CBS News, who suspended him, though local affiliates begged CBS brass to fire him.

The House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into who leaked the document to Schorr, who never told coughed u his source; they ended up spending $350,000, interviewing 400 witnesses, coming up with, yes, one leaker, Congressman Les Aspin (D-Wisconsin)—but he had leaked it to the CIA, as a political favor.
Pike's obituary only says that he chose to retire from congress in 1978.  But there was a reason:
[T]he unfortunate fact is that such investigations, while necessary, tend to be politically poisonous for the lawmakers who run them. Frank Church had presidential aspirations in 1975, but the investigation ate up so much of his time that it kept him from campaigning (he later groused that it might have cost him a shot at being Jimmy Carter’s vice president, too). The public and Congress, who had been furious about agency abuses of power in 1975, had mostly lost interest by the time the committee delivered its report a year later. Only one of its recommendations—the surveillance court—actually made it into law, and Church lost his Senate seat in the 1980 election following spurious accusations that his investigation had led to the assassination of a CIA station chief in Greece. The chairman of the concurrent investigative committee in the House, New York Democrat Otis Pike, saw his reputation similarly battered, and left office in 1979.
Today we have McCarthyesque authoritarians like Congressman Mike Rogers getting lots of traction in the media,  promoting dangerous unconstitutional legal theories.  Just today Andrea Mitchell featured his frightening questioning yesterday, and then allowed Congressman Mike McCaul to smear Snowden as a Russian spy even as he admitted he had no evidence, but you know, it just must be true.

This is how you get lauded in the Village: go along and get along. Wave the flag, demagogue whatever the boogieman of the moment happens to be (I guess it's now officially Russia again ...) and defend the status quo.  There's no political upside to being a "reformer."

That may all seem like a long time ago to a lot of you.  Perhaps you think things have changed in Washington. But that all happened in one of the greatest government oversight moments in US history --- the wake of the revelations about the war , J. Edgar Hoover and the abuses of Richard Nixon. And that rubber stamp FISA Court was the best they could do.

I wish I had an easy answer for how to fix this but I always come back to Ike. Until we do something about that, our democratic values, individual rights and constitutional principles are going to remain under threat. The Military and Police apparatus of the United States is just too big, too rich and too influential and it's driven by paranoia and stimulating martial emotionalism. It's a problem.



*It should be noted that the NY Times obituary prominently discussed Pike's role in trying to reform the government's spying programs.




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