Teepen: Bush administration zombies still walking

Yes, yes, I know: the George W. Bush presidency is dead and buried and it is time to stop digging it up just to berate it anew.

The problem is, these icky, moldering hands keep coming up from the grave. Bush administration zombies still walk the Earth.

The latest: CIA Director Leon Panetta has revealed that the Bush administration was running a secret counterterrorism program for years that it kept from Congress. When Panetta found out about the program this spring, he ended it and informed the House and Senate intelligence committees.

The nature and extent of the program are still secret, but scuttlebutt — which is about as good a source as any in Washington — suggests the project may have been even more extensive than the sweeping electronic snooping that the National Security Agency was caught in 2006 conducting, without warrants, into Americans' overseas phone calls and e-mails.

So the by-now too familiar back and forth begins once more.

Should Congress formally investigate? If so by which committee, how publicly and with what protection for intelligence methods that should shielded for potential later, legitimate use? What seems undisputed is that this is still another gift from then Vice President Dick Cheney, the wizard of Bush's dark Oz, and Cheney's consigliere, his aide David Addington.

Much of what went badly awry in the Bush White House traces wholly or substantially to the vice president's office — the politically vengeful exposure of an undercover CIA operative, detainee abuse and torture, claims that the president could rule virtually by fiat in the name of security, taking and holding prisoners — even for life — on his say-so alone.

The damage didn't end when the Bush administration did. Witness President Obama struggling to shut down the detention facility at Guantanamo but trapped by the very past there that makes a shutdown essential.

The prison and all the abuses associated with it remain an undertow on U.S. foreign policy worldwide. Some prisoners still there are too dangerous to release, yet with evidence against them tainted by torture, legitimate trials are impossible and domestic politics bars imprisoning any on the mainland, even in super-maximum security prisons from which there has never been an escape.

Now this further business with an apparently broad and certainly secret program that was kept from Congress reportedly on Cheney's direct order, although the law says the intelligence committees must be "kept fully and currently informed" of intelligence activities, "including any significant anticipated" activity.

The law allows for protecting "exceptionally sensitive matters," a potential dodge but effectively finessed in the past by limiting congressional notice to the Republican and Democrat leaders of the House and Senate and of the intelligence committees.

The Bush White House scrapped even that accommodation.

If after 9/11, Bush and Cheney had trusted American values and customs and had just followed established law and proven practices, the nation would be stronger abroad today and far less conflicted and distracted at home. And we wouldn't be stalked now by their administration's marauding undead.

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