« Tax cheaters | Main | where's the scandal? »

Accusations of treason fall easily from the lips

Of the many unsavory influences that the so-called "war on terror" has had on our political culture, the eagerness of some (mostly conservative) commentators to accuse other citizens of "treason" is perhaps the most pernicious.

The latest example comes from Stephen Bainbridge:

A report by Barton Gellman in yesterday's Washington Post revealed the existence of battlefield intelligence units within the Pentagon that work directly with Special Operations forces on counterterrorism missions. Now it's all over the MSM...
["MSM" = "mainstream media" -- conservative code used to refer to the New York Times, CNN, etc. Basically, MSM refers to every major news organization except for FoxNews and the Wall Street Journal.]
Did the Pentagon intend to disclose this program or did only to do so in response to Gellman's investigation? If the latter, why isn't his conduct basically treasonous? Did he put personal self-interest as a journalist ahead of the national security? If operatives are killed or missions blown as a result of this story, will Gellman feel any remorse? If the countries named in his story as targets of the missions pull out of the war on terror, will Gellman accept any responsibility for the resulting harm to our national security? I think he and his fellow members of the MSM owe us answers to these questions.
Treason is a serious charge, and yet it seems to fall so easily from the tongue of folks like Bainbridge. He seems incapable of recognizing that many things other than Gellman's "self-interest as a journalist" may have motivated the article. Public service, for one thing.

Unlike dictatorships and tyrannies, democracies can only work well when citizens have enough information to pass judgment on their leaders. Our current leaders have arguably damaged our national security with a ill-considered invasion of Iraq, in support of which the Bush administration mislead the American people by alleging connections between that country and Al Qaeda, and by mischaracterizing uncertain intelligence as a "slam-dunk" case showing that Iraq had stockpiles of WMDs such that it constituted an "imminent threat."

Given this recent history, American citizens have a vital interest in learning that the Bush administration is continuing to rewrite law and custom to make itself less accountable to the Congress and to the American people:

Pentagon officials emphasized their intention to remain accountable to Congress, but they also asserted that defense intelligence missions are subject to fewer legal constraints than Rumsfeld's predecessors believed. That assertion involves new interpretations of Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which governs the armed services, and Title 50, which governs, among other things, foreign intelligence.

Under Title 10, for example, the Defense Department must report to Congress all "deployment orders," or formal instructions from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to position U.S. forces for combat. But guidelines issued this month by Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone state that special operations forces may "conduct clandestine HUMINT operations . . . before publication" of a deployment order, rendering notification unnecessary. Pentagon lawyers also define the "war on terror" as ongoing, indefinite and global in scope. That analysis effectively discards the limitation of the defense secretary's war powers to times and places of imminent combat.

Under Title 50, all departments of the executive branch are obliged to keep Congress "fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities." The law exempts "traditional . . . military activities" and their "routine support." Advisers said Rumsfeld, after requesting a fresh legal review by the Pentagon's general counsel, interprets "traditional" and "routine" more expansively than his predecessors.

"Operations the CIA runs have one set of restrictions and oversight, and the military has another," said a Republican member of Congress with a substantial role in national security oversight, declining to speak publicly against political allies. "It sounds like there's an angle here of, 'Let's get around having any oversight by having the military do something that normally the [CIA] does, and not tell anybody.' That immediately raises all kinds of red flags for me. Why aren't they telling us?"

The essence of dictatorship is that the dictator alone decides what is in the nation's best interest, and what actions are necessary for national security. One of the burdens of democracy is that our government is accountable to the people for these decisions. This is one reason why we enacted laws requiring the CIA to submit to a certain amount of Congressional oversight; another reason was to prevent our government from abusing covert operations.

Gellman has told us the story of the Bush administration's attempt to circumvent these laws. This is not treason, it's patriotism. It may turn out that there are good reasons for the administration to give the Defense Department greater control over covert ops, but that decision is not for the executive branch to make unilaterally.

Comments

Of the many unsavory influences that the so-called "war on terror" has had on our political culture, the eagerness of some (mostly liberal) commentators to accuse our leaders of "dictatorship" is perhaps the most pernicious.

Of the many unsavory influences that the so-called "war on terror" has had on our political culture, the eagerness of some (mostly liberal) commentators to accuse our leaders of "dictatorship" is perhaps the most pernicious.

I can understand in some cases government oversight is necessary, as beauracracies (sp?) have a tendency for exceeding their main purpose. however using your logic, would it have been ok if let's say the BBC or NYT publized the fact that we had cracked the german enigma codes during WWII... or perhaps that the navy had prior warning of Japan's invasion of Midway? in what way would i have a benefited as an american citizen if these facts were broadcast for all to hear and see? and i don't think the prof. is outrightly calling said journalist treasonous. if he tho put american lives in danger as a result of his grandstanding, then yes, i think it would be.