I find Chris Hayes’ argument that we need a new version of the Church Commission quite convincing. I initially found a lot of the arguments in favor of the Obama administration’s preference for “moving forward” somewhat convincing, but like my colleague Matt Duss I’m now thinking that was pretty misguided. There’s also the point Chris raises in his article that there is a real need to set up inquiry into Bush-era misconduct in a way that doesn’t preclude serious inquiry into the Clinton-era origins of some of this stuff and an outside commission seems like the best way to do that.
That said, this worries me:
“One of the things that would be interesting for a modern version of the Church Committee,” says Robert Borosage, who worked at the Center for National Security Studies to help publicize the original committee’s findings, “was that they’d be forced to confront the fact that a lot of the reforms passed after the first one have failed. So the question becomes, What do we do now?”
The fact of the matter is that there really just is an inherent tension between the desire to have a highly effective security apparatus capable of operating in secret and the basic principles of liberal democracy. And everyone seems to think that possessing such a secret capability is integral to our current perception of ourselves as a global power with global interests and global influence. If we redefined the mission of our security services as strictly defending ourselves from foreign aggression, then we could make do with a very different sort of apparatus. But I see no real reason to believe that we’re on the verge of doing that. So until we do, I think we’re bound to continue on a sort of sine-wave trajectory of abuse → backlash → investigation → retrenchment → allegations of overreach → renewed abuse.