Russell Tice may not be a household name as of yet, but he should be. Last week, Tice, a former National Security Agency analyst, revealed that his former agency had been charged, by the Bush Administration, with the task of warrantless domestic surveillance of everyday Americans. With this revelation we find ourselves in familiar territory–asking whether or not the Obama Administration will launch an investigation into what is blatantly lawless behavior by the Bush Administration.
The timing of Tice’s whistleblowing is as marvelous as it is tragic. The Justice Department is in the process of responding to a series of legal challenges to the domestic surveillance program. President Obama is on record as saying he believes that President Bush abused his authority in authorizing such a program. Now faced with widely-circulating information of the reach of that program, including routine surveillence of the press, it would seem that this Administration has little choice but to act, and act quickly.
Acting quickly would be much more likely if the Department of Justice had a confirmed Attorney General, but unfortunately Republicans are obstructing the the vote to confirm Eric Holder. A sticking point for Republicans is concern that he would investigate former Bush Administration officials in connection with detainee abuse and illegal domestic spying. That’s right. Their stated concern is that the Department of Justice would actually do its job and investigate substantiated claims of criminal wrongdoing.
Hopefully Tice’s claims will get wider circulation, and the Obama Administration will do a good job of explaining to those concerned Senators, and the American public, that investigation and prosecution does not include prosecuting analysts for simply following orders. No. The investigation concerns only those Bush Administration officials who authorized policies in known violation of our laws. Once that difference is clear, and it is an enormous difference, opposing investigation becomes much murkier politically.
We have initial disclosures from former Bush Administration employees of clear criminal conduct by their former bosses. We have the international community demanding action, and considering acting unilaterally. Yet we have Senate Republicans delaying Holder’s confirmation in part to delay criminal investigations of their past party leaders. As Democrats take meager steps towards accountability, let’s hope those who want to be the standard-bearers of the Republican party can follow that lead and allow Holder’s confirmation vote.