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Obstructing Congress, Pentagon Edition

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For several weeks now, reports have been circulating in Washington that, bracing for an onslaught of investigations from the new opposition-oriented Congress, the Bush Administration had been giving lessons to other government agencies about how to stonewall efforts by Congress to probe corruption allegations. It seems that a team was set up in Alberto Gonzales’s Ministry of Love Justice Department (the organ responsible, like its Orwellian counterpart, for interrogation process and torture as well as enforcement of Party discipline).

Evidence of the working of the new unit can be seen in a new statement released today by the Ministry of Peace Department of Defense. As the Boston Globe reports:

The Pentagon has placed unprecedented restrictions on who can testify before Congress, reserving the right to bar lower-ranking officers, enlisted soldiers, and career bureaucrats from appearing before oversight committees or having their remarks transcribed, according to Defense Department documents.

Robert L. Wilkie, a former Bush administration national security official who left the White House to become assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs last year, has outlined a half-dozen guidelines that prohibit most officers below the rank of colonel from appearing in hearings, restricting testimony to high-ranking officers and civilians appointed by President Bush. The guidelines, described in an April 19 memo to the staff director of the House Armed Services Committee, adds that all field-level officers and enlisted personnel must be “deemed appropriate” by the Department of Defense before they can participate in personal briefings for members of Congress or their staffs; in addition, according to the memo, the proceedings must not be recorded.

Wilkie’s memo also stipulated that any officers who are allowed to testify must be accompanied by an official from the administration, such as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his top-level aides.

These rules formalize practices which were put in place under Donald Rumsfeld, which I observed in connection with hearings before House and Senate oversight committees in the year following the Abu Ghraib disclosures. The Pentagon would loudly object that subpoenaing personnel would be disruptive, and when Congress went ahead, the officers and NCOs were often subjected to overt harassment and intimidation. One soldier who testified was told that his “career was over.” Congressman Chris Shays (R-CT) documented some of this in hearings he conducted on February 14, 2006.

The purposes of the new Pentagon rules are transparent—they implement what Kyle Sampson promised, namely to “gum up the works,” that is, to slow down the investigatory process. But they go beyond that. They aim to intimidate witnesses in order to thwart honest testimony. And the insistence that there be no record of the hearings is now a Bush Administration staple, evidence of strong distrust of public scrutiny and instinctive desire to secrecy surrounding all of their dealings—more evidence of an institutionalized culture of corruption and criminality.

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