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Roberts’s Idea of Oversight

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It’s reasonably clear now that between 2002 and the beginning of 2007, congressional oversight of the intelligence community simply went out of business. While there have been signs of life since 2007, they’ve been minimal. Scott Shane writes about recently surfaced evidence that Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) winked at the destruction of waterboarding tapes and stonewalled serious examination of the use of torture techniques by the CIA:

At a closed briefing in 2003, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee raised no objection to a C.I.A. plan to destroy videotapes of brutal interrogations, according to secret documents released Monday. The senator, Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, also rejected a proposal to have his committee conduct its own assessment of the agency’s harsh interrogation methods, which included wall-slamming and waterboarding, the documents say.

But Mr. Roberts, through a spokesman, denied having approved the destruction of the videotapes, which is under criminal investigation, and defended his record in overseeing the interrogation program. His assertions were backed by his former staff director on the Intelligence Committee, William D. Duhnke, who said that while the senator had not objected to the tapes’ destruction, he was “in receive mode” and was simply listening to get the facts about the interrogation program, which he was learning about for the first time.

According to a memorandum prepared after the Feb. 4, 2003, briefing by the C.I.A.’s director of Congressional affairs, Stanley M. Moskowitz, Scott Muller, then the agency’s general counsel, explained that the interrogations were reported in detailed agency cables and that officials intended to destroy the videotapes as soon as the agency’s inspector general completed a review of them. “Senator Roberts listened carefully and gave his assent,” the C.I.A. memo says.

The legal maxim is, of course, that “silence implies consent.” It was incumbent on Senator Roberts to raise an objection, either at the hearing or afterwards. He did not do so. Roberts and his committee abdicated their responsibility of oversight.

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