A political firestorm is brewing over what members of Congress knew about the CIA's use of enhanced interrogation methods on terrorist detainees, and when they knew it. As various members try to duck, cover, or flee from the issue, we are reminded of a shameful episode from the Vietnam War.
On Sept. 19, 1969, Sen. Stuart Symington, Missouri Democrat, publicly denounced the "cloak of secrecy" over what became known as "Nixon's secret war in Laos," and announced a Senate investigation. The CIA had been waging a covert struggle against the North Vietnamese, who were illegally using neutral Laos as both a staging ground for attacks and a transit route for the Ho Chi Minh trail into Cambodia. Symington's subcommittee became a fountain of leaks, and the previously hawkish senator, who was up for re-election in 1970, was transformed into a darling of the doves. Symington later said the Laotian operation would "teach us all a lesson about creeping involvements, hidden from the Congress and the public, that make a mockery of our governmental processes."
But Symington was the one making a mockery of the process. The war in Laos was never hidden from Congress. According to Ted Shackley, CIA station chief in Vientiane, Symington was one of the program's major supporters back when it was "Johnson's Secret War." The senator had visited Laos two years earlier and saw all aspects of the program, witnessed the CIA's Air America in action, and spoke to Laotians working with America. Symington made several more trips to Laos for updates and arranged for Mr. Shackley to brief a closed-door session of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Oct. 5, 1967. Sixty-seven senators were briefed between 1963 and 1969 on U.S. secret operations in Laos, not that they rushed to admit it. Mr. Shackley was surprised at Symington's posturing at the hearings and later said the senator was acting in a "grossly dishonest manner."
The cloak of government secrecy exists to protect agents who defend the United States, not to shield members of Congress from public inquiries about their records. The House and Senate should render a comprehensive accounting of all the classified briefings, private information sessions, facility tours and other relevant actions that took place with respect to detainees from Sept. 11, 2001, forward.
The report should include the names of all members of Congress involved, dates, locations, briefing materials, PowerPoint slides, summaries, memos, transcripts and other documentation. Let the accounting be full, fair and open. The CIA has shown its secrets regarding the interrogations; let those in Congress reveal theirs.