Cheney 'ordered CIA to hide plan'

 

The CIA withheld information from Congress about a secret counter-terrorism programme on orders from formerUS vice president Dick Cheney, a US senator said today amid calls for an investigation.

Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein told Fox News Sundaythat CIA director Leon Panetta disclosed Mr Cheney's involvement when he briefed members of Congress two weeks ago. She said Mr Panetta told them he had canceled the programme.

President Barack Obama appointed Mr Panetta to head the agency early this year. The still-secret programme, which The New York Timessaid never became operational, began after the September 11th attacks on the United States.

News of Mr Cheney's involvement, reported by the Timeson Sunday, prompted an outpouring of criticism by Mr Obama's fellow Democrats and support by rival Republicans in Congress.

Ms Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: "director Panetta did brief us two weeks ago -- I believe it was on the 24th of June ... and, as had been reported, did tell us that he was told that the vice president had ordered that the programme not be briefed to the Congress."

Asked if the matter should be investigated, senate majority whip Dick Durbin said, "Absolutely."

"The executive branch of government cannot create programs like these programs and keep Congress in the dark. There is a requirement for disclosure," said Mr Durbin said on ABC's This Week.

"It has to be done in an appropriate way so it doesn't jeopardise our national security, but to have a massive program that is concealed from the leaders in Congress is not only inappropriate; it could be illegal," he said.

Ms Feinstein and Democrat Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, insisted no one should go outside the law.

Asked about Mr Cheney's involvement, Mr Leahy told CBS's Face the Nation: "I'd like to know if it's true or not. I mean, nobody in this country is above the law ... You can't have somebody say, well, if you're vice president, you don't have to obey the law."

Ms Feinstein said Congress "should have been told" about the secret problem and that the vice president shouldn't be above the law.

"This is a big problem, because the law is very clear. And I understand the need of the day, which was when America was in shock" after September 11th, she said on Fox. "But ... I think you weaken your case when you go outside of the law."

Mr Cheney was a key advocate in the Bush administration of using controversial interrogation methods such as waterboarding on terrorism suspects and has emerged as a leading Republican critic of Mr Obama's national security policies.

Since Mr Obama took over from president George W. Bush on January 20th, Cheney has engaged in an increasingly contentious battle with the new administration over the CIA interrogation procedures that undermined the United States' reputation around the world.

Mr Panetta has vowed not to allow coercive interrogation practices, secret prisons or the transfer of terrorist suspects to countries that may use torture, a pledge seen as a break with the agency's policies under Bush.

Republican senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, told Face the Nationhe said he believed the Cheney allegations will be investigated.

Asked if he expected the situation to be looked into, Mr Sessions said, "Well, I'm sure it will be."

"I don't know what the facts are. But I believe that vice president Cheney served his country with as much fidelity as he could possibly give to it. And he tried to serve us in an effective way. And I hope that nothing like this would impact on his outstanding record."

Reuters