Because some of the investigations would inevitably lead right back to some of their own members having been complicit in criminal actions:Glen Greenwald offers some further observations into this reality:It seems as if the "four" congressional leaders Harman refers to as knowing about the tapes were the chairs and ranking members of the intelligence committees: Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Rep. Porter Goss (R-FL), and Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA). Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) took Goss' spot as chairman of the House intelligence committee that year when Goss became CIA director. Hoekstra told the AP that he didn't know a thing about either the tapes or their destruction. I'm calling Harman to ask her for her letter to the CIA about the tapes, and will bring it to you if and when I have it.You are either with bush OR you are against him. If you enable the bush administration to cover up their crimes, you become part of the criminal conspiracy.
But the bottom line here is that at least some Congressional leaders knew something about the tapes and something about their destruction, and didn't say anything about either. Harman's silence is especially stunning: she co-chaired a joint Congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attacks in 2002 that didn't receive that very pertinent information. Why did she remain quiet about potentially criminal behavior? Marty Lederman has some thoughts here:Jay Rockefeller is constantly learning of legally dubious (at best) CIA intelligence activities, and then saying nothing about them publicly until they are leaked to the press, at which point he expresses outrage and incredulity -- but reveals nothing. Really, isn't it about time the Democrats select an effective Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, one who will treat this scandal with the seriousness it deserves, and who will shed much-needed light on the CIA program of torture, cruel treatment and obstruction of evidence? ...
Jane Harman also knew of the intention to destroy the tapes, and she at least "urged" the CIA in writing not to do it. (Where were her colleagues?) But when she found out the CIA had destroyed the tapes, where was Harman's press conference? Where were the congressional hearings?
I continue to be amazed and disturbed by the number of people willing to defend the actions of Rockefeller and his comrades by claiming that these poor, victimized Congressional members just have no ability to do anything when they learn about outright lawbreaking by the administration. As I asked yesterday, why would they even bother to attend briefings if they believed that they were "powerless" to act even upon learning of serious illegalities? Here is the central purpose of the Select Committee on Intelligence -- the primary reason it exists, as stated by the resolution which created the Committee:It is further the purpose of this resolution to provide vigilant legislative oversight over the intelligence activities of the United States to assure that such activities are in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the United States.The Intelligence Committees were created as a response to the discovery in the 1970s of illegal conduct by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. The core function is to monitor what the intelligence community does and to "assure that such activities" are legal. It is a complete travesty for the senior Democrats on those Committees (and their apologists) to claim that they are powerless to act when learning of lawbreaking. Anyone who thinks that way should not be on the Committee. The idea that they can't do anything once learning of lawbreaking is the very opposite of the Committee's core purpose. But, of course, they were not and are not powerless to act. They simply chose not to act.
In addition to the other mechanisms for action identified here and elsewhere thus far that are available to Senators who learn of patently illegal behavior in a classified setting, key members of the Intelligence Committee could also refuse to cooperate in the enactment of legislation, block nominees, and otherwise thwart the administration's needs until there is some resolution. Such Senators could hold closed door hearings or announce publicly that they have learned of serious lawbreaking by the CIA (without specifying what the lawbreaking is) and demand that the administration agree to a classified setting to resolve those concerns (such as appointing a special counsel with security clearances or empowering a court able to investigate and adjudicate highly classified matters).
But they did none of that. They did the opposite: they continued to cooperate meekly with the administration, pass all of their demanded legislation, and keep quiet. Even for those who say that it's terribly unfair to expect our political leaders to subject themselves to any risk whatsoever in order to put a stop to such gross abuses, they could have acted in ways far short of some sort of melodramatic civil disobedience which would have risked imprisonment (i.e, they would not have had to go as far as actual leaders and patriots who did take risks in order to expose serious governmental wrongdoing).
If someone wants to defend these Democrats' complicit behavior (on the craven ground that what they did was understandable because it was politically wise), then they should make that argument. But nobody should pretend that these Senators and Representatives were "helpless" and had no options for putting a stop to Bush's torture programs and other lawbreaking if they were actually interested in doing so.
Needless to say, if anyone tries to argue that it is politically wise to ignore these crimes... They are no better than the neoconservatives and their GOPeeons that committed the actual crimes.