It's a question at least as old as Plato - "who guards the guardians?" Who makes sure those appointed to protect society don't themselves become a danger to it?
The answer, in the US at least, is a complex of interlocking oversight in which the Inspector generals of various departments play a crucial role. To work effectively, they must be free from political influence and free to judge the work of their own department without internal hindrance. So a report from the LA Times today should be seen as very worrying.
Spencer Ackerman expertly summarizes the problem:
CIA Director Michael Hayden is going after the agency's independent watchdog, Inspector General John Helgerson. Hayden wonders if Helgerson -- who is not appointed by the CIA director -- hasn't gone too far in investigating how the agency conducts detentions and interrogations.Andrew Sullivan correctly sees this move as further entrenchment within a closed inner circle to cover their own backsides against independent oversight of what they are most likely aware are crimes.
Helgerson has for years been perceived as overly aggressive in reviewing CIA techniques in the war on terrorism. In 2004, he produced an internal report that seemed to say that Department of Justice-approved interrogation techniques employed by the CIA amounted to torture. That report was part of a series of internal administration moves contributing to uncertainty among interrogators and senior officials about what was legally permissible. Some in the NCS -- the agency's undercover operatives -- have purchased legal insurance to guard against the possibility that they will one day face criminal charges for putting administration-approved practices into place. In short, many in the CIA think Helgerson is out to get them.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the investigation has grown out of an effort by Hayden months ago to explore a "friction" that had emerged between Helgerson's office and that of the CIA general counsel, which also has lent its legal imprimatur to CIA interrogations and detentions, after the general counsel's office believed Helgerson was improperly second-guessing its advice. But the investigation, headed by Hayden confidante Robert L. Deitz, is now a full-fledged exploration of how Helgerson conducts his work. It comes as Helgerson is "nearing completion" on several reports into interrogations, renditions, and detentions, reports The New York Times.
Yet another place in which the Bush administration has worked to undo the system of checks and balances which comprise the safeguards America has against elected tyranny.