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CHENEY UNDER FIRE FOR SECRETS KEPT FROM CONGRESS

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Cheney under fire on secret terror project

By Sarah O’Connor in Washington

Published: July 12 2009 21:36 | Last updated: July 12 2009 21:36

Democratic senators on Sunday called for an investigation into reports that Dick Cheney, the former vice-president, instructed the Central Intelligence Agency not to tell Congress about a secret counter-terrorism programme.

Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said on Fox news on Sunday that Congress “should have been told” about the CIA programme and that the vice-president should not be above the law.

Ms Feinstein confirmed reports over the weekend that Leon Panetta, CIA director, cancelled the project after learning about it and briefed Congress on it two weeks ago. “He was told that the vice-president had ordered that the programme not be briefed to the Congress,” she said.

According to reports, the secret project started eight years ago after the terrorist attacks on the US but never became ­operational.

Democratic figures were quick to voice their outrage. “The executive branch of government cannot create programmes like these . . .  and keep Congress in the dark,” said Dick Durbin, the majority Senate whip, on ABC television.

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

Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, said: “I think it’s impossible to just leave it lay when you have something like this. It’s either true or it’s not true . . .  nobody in this country is above the law.”

Republicans tried to play down the affair and defend Mr Cheney, who could not be reached for comment. “The president and the vice-president are the two people who have responsibility, ultimately, for the national security of the country. It is not out of the ordinary for the vice-president to be involved in an issue like this,” said Jon Kyl, minority whip in the Senate. “Let’s don’t jump to conclusions is what I’m saying.”

Mr Cheney advocated using harsh interrogation methods such as waterboarding on terrorism suspects and, since leaving office, has become a fierce critic of Barack Obama’s security policies. Some Republicans suggested on Sunday that Democrats were using the reports to demonise Mr Cheney over the interrogation affair, whilst bolstering Nancy Pelosi, House speaker, who has said the CIA had not briefed her fully on its interrogation methods.

Separate reports on Sunday said Eric Holder, the attorney general, was considering appointing a criminal prosecutor to investigate interrogation techniques used by the CIA during the presidency of George W. Bush.

The prosecutor would investigate interrogators who went beyond the advice of the justice department, while those that stayed within the department’s guidance would not be prosecuted, the reports said.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

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