Congress on Steroids


If you watched or read about the Congressional hearings yesterday conducted by the House Government Reform Committee, you’d have thought Congress was a real legislature, with bulldog representatives willing to stop at nothing to get at the truth.

There was Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.), saying it “boggles the mind,” that a witness would provide Congress with false information.

There was Rep. Patrick McHenry, angrily demanding that a witness stop fudging and give a straight-up “yes or no” answer.

Even the Democrats got into the act, with Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Maryland) sounding for all the world like a pugnacious Senate Watergate committee member or like Richard Nixon on the old House Un-American Activities Committee as he demanded of a witness who was refusing to answer a tough question, “Are you taking the Fifth?”

All this toughness, and what was the issue at hand? The latest $82-billion funding request for the war in Iraq? The CIA’s extraordinary rendition kidnapping and torture of terror suspects? The Bush Social Security wrecking scheme? The White House propaganda strategy of producing and sending out fake “news” videos to local TV stations around the country?

No, this was the House hearing into steroid use by baseball players.

The toughness displayed by the representatives on the Government Reform Committee at this silly hearing into an issue that has almost no impact whatsoever on the lives of average Americans contrasted markedly with the way the Senate Armed Services Committee, on the same day, handled its hearing into the CIA’s torture policies since 2001.

There CIA director Porter Goss, a former House member himself, was treated with utmost politeness and decorum, and was allowed to fudge answers, or not answer questions at all.

Goss wasn’t challenged by panel members from either party when he assured his Senate questioners that the CIA uses no “techniques” that would be “in any way against the law” or that would be “considered torture.” No one followed up by asking him who was interpreting the law for him (the new Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, after all, did a bang-up job as White House Counsel, advising the president that the law allowed torture, and the hell with the Geneva Conventions).

When Goss was asked about CIA tactics prior to the present moment, and whether torture might have been used by the agency in the aftermath of 2001, he was allowed to say simply “I am not able to tell you that.”

No one pressed him further to ask whether he was, in effect, “taking the Fifth” on the spy agency’s behalf.

With the Republican Party firmly in control of both houses of Congress, and with Democrats selling out on everything from oil drilling on Alaska’s north slope to providing more funds for Bush’s war in Iraq, the one useful thing to come out of the baseball steroid hearings was a reminder of what Congress could be if its members actually took their job even half seriously.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at

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CounterPunch contributor DAVE LINDORFF is a producer along with MARK MITTEN on a forthcoming feature-length documentary film on the life of Ted Hall and his wife of 51 years, Joan Hall. A Participant Film, “A Compassionate Spy” is directed by STEVE JAMES and will be released in theaters this coming summer. Lindorff has finished a book on Ted Hall titled “A Spy for No Country,” to be published this Fall by Prometheus Press.