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Democrats may demand inquiry into concealed CIA program

UNITED States President Barack Obama has been reluctant to probe Bush-era torture and anti-terrorism policies, but his Democratic allies aren't likely to let the matters rest.

"I've always preferred my idea of a commission of inquiry to look at all these issues," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, said on Sunday.

Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat who heads the intelligence committee, suggested the administration of former President George W. Bush broke the law by concealing a CIA counterterrorism program from Congress.

The Wall Street Journal, anonymously citing former intelligence officials, reported yesterday the secret program was a plan to kill or capture al-Qaida operatives.

The Journal said the plan was halted by CIA Director Leon Panetta.

The Journal said the plan never became fully operational. The plan was highly classified and the CIA has refused to comment on it.

The assertion that Bush's vice president, Dick Cheney, ordered the program kept secret from Congress came amid word that Attorney General Eric Holder is contemplating opening a criminal probe of possible CIA torture.

A move to appoint a criminal prosecutor is certain to stir partisan bickering that could slow Obama's efforts to push ambitious healthcare and energy reform.

Regarding the 8-year-old counterterrorism program, Feinstein said the Bush administration's failure to notify Congress "is a big problem, because the law is very clear."

"Could be illegal"

Congress should investigate the secrecy because "it could be illegal," said Democrat Senator Dick Durbin.

According to Feinstein, Panetta told Congress late last month that "he had just learned about the program, described it to us, indicated that he had canceled it and ... did tell us that he was told that the vice president had ordered that the program not be briefed to the Congress."

"We were kept in the dark. That's something that should never, ever happen again," said Feinstein.

Republican Senator John Cornyn said he agreed with Feinstein that the CIA should keep Congress informed.

But Cornyn said the new assertion "looks to me suspiciously like an attempt to provide political cover" to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who accused the CIA of lying to her in 2002 about its use of waterboarding, which many people, including Obama, consider torture.


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