Monday, May 24, 2010

On limited rulings

Dr. Dawg is right to note that the Cons have apparently drawn their latest anti-accountability strategy from the words of the ruling on Afghnistan torture documents which they once denounced. And there's certainly a lesson there for Peter Milliken and anybody else who may have to decide about any future Con argument as to the dangers of attempting to offer the Cons any rhetorical middle ground.

But it's worth noting that Milliken doesn't say for a second that committees can't seek answers from political staffers - only that staffers may face some conflicting pressures if they see themselves as bound primarily by their ministerial loyalties, and that committees should be willing to recognize limits on what a staffer is entitled to say where a particular answer might reveal advice to a minister. And that issue is discussed as a matter of what committees should do as a best practice, not a limit on what they have the authority to do.

Of course, the Cons are all too eager to eliminate any trace of context from Milliken's words in order to suggest that no staffer should ever testify about anything. But Milliken's ruling is clear that any reason for caution is based solely on the issue of whether a staffer's testimony might disclose advice. And that leaves no reason for committees to be shy about having staffers testify as to facts or decisions made at the staffer's level, nor for the Cons to launch an assault on the authority of committees to call their choice of witnesses.

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