The resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus just didn’t make sense. An affair? With his biographer Paula Broadwell? Even CBS’s Face the Nation Peggy Noonan commented that Petraeus shouldn’t resign. “And I just have to ask why do we have to lose him over this? That actually makes no sense.” Like all of us, she found his resignation over an extramarital affair “a little too mysterious” and “it looks very strange.” Petraeus was scheduled to testify next week in a closed hearing on what happened at Benghazi. “What I don’t understand is the immediate departure,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein told CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger. “That’s the part I don’t get.”
Mainstream media focuses on Petraeus’s upcoming testimony before the Senate intelligence committee on the attack at the Benghazi consulate in Libya which led to the death of our ambassador. That explanation may be the reason. Some members of the intelligence committee already considered charging Petraeus with perjury, but planned to withhold judgment until he testified this week. After resigning as CIA director, the CIA said acting director Mike Morrell would testify in his place.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said it is essential that Petraeus testify. Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Peter King, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was adamant that Petraeus testify. “David Petraeus testifying has nothing to do with whether or not he’s still the CIA director, and I don’t see how the CIA can say he’s not going to testify,” King said. “He was at the center of this and he has answers that only he has.” King has been a vocal critic of the Obama administration’s handling of the attacks in Libya that killed four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
The CIA and the Obama administration may have something to hide and that may be why Petraeus abruptly resigned. That’s one possibility.
The other possibility is good old-fashioned pillow-talk, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Christine Keeler’s association with John Profumo, British Secretary of State for War, led to his resignation in the early sixties. In the Profumo Affair, as it has come to be called, no secrets were exposed. In Petreaus’ case the pillow-talk may have exposed an outlawed and illegal activity of our CIA. Broadwell, Petreaus’ biographer and lover, inadvertently may have revealed what was a “top secret” during a public talk at the University of Denver. She was in the Q&A part of the event when a questioner asked the following innocuous question: “General Petraeus in his new role has a very difficult situation now in the center of the situation in Benghazi. Do you have any comments?”
Broadwell did. After giving a bit of background, she mentioned that the “ground forces at the CIA Annex were requesting reinforcements.” Then she added: “I don’t know if a lot of you have heard this but the CIA annex had actually taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoners.” She told her audience that the attack was thought to be “an effort to get them back.” Oops.
U.S. officials have not made reference to that possible motive in numerous accounts of the Benghazi attack and for good reason. ““The CIA has not had detention authority since January 2009, when Executive Order 13491 was issued. Any suggestion that the Agency is still in the detention business is uninformed and baseless,” said a CIA spokesperson in a statement issues on Sunday night.
Looks like we could have a smoking pillow but we’ll probably never know. In our “democracy” the military and other forces act “in our name” but we are often not told what is done or why, even if it is as illegal as torture, or extrajudicial killings, or renditions, or, as may be the case here, illegal detentions. Contrary to what the public is led to believe, the main reason for many facts being classified as “top secret” isn’t so that the designated-enemy-of-the-moment won’t know—the “enemy” usually knows only too well, as Iraqis knew about the torture that was going on. The reason for secrecy is to keep the facts from us, the people, so that we are not a fully informed citizenry. That’s one reality of “top secret” in our nominal democracy.
Did Petraeus just not want to testify? Was he concerned about being charged with perjury? Would his testimony have jeopardized the president? Was there a smoking pillow? In a democracy we have the right to know what cost Petraeus his job, just as we have the right to know what our government is doing and saying in our name. Without this knowledge, government of and by the people is a sham.
Bart Gruzalski a professor emeritus of philosophy from Northeastern University. He co-edited Value Conflicts in Health Care Delivery and published On The Buddha, as well as On Gandhi.