Senate Goes into Secret Session

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In an extraordinary procedural maneuver that exposed partisan tensions over intelligence oversight, Senate Democrats forced the Senate into a rare closed session for more than two hours until they won agreement from the majority to get a progress report on the status of the Senate Intelligence Committee's long-deferred review of pre-war intelligence on Iraq.

The Senate floor debate preceding and following the closed session featured unusually blunt statements on the quality of intelligence oversight of a sort not usually voiced in official proceedings.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Vice Chair of the Intelligence Committee, said the Bush White House had orchestrated a deliberate evasion of oversight responsibilities by the Republican majority.

"It is apparent to me that the White House has sent down the edict to the majority... that the Congress is not to carry out its oversight responsibilities in detention, interrogation, and rendition matters, ... as it would bring uncomfortable attention to the legal decisions and opinions coming from the White House and the Justice Department in the operation of various programs," Sen. Rockefeller said.

"We have agreed to do what we already agreed to do," replied Sen. Pat Roberts, the Intelligence Committee Chair, "that is, to complete as best we can phase II of the Intelligence Committee's review of prewar intelligence in reference to Iraq."

A task force of six Senators will report by November 14 on the anticipated completion date of the Intelligence Committee review.

See the full text of the November 1 Senate floor debate before and after the historic closed session here:

"Since 1929, the Senate has held 53 secret sessions, generally for reasons of national security," according to a 2004 report on the subject by the Congressional Research Service, whose availability on the FAS web site was noted repeatedly on CNN during the course of the secret Senate session.

See "Secret Sessions of Congress: A Brief Historical Overview,"
updated October 21, 2004:

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