The Role of Congressional Committees

The legislative role of committees is usually widely understood – the idea that committees go through bills to amend them as they see fit, if a bill is lucky enough to get this far and is not ‘pigeonholed’ by the committee chairman. The investigative role of committees, and indeed Congress, is usually understood in theory, but students have little in the way of evidence to offer. This example is therefore incredibly useful.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has released a report investigating the interrogation techniques used by the CIA. It demonstrates the powers that Congress has to investigate and has caused a backlash in Washington from the current White House, claiming it will put Americans at risk, and the former White House occupants, with Dick Cheney’s vocal defence of the actions of the CIA. This could therefore be an example of Congress carrying out it’s roles and indeed of checks and balances.

However, it is also an example of the weakness of Congress – such investigations are almost always reactive, rather than pro-active. The techniques in question were stopped by Obama in 2009, almost immediately on coming to office. Therefore some of these techniques are over 10 years old. In this instance therefore, the Senate Intelligence Committee appears to have reached the same conclusions as the Obama administration, but five years later! This seems to suggest that Congress’ power is limited to looking back, rather than forward; such debate is crucial to a 45 mark essay.