When the CIA destroyed those prisoner interrogation videotapes, was it also destroying the truth about 9/11? After all, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, the basic narrative of what happened on that day-and the definition of the enemy in this war on terror that George W. Bush launched in response to the tragedy-comes from the CIA's account of what those prisoners told their torturers. The commission was never allowed to interview the prisoners, or speak with those who did, and was instead forced to rely on what the CIA was willing to relay.
On the matter of the existence of the tapes, we know the CIA lied, not only to the 9/11 Commission but to Congress as well. Given that the Bush administration has for six years refused those prisoners any sort of public legal exposure, why should we believe what we've been told about what may turn out to be the most important transformative event in our nation's history? On the basis of what the CIA claimed the tortured prisoners said, President Bush launched a "Global War on Terrorism" (GWOT), an endless war that threatens to bankrupt our society both financially and morally.
How important to the 9/11 Commission Report were those "key witnesses"? Check out the disclaimer on Page 146 about the commission's sourcing of the main elements laid out in its narrative:
Chapters 5 and 7 rely heavily on information obtained from captured al Qaeda members. ... Assessing the truth of statements by these witnesses ... is challenging. Our access to them has been limited to the review of intelligence reports based on communications received from the locations where the actual interrogation took place. We submitted questions for use in the interrogations, but had no control over whether, when, or how questions of particular interest would be asked. Nor were we allowed to talk to the interrogators so that we could better judge the credibility of the detainees and clarify ambiguities in the reporting. We were told that our requests might disrupt the sensitive interrogation process.
Videos were made of those "sensitive" interrogations, which were accurately described as "torture" by one of the agents involved, John Kiriakou, in an interview with ABC News. Yet when the 9/11 Commission and federal judges specifically asked for such tapes, they were destroyed by the CIA, which then denied their existence.
Of course our president claims he knew nothing about this whitewash, and he may be speaking the truth, since plausible deniability seems to be the defining leadership style of our commander in chief. But what about those congressional leaders who were briefed on the torture program as early as 2002? That includes Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi, who has specialized in heartfelt speeches condemning torturers in faraway places like China.
Pelosi press aide Brendan Daly told me that The Washington Post report on her CIA briefing was "overblown" because Pelosi, then the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, thought the techniques described, which the CIA insists included waterboarding, were merely planned and not yet in use. Pelosi claimed that "several months later" her successor as the ranking Democrat, Jane Harman, D-Calif., was advised that the techniques "had in fact been employed." Harman wrote a classified letter to the CIA in protest, and Pelosi "concurred." Neither went public with her concerns.
Harman told The Washington Post, "I was briefed, but the information was closely held to just the Gang of Four. I was not free to disclose anything." The "Gang of Four" is an insider reference to the top members of the House and Senate intelligence committees and not to the thugs who ran Mao's China during the Cultural Revolution.
Not only did the congressional Gang of Four fail to inform the public about the use of torture by our government, but it also kept the 9/11 Commission in the dark. Pelosi testified before the commission on May 22, 2003, but uttered not a word of caution about the methods used. However, more than two years later, on Nov. 16, 2005, Pelosi stated correctly that on the basis of her "many years on the intelligence committee," she knew that "[t]he quality of intelligence that is collected by torture is ... uncorroborated and it is worthless."
Having admired Pelosi for decades, I hope I am missing something here. If she and the others in the know have another version of these events it's time to come clean. As matters now stand, they not only concealed torture but, more significantly, they abetted the waterboarding of our democracy.
Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.
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