Bush, Cheney, Pelosi and Testifying About Torture

I.F. Stone used to joke that what passed for investigative journalism
in Washington was actually just the restating of what was already in
the public record at the appropriate time.

So it is that The Politico is making a big deal today about supposed "revelations" regarding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's knowledge of the Bush-Cheney administration's use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques."
House Republicans, and their amen corner in the media, are claiming
that "new revelations" suggest Pelosi had a role in promoting the use
of waterboarding.

"If someone is going to schedule hearings, I believe that the first
witness should be Nancy Pelosi," Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra,
the hyper-partisan Republican who serves as the ranking member on the
House intelligence committee, chirps in the Politico report. "Clearly,
she was involved in policy formulation."

That's sexy spin.

Unfortunately for Hoekstra and the Politico, it is detached from
reality. And that detachment is being promoted by defenders of the
Bush-Cheney administration who are working night and day to block a
comprehensive inquiry into potentially criminal abuses of power by the
former president and vice president and their aides.

First off, we have little in the way of "new revelations."

Some of us began writing a year and a half ago about the fact that
Pelosi, a longtime member of the House Intelligence Committee, was
briefed in 2002 on waterboarding. Here's a link to "Pelosi and Torture" -- a piece I wrote in December, 2007.

After detailing concerns about Pelosi's participation in meetings where
waterboarding was discussed -- and the suggestion that she and others
might have asked if the techniques being used were "tough enough" -- I
argued that:

If this is the case, Pelosi has provided aid and
comfort to the Bush administration's efforts to deviate not just from
the standards set by international agreements regarding war crimes but
from the provision of the Bill of Rights that establishes basic
requirements with regard to the treatment of prisoners who are in the
custody of the United States.

Those deviations are precisely the sort of impeachable offenses that
Pelosi has said are "off the table." Her association with the
administration on the matter of torture necessarily calls into question
the speaker's credibility on questions of how and when to hold the
administration to account. It also begs a more mundane political
question: At a point when Republicans like John McCain are earning
points with their forthright stances against waterboarding, isn't the
credibility and the potential effectiveness of the House Democratic
Caucus as an honest player in the debate profoundly harmed by the
involvement of its leader in behind-the-scenes meetings that by all
accounts encouraged the use of that technique?

Pelosi has since offered a relatively detailed and, to the view of many observers, compelling defense of her participation in the CIA briefings. To wit:

Of the forty CIA briefings to Congress reported
recently in the press, I was only briefed once, on September 4, 2002,
as I have previously stated. As I said in my statement of December 9,
2007: 'I was briefed on interrogation techniques the Administration was
considering using in the future. The Administration advised that legal
counsel for both the CIA and the Department of Justice had concluded
that the techniques were legal.' I had no further briefings on the

My understanding of the briefing I received is consistent with the
description that CIA General Counsel Scott Muller provided to
Congresswoman Jane Harman in a letter dated February 28, 2003, which
states: 'As we informed both you and the leadership of the Intelligence
Committees last September, a number of Executive Branch lawyers
including lawyers from the Department of Justice participated in the
determination that, in the appropriate circumstances, the use of these
techniques is fully consistent with U.S. law.' As reported in the
press, the accompanying memo from CIA Director Panetta concedes that
the descriptions provided by the CIA may not be accurate.

Reasonable people may differ on whether the speaker is being as
forthcoming as need be -- although former Senate Intelligence Committee
chair Bob Graham
has stepped forward to corroborate her statements -- and on the extent
to which she is complicit with the former administration. I remain
disappointed about Pelosi's decision to block the necessary
accountability moment in 2007, and I remain genuinely concerned that
her caution with regard to impeachment was influenced by personal and
political considerations rather than by the best interests of the

But our purpose now should be to get beyond the base political
positioning and partisan gamesmanship that has blocked not just
accountability but the restoration of our system of checks and

This brings us to the question Pete Hoekstra unwittingly poses: Should
Pelosi be encouraged to testify -- before a Senate inquiry (my
preference), some other congressional hearing or an independent
commission -- about what she knew and when she knew it?


Indeed, with the mounting evidence -- much of it provided by former
Vice President Dick Cheney in his confessional interviews with friendly
journalists -- that the Bush-Cheney administration conspired to create
a false legal construct to "justify" the use of torture, Pelosi's
testimony could be highly significant.

Pelosi should be grilled on this. If if she feels some heat for her past actions, so be it.

When all is said and done, however, it is likely that she will be a bit player in this drama.

It would seem that Pelosi is in a position to confirm that the
former administration and its allies at the CIA lied to Congress and
the American people about illegal activities that were in direct
conflict with the Constitution.

The point here ought not be to condemn nor to absolve Pelosi, or others who participated in those briefings.

The point should be to get to the truth of what an administration
that enjoyed something akin to absolute power in 2002 did with that

Cheney's statements suggest that the truth will be far more harmful
to the former vice president, his aides, his lawyers and others
associated with the Bush-Cheney administration than to the current
Speaker of the House.

Pelosi participated in those briefings as a relatively new member of
the leadership team of a minority caucus in a House of Representatives
that after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon was dramatically deferential to the executive branch.

In other words, it is absurd to suggest that she was -- or could
have been -- a definitional player in the outlining or implementation
of schemes to employ cruel and unusual punishment to extract dubious
information from prisoners of the United States government.

As such, Pete Hoekstra's claim with regard to Pelosi -- "Clearly,
she was involved in policy formulation" -- is ridiculous on its face.
Hoekstra's ranting can and should be exposed for what it is: An attempt
to scare Democrats (and sensible Republicans) away from pursuing a
needed inquiry into who actually formulated, authorized and practiced
deception with regard to the use of torture techniques.

What to do? Call Hoekstra's bluff.

Pelosi should agree to testify, thoroughly, cooperatively and under oath.

George Bush, Dick Cheney and all of their aides and lawyers should be expected to do the same.

As someone who has been highly critical of Pelosi on these issues, I
don't see grounds for a credible claim that "she was involved in policy
formulation." (If she was, of course, then she, too, should be held to

I do see grounds for a credible claim that Pelosi was lied to.

And I am certain that the Speaker has a responsibility to help
investigators get to the bottom of the question of who formulated those
torture policies -- and the lies associated with them.

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