By Brigitte L. Nacos
Speaker Pelosi’s spoken words and body language did not add up to a convincing defense against the accusation that she was briefed by the CIA about the so-called “enhanced interrogation” methods used to force terrorist and suspected terrorists to reveal important information as early as September 2002. If she remembers being told at the time that waterboarding was considered legal, as the has said, it is difficult to figure out why she thought this kind of torture was not yet used—unless the CIA said precisely that during the briefing in question. On that count, we have Pelosi’s “the-CIA-misled-members-of-congress” and former U.S. Senator Bob Graham’s “the-CIA’s-records-of-briefing-dates-are-wrong” charges versus CIA-Director Leon Panetta’s “CIA-officers-briefed-her-truthfully” and former Congressman and former CIA-Director Porter Gross’s “we-were-briefed-at-the-early-date” positions.
Ultimately it does not matter whether Pelosi and other members of congress, Democrats and Republicans, learned about inhumane treatment and torture of detainees in September 2002, when President George W. Bush and Karl Rove rolled out their marketing plan for the Iraq invasion—or some weeks or months later. After all, the Bush White House with Vice President Cheney in a key role and key departments and agencies did not wait for any advice from the legislative branch for their conduct of the so-called “war against terrorism.”
Nancy Pelosi has admitted that she knew by early 2003 before the invasion of Iraq when the mass-mediated torture debate was still seemingly a hypothetical exercise. Because then majority leader Pelosi remained silent, Republicans now try hard to turn the spotlight away from those highest level administration officials who decided in favor of torture and those in the White House, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice who twisted the law to justify waterboarding and other illegal, inhumane and ultimately ineffective interrogation techniques.
Let’s remember that nearly all politicians and nearly all voices in the media supported “enhanced interrogation” and/or “extraordinary rendition” (meaning the outsourcing of torture to governments known for their human rights violations)—or did not speak out against such action. After all, in the post-9/11-climate that was informed by the Bush administration’s “if-do-are-not-for-our-policies-you-are-on-the-terrorists’-side” dissent was not exactly a popular option. That is not to excuse Nancy Pelosi or other Democrats and Republicans in the Congress who did not fight the administration on this as soon as they learned about these policies. We do expect better from those who represent us in the legislative chambers and are supposed to be part of the checks-and-balance system.
As for Republicans, they want to prevent that the Justice Department, congressional committees, or a truth commission investigate the dark chapter of the post-9/11mistreatment of detainees in U.S.-controlled prison facilities. With ex-vice-president Richard Cheney leading the charge, members and supporters of the old regime are trying hard to revive the lies that waterboarding resulted in valuable information, prevented further terrorist attacks and led to the arrest of most dangerous terrorists. While this is the stuff for fictitious drama a la Fox network’s “24”, nothing like this happens in reality.
Yet, according to Cheney, the abandonment of the Bush administration’s torture and detainee policies by President Barack Obama has put this nation at great risk of more terrorist strikes to come. Such irresponsible attacks on the current administration and the all-out offensive against Speaker Palosi are simply efforts to discourage moves by the executive and/or legislative branch to fully investigate the dark chapter of torture and the leading figures therein.
Cheney and Newt Gingrich and the like should not be allowed to prevail. There is more than ever the need for a truth commission.