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May 16, 2009 | by  | in Online Only | [ssba]

Defending Pelosi

Recently, a colleague of mine commented that in the past week, it’s come to light that the US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, had been fully briefed about CIA “enhanced interrogation techniques” (i.e. torture) back in 2002 and did little to protest. While I will never stand in defence of torture, I view the events precipitated by this news as a step in the right direction and offer Madam Speaker Pelosi—of whom I’ve never been a big fan—a modicum of defence.

This information about members of Congress being aware of Bush torture techniques is nothing new. We’ve known since 9 December 2007 that Congress was briefed about torture. Now, you ask, why would I pick that date out of my behind? Because that’s the day that it was reported in the Washington Post. The article outlines how select members of Congress—including Pelosi—had been briefed, had taken virtual tours of the black-site prisons, and had been made aware of the harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA.

A recently declassified document, the Member Briefings on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs) Torture schedule, shows that Nancy Pelosi and Proter Goss (R-FL), the two ranking members on the House Intelligence Committee at the time, were briefed on EITs torture, including the use of EITs torture on Abu Zubaydah, background on authorities, and a description of the particular EITs tortures that had been employed. The document goes into no further detail than that.

However, earlier this week, Pelosi claimed that the briefing had only outlined potential techniques that were at the CIA’s disposal—that they had not been currently or previously employed—and that the information had been presented to her merely as legal opinion, to which she disagreed.

Now, on its face, that defence seems as shaky as a dog shitting bones. However, the 2007 article, aptly entitled Hill Briefed on Waterboarding in 2002, states that according to their sources, Pelosi had said that the techniques described in the briefing by the CIA were still in the planning stage. This would reinforce the stance she’s taking today.

It seems Pelosi’s finally had enough.

In a stunning press conference today, Pelosi said that the CIA had lied, that the CIA had told her that they were not using waterboarding and that the CIA was misleading Congress about Enhanced Interrogation Techniques torture.

“…They talked about interrogations that they had done and said, ‘We want to use enhanced techniques, and we have legal opinions that say that they are OK. We are not using waterboarding.’ That’s the only mention that they were not using it. And we now know that earlier they were. So, yes, I am saying that they are misleading—that the CIA was misleading the Congress.”

That’s a powerful thing to say.

Now, there were a number of other Congressmen who were briefed and who apparently did know, but they claim, as did Pelosi when she stated that because of the National Security Act of 1947, it was very hard to do oversight without violating secrecy oaths.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) had been briefed a year after Pelosi when she sat on the House Intelligence Committee in 2003. After the briefing, she sent a classified letter to CIA general council, Scott Muller, raising objections about the EITs torture, which was the appropriate course of action to register a protest. Yet, again, she had been prohibited from discussing the matter publicly.

The same goes for Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI); he wrote a letter objecting as soon as he was briefed. The Bush administration was hellbent on using torture and no letter was going to change their policies. Dick Cheney is still making the rounds on TV saying that he has no regrets on the matter.

Now, here’s the part that nobody talks about. Democrats realised these letters weren’t doing any good and that what they would need to stop the torture was to gain control of the majority to introduce legislature to ban it. So they did just that. In 2007, when the Democratic party won the the majority in Congress, they introduced legislation banning torture and it passed. But the President of the United States, George Bush Jr., vetoed it.

Get that? President Bush vetoed a bill banning torture.

“An effort to overturn his veto failed because of the votes of Republican members. We needed to elect a new president. We did. And he has banned torture. Congress and the administration must review—I’ve always believed the Congress and the administration must review the National Security Act of 1947. Now, we have a chance to do that with a new president—to determine if a larger number of members of Congress should receive classified briefings so that the information can be utilized by proper oversight.

“I have long supported the creation of an independent truth commission to determine how intelligence was misused and how controversial and possibly illegal activities like torture were authorized within the executive branch. Until a truth commission comes into being, I encourage the appropriate committees of the House to conduct vigorous oversight of these issues.”

This Truth Commission is actually happening; this might be where Pelosi vindicates herself for taking impeachment “off the table.” We’ll see.

Do I believe her? I don’t know yet. If you mean, do I believe that the CIA would mislead Congress or manipulate intelligence? Yes, I do.

Pelosi’s loyal opposition, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), refutes her claim:

“It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone in our intelligence area would ever mislead a member of Congress. […] I don’t know what motivation they would have to mislead anyone. And I don’t believe, and don’t feel, that in the briefings I’ve had that I’ve been misled at any one point in time.”

Boehner, like many Republican politicians, has selective amnesia. The CIA would never lie… slam dunk. Remember George Tenet, CIA director on the lead-up to the Iraq war? It was a ‘slam dunk’ that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

No, the CIA would never lie to Congress… especially on issues so important.

Boehner is obviously amiss to the fact that who’s in control matters—and who they work for. By the way, Porter Goss went on to briefly serve as director of the CIA. He’s been famously quoted as having said, “I couldn’t get a job with CIA today. I am not qualified.” Perfect, you could be the head of the CIA! You’ve already been briefed on torture and we need to keep this crime train moving somehow.

See how that works, Mr. Boehner?

I hope some good news comes from this. Apparently, Nancy had to wait for it to get personal; I guess I’ll take it.


About the Author ()

Andrew Mendes is an American studying International Relations and Public Policy at Victoria. He enjoys following politics and reading lots of news.

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