2009-05-22 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

Their Own Petard
Commentary by Stuart W. Mirsky

Since the White House and Democrats in Congress opened the latest can of worms about the so-called "torture" of high value prisoners with links to al Qaeda, we've seen a lot of information about who knew what and when.

Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Speaker of the House (and, scary as this may seem, next in line to the presidency after the Vice President) pulled off her gloves and went in punching. What was she punching at? The Bush administration, of course, specifically its top legal advisers and officials, claiming that they committed crimes by expressing certain legal opinions (in the wake of 9/11) and, in the case of top officials, by implementing the policies shaped by those opinions. But new information that has apparently been leaking out, as through a sieve, suggests that Ms. Pelosi, herself, knew about the interrogation methods she now decries - but failed to decry them at the time. Oops!

Nancy's response has been to assert that she was misled and that lies are being purveyed now as she struggles to explain how certain CIA memoranda, documenting briefings to her and her staff at the time, could say what they say. Ms. Pelosi is on record as acknowledging being briefed but claims she was only briefed prospectively. They didn't tell her they were actually using such techniques, she now avers. But, aside from the fact that it's even worse if she knew in advance and didn't act to stop something she deemed wrong and illegal, the evidence flatly contradicts her claims of receiving only prospective information. The statement contained in the document covering the briefing specifically references the techniques as ones they "had used". Could Nancy have gotten this wrong?

Others who were present at the same briefing, specifically Porter Goss, then a member of Congress and chair of the Congressional Intelligence Committee at the time, recalls the briefing in question quite differently than she does. He asserts that they WERE told that these techniques had been used and that the response of Congressional participants at the time was not 'omigod, what are you doing, stop this immediately?' but, rather, 'are we doing enough?' Understandable under the circumstances (just think back to how things looked in the aftermath of those attacks) but apparently not quite what a good Democrat wants her constituents to imagine her having said now!

Nancy's in a tizzy over this and has already been before the cameras numerous times, blinking those big brown deer-in-the-headlight eyes of hers, to declare that former Bush officials and even those at the CIA are lying.

As Manu Raju of Politico.com reports, the Democrats in Congress now think the CIA is out to get them. "Democrats charged Tuesday," writes Raju, "that the CIA has released documents about congressional briefings on harsh interrogation techniques in order to deflect attention and blame away from itself."

Raju notes that Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin said, "'I think there is so much embarrassment in some quarters [of the CIA] that people are going to try to shift some of the responsibility to others - that's what I think.' As Raju notes, Levin, "sat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and was briefed on interrogation techniques five times between 2006 and 2007."

Levin's sentiments are apparently echoed by another leader of Senate Democrats, Dick Durbin of Illinois, who is second in command to Senate Majority leader Harry Reid. Durbin reportedly finds it "'interesting" that a document detailing congressional briefings was released just as "some of the groups that have been responsible for these interrogation techniques were taking the most criticism.'" Raju adds: "Asked whether the CIA was seeking political cover by releasing the documents, Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (DCalif.) said: 'Sure it is.'"

How the worm turns! Not so long ago Democrats in and out of Congress were revelling in the myriad of leaks from the CIA that seemed targeted at discomfiting the Bush administration, often coming one right after the other, from the Valerie Plame brouhaha to leaked information and photos about American investigations into prison abuse scandals (see Abu Ghraib, allegations about Guantanamo, renditions, etc.). But now that the proverbial shoe is on the other foot, Democrats are crying foul.

Pelosi, of course, has been hyperventilating that there was nothing she or anyone in Congress could have done even if they had known which, she maintains in the face of all evidence to the contrary, they didn't. She and her colleagues had no power to act, she has said. But as Senate Republican Orin Hatch of Utah pointed out in the same article that's not quite true. They

could have offered legislation - or withheld appropriations for the program" he said. Congress has the power to investigate, call to account and, if all else fails, cut off funding. At the least, Hatch noted, "they [could have made] a fuss on policy differences". That is, they could have gone public, just as they're doing now years afterwards - when there's nothing to be stopped, only people to be blamed, whether fairly or unfairly. Pelosi and company are obviously acting under pressure from the left which, on balance, still seems unable to get past the humiliation of having been out of power for nearly a decade thanks to those nefarious neocons and evil-doing Republicans!

In the end, though, this is about judgment and good sense. Given what happened on September 11th, 2001, no one in a position of power at the time could have been expected to do anything less than the Bush administration actually did and, indeed, doing less would have been indefensible (as you can be sure the Democrats would have pointed out if they had thought that was the case). The proof of this is in the near unanimous support even Congressional Democrats demonstrated in the aftermath of those horrific attacks, even after getting briefed by administration and CIA representatives.

It's also to be seen in the Obama's administration's grudging embrace of Bush policies (with face saving modifications, of course) such as its decision to consider extending military tribunals, to maintain overseas telecommunications surveillance, etc. Now that the Republicans have been safely extricated from the White House, all those things that were once the source of so much outrage no longer look so problematic to Democrats and their media allies.

It should be clear to all now as to what this was really about.

Seven plus years after the events of 9/11, things looks different to Americans and especially to Democrats who have regained the political power (whose loss they once bemoaned) on the crest of a bitter wave of partisanship that was fed by leaks from the permanent governing class in Washington (also known as the bureaucrats at State, Defense and, of course, the CIA). In so doing, those Democrats bitterly divided this country and all but emasculated an administration as it was struggling to protect our borders. And they did it all in the name of securing their own political restoration.

Political differences of opinion can be forgiven, of course. Argument and debate about policy, too. But can we - should we - forgive those who set their own interests above the country's and now pile lie upon lie in order to maintain a political vendetta which, as they have learned, served them well in the last two national elections?

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