Tuesday, December 11, 2007

No Moral Compass: Pelosi, Democrats, & the WP Revelations

Crossposted at Invictus, Docudharma, & Daily Kos

Notoriously (depending upon your point of view), this past weekend the Washington Post published an article revealing that a number of top Democrats and Republicans were briefed in September 2002 on CIA interrogation methods. They were "given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk." The reported techniques are said to have included waterboarding.

Yesterday, Pelosi released a statement clarifying what happened from her perspective. This must have shocked even a little those Democratic Party stalwarts, but no, as we'll see, their Nancy can make no mistake. She was, you see... helpless.


All of this comes in the wake of recent revelations on the machinations of the Bush/Cheney clique and how they have cozened their favorite torture techniques over the years. There was the revelation of secret memos authorizing torture in 2005. There was last weeks report on the destruction of video tapes of the torture of al-Queda suspect Abu Zubaydah. Before all that, there have been years of exposes on waterboarding, sensory deprivation, secret renditions to foreign torture chambers, training of foreign torturers, a CIA handbook of torture and the history of its development... it goes on and on.

Pelosi Releases a Statement

Now, Spencer Ackerman over at TPMmuckraker has published Pelosi's latest statement on her CIA 2002 briefing. Is it meant to stanch the growing controversy, or a someday prosecution?

"On one occasion, in the fall of 2002, I was briefed on interrogation techniques the Administration was considering using in the future. The Administration advised that legal counsel for the both the CIA and the Department of Justice had concluded that the techniques were legal.

"I had no further briefings on the techniques. Several months later, my successor as Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, was briefed more extensively and advised the techniques had in fact been employed. It was my understanding at that time that Congresswoman Harman filed a letter in early 2003 to the CIA to protest the use of such techniques, a protest with which I concurred."

Let's summarize: Pelosi admits she was briefed in 2002 on CIA "interrogation techniques" (she doesn't elaborate), and that both CIA and DoJ had concluded they were "legal". Pelosi says nothing about the Washington Post reporting about briefings concerning CIA overseas detention sites -- were these the "secret prisons" not exposed publically until November 2005 by Dana Priest at the (now reviled by Pelosi defenders) Washington Post? (The story first came out via Amnesty International.)

"No further briefings on the techniques"... but what about the program in general, Nancy? Then there is the revelation that it was Harman that was advised the techniques were "employed". Harman's (classified) letter of protest was something with which Pelosi "concurred." How, why, or when Pelosi concurred she saw not fit to elbow into her two paragraph explanation.

The Powerlessness of Power

Meanwhile, the standard apologia for Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Jay Rockefeller, and other Democrats made privy to CIA crimes is that they were powerless to protest because their actions were stifled by national security secrecy provisions. This is the thesis of MediaFreeze at Daily Kos, who sees it all as a clever GOP trap, now sprung five years later:

Back in 2002 around the one year anniversary of 9/11, when the nation was being whipped up in a froth of warmongering and hatred, a very very short list of Democrats where given a super secret briefing on the Thug's plans to torture some people. Since it was classified they couldn't tell anyone else about it. Who knows what they were told, but it was enough to make them complicit. That was the intent of the briefing. It was a torture trap. (emphasis in original)
Here's a different take from Phoenix Woman, also at Daily Kos on the general powerlessness of the minority party, which tied Nancy's hands:

Again, this was 2003....

There wasn't much else she could do, especially under the House rules that were in effect then, which essentially stripped the minority party of any power. (The Democrats, either generously or foolishly, undid those rules when they took over this January, which is one reason why the Republicans currently have such blocking power even in the minority.)

Glenn Greenwald, whose blog sits on Kos's own blogroll, questions much of this CHA (cover her ass) bloviating:

I continue to be amazed and disturbed by the number of people willing to defend the actions of Rockefeller and his comrades by claiming that these poor, victimized Congressional members just have no ability to do anything when they learn about outright lawbreaking by the administration. As I asked yesterday, why would they even bother to attend briefings if they believed that they were "powerless" to act even upon learning of serious illegalities? Here is the central purpose of the Select Committee on Intelligence -- the primary reason it exists, as stated by the resolution which created the Committee:

It is further the purpose of this resolution to provide vigilant legislative oversight over the intelligence activities of the United States to assure that such activities are in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the United States.

The Intelligence Committees were created as a response to the discovery in the 1970s of illegal conduct by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. The core function is to monitor what the intelligence community does and to "assure that such activities" are legal. It is a complete travesty for the senior Democrats on those Committees (and their apologists) to claim that they are powerless to act when learning of lawbreaking.

Reformism and Torture, With a Nod to to the APA

It has not gone unnoticed in some quarters that the Democrats, with some GOP allies (like Chuck Hagel), have a bill currently in Congressional Conference Committee that seeks to ban all "harsh interrogation techniques" in favor of adherence by all U.S. entities, such as the CIA, to the current practices of the Army Field Manual.

When Sharon Brehm, current president of the American Psychological Association wrote a letter to the New York Times supporting the current Congressional bill, some at APA felt that organization had finally made a turn toward seriously opposing U.S. torture policy. I have no link, but my copy shows President Brehm writing:

I applaud this week’s vote of the House and Senate conference committee on the intelligence authorization bill to outlaw harsh interrogation tactics and to require all U.S. interrogators to abide by the Army Field Manual when questioning suspected high-level terrorists (The New York Times, Dec. 6). This requirement would make clear once and for all that “waterboarding” and several other “enhanced” interrogation techniques are illegal.

It is deplorable that the White House is already threatening to veto this measure, should it pass the full House and Senate. Harsh interrogation techniques are not only illegal they are ineffective. Effective interrogations are based on establishing trust and building rapport with the subject, whose human dignity is preserved. As one World War II interrogator recently told the Washington Post, "We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture."

The position of the American Psychological Association is that any and all harsh interrogation tactics, including so-called “no-touch torture” and “torture light,” constitute torture and are always unethical. It is our fervent hope that the conference committee’s proposed prohibition will soon be extended to all interrogators acting on behalf of the United States, whether military or CIA.

But as I wrote to a member of an APA listserv:

In the latest letter, APA says nothing about indefinite detention (and neither does the new bill). Indefinite detention, of course, feed right into the Army Field Manual (AFM) technique of "futility". It is good that APA says that it opposes "torture-lite", but it does so while politically supporting a resolution that would enshrine torture-lite, via the AFM. It is this kind of obfuscation that is precisely why one has learned not to trust practically anything that comes out of Washington these days, whether Congress, or APA HQ.

The problem with attacking so-called "harsh" techniques before stopping psychological types of torture is that it misinforms the public, and feeds into the idea that "torture-lite" kinds of coercive treatment, such as sensory and sleep deprivation, and isolation, are in fact not as bad as the "harsh" kind. The political manifestation of this is the kind of bill now in conference committee, a bill, by the way, certain to face a Bush veto, and, surviving that, the kinds of signing statements Bush has made the hallmark of his regime.

Those complicit in earlier forms of torture and coercive interrogation, e.g., the Democrats and the APA, are trying to insulate themselves against the growing scandal that is U.S. torture, while also preserving CIA-approved forms of earlier coercive interrogation that centers around the old isolation and sensory deprivation paradigm of the KUBARK manual. (Harsher methods can be obtained via secret extraordinary renditions to foreign prisons, which apparently still go on unabated.)

The Compass Points to Moral and Political Degradation

The issue of covering up complicity brings me back to where this article began: the gyrations by Pelosi, Rockefeller, and much of the rest of the Democratic leadership and their supporters around the country, especially among the pro-Democratic "netroots".

I ask the latter: where is your moral compass? If Bush didn't care who he tortured, as long as he maintains power for his administration and the corporations and contractors that prosper from the hogfeed that is the "war on terror", then how are the Democrats any different if in the name of electoral success evidence of complicity in inhumane forms of behavior is ignored. The saliency is only enhanced when one realizes I'm talking about the leader of the Democratic Party, second in line to the Presidency, and the leader of the Senate Intelligence Committee, among others.

Pelosi's admissions over the weekend show that her participation in briefings on torture are not a "CIA smear", or the lies of CIA old-time hack Porter Goss. But not all Democrats are sleeping on this -- though I've heard no outrage from Congressional members themselves, as yet. For instance, there was this excellent piece by Deep Harm over at Daily Kos. And a hat tip to shpilk, also at Daily Kos, for his referencing of Jonathan Turley on the concatenation of scandals around torture, executive power, and Congressional capitulation that have surrounded the revelations around waterboarding (the Mukasey nomination), destruction of CIA torture tapes, and the briefings to Congressional leaders:

The news would serve to explain why the Democrats have repeatedly act to protect the White House from a showdown on torture. The most obvious and distressing example was when Sens. Chuck Schumer and Diane Feinstein saved Attorney General Michael Mukasey from having to admit that waterboarding is torture. The Democrats clearly do not want to have such a moment, which would trigger an investigation (and possible impeachment proceeding) where they own knowledge would be revealed.

Voters are likely to look harshly on the fact that their leaders knew of a criminal act and failed to reveal it — while professing disgust at the notion of torture....

If true, the knowledge of Democratic leaders shows a deep disconnect and possible dishonesty between our representatives and the voters. In many ways, this will be the test of our political system. If the public returns to its prior slumber after this story, there is little hope for a system that seems to replicate this type of conduct.

Over the weekend, I saw the movie The Golden Compass with my young daughter. In the movie, the evil Marisa Coulter (played by Nicole Kidman) explains to her daughter that some of the evil she does to others -- brainwashing and even killing young children -- is defensible because it's done in the name of some (peculiarly defined) good. This is the morality of the Bush Administration, and it appears to be the morality, too, of much of the leadership of their opponents in the Democratic Party. If one crime is one of commission, the other is one of ommission.

Pelosi and Rockefeller Should Step Down

Let not those who profess progressive politics and really want to change this country sit back in silence or disbelief and let this kind of betryal stand. Now is the time to change things. Not tommorrow. Not in November 2008. Not in some other lifetime. If we fail to speak out now, our acquiescence weakens the entire progressive cause, and all the elections in the world will not make such a stain any cleaner, or go away.

We could start by asking for the resignation from the Speakership of Nancy Pelosi, and the resignation from the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairmanship of John D. Rockefeller.