House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been struggling to explain contradictions between her public statements and the release of documents showing that, despite her earlier denials, she was told about the torture of subjects. She recently (and implausibly) insisted that, while she was told of the torture, she was not told that it was actually being used. Now, one of her own aides, Michael Sheehy, has directly contradicted her and said that she was directly told and had no objections to the torture of Abu Zubaydah.
Sheey says that he attended a briefing in which waterboarding was discussed in February 2003, with Rep. Jane Harman, D-California, and was told of the torture of Zubaydah. He said that he told Pelosi who made no objections. Later Pelosi said that she supported Harman sending a letter (that Pelosi did not sign) raising “concerns” but did nothing else in the face of a disclosure of a war crime. Despite her ranking position in oversight and later as Speaker, Pelosi clearly did not want to be accused to protecting the rights of an accused terrorist. Instead, she has adopted a series of excuses for her lack of action.
For those who are losing track of the Pelosi positions, here is what she told Rachel Maddow:
(on camera): September 2002, you were briefed on CIA detention issues and enhanced interrogation issues. Because of those briefings, and I know you that you expressed concerns to the NSA after that October 2001 briefing, you released that publicly in 2006. You didn`t express public concerns at the time after those briefings. Does that raise a complication?
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: No, no. The fact is they did not brief – first of all, we`re not allowed to talk about what happens, but I can say this. They did not brief us that these enhanced interrogations were taking place. They did not brief us that was – they were talking about an array of interrogations that they might have at their disposal.
MADDOW: Techniques in the abstract, as if they were not being used?
PELOSI: We were never told they were being used.
MADDOW: Were you told they weren`t being used?
PELOSI: Well, they just talked about them, but they – the inference to be drawn from what they told us was these are things that we think could be legal and we have a difference of opinion on that.
But they never told us that they were being used because that would be a different story altogether. And we had many disagreements with them all along the way on how they collect information in their country and what they think might be acceptable.
They have never gotten any comfort from me on any of these issues, no matter what they want to say publicly. And they know that I cannot speak specifically to the classified briefing of that kind. But I can say flat out they never told us that these enhanced interrogations were being used.
As I stated at the time, and in a recent interview, this position was not only highly questionable but it was also unintelligible. Discussing war crimes in the future tense does not change the fact that Pelosi sat through a discussion of torture and did nothing.
Through this period, the Bush Administration clearly dangled the knowledge of the program over the heads of democrats like Pelosi to get their assistance in blocking any move toward impeachment or investigation. It worked. Now, with torture program details disclosed, officials have dropped a dime on Pelosi, Harman and others with the release of torture documents. One such document contradicted the prior denial by showing briefings on torture of detainees in the present or past tenses. Pelosi responded with this new answer that admitted that she was told that torture would be used but not that it was actually used.
“As I said in my statement of December 9, 2007: ‘I was briefed on interrogation techniques the (Bush) 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.'”
As noted earlier, this argument completely abandons any semblance of oversight responsibility. It amounts to arguing “if you can’t believe the Bush White House on international law, who can you believe?” What is particularly striking is that Pelosi is using precisely the same argument that she rejected from Jane Harman on the unlawful surveillance program. Harman insisted that, while she was the critical oversight authority in Congress, she had no knowledge of the law in the area and specifically FISA. She just had to accept the Bush Administration’s insistence that it was legal and did not even have the ability to ask for general information on the law in the area. Now, Pelosi is saying that she just had to accept that a torture program was lawful because the White House said it was. The primary oversight responsibility of these members is to be sure that the Executive Branch is complying with the laws written by Congress. It makes a mockery of the system for Pelosi and Harman to simply take their word for it. The federal law gives Pelosi and Harman the obligation to serve as a check on executive authority, but they believe that this role compels them to accept whatever they are told on the legality of the program. They are simply informed and have not obligations or responsibilities — even when they are given a description of torture.
Now we have an aide stating that Pelosi was told about the use of torture and did not object. It is not clear how not objecting fits her statement that “They have never gotten any comfort from me on any of these issues.” I guess that means that she did not join them in the waterboarding by holding a towel. Obviously, if the aide is telling the truth, Pelosi has lied to the American people on a subject of the utmost importance: war crimes.
Putting aside holding Pelosi accountable for her failure to act and later alleged lies, there remains the increasing political machinations around the torture question. Democratic leaders continue to address the issue of the investigation of war crimes in purely political and personal terms. They continue to manipulate the facts, even in the case of Majority Leader Harry Reid denying that there is sufficient facts for even an investigation by a prosecutor. It is not clear how long Democrats will continue to excuse the conduct of their own leaders while condemning the conduct of Republican leaders. These Democrats helped cover up the torture program for their own personal interests and are now struggling to avoid accountability for their past decisions. The simplest way to gain any credibility on this question is to remove it from the political to the legal realm — with the appointment of a special prosecutor.
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