The Pelosi Diversion

So DC is consumed with trying to figure out what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knew about torture and when.

Strange, since I thought that the people who committed crimes were more important than the people who heard about them.

Still, what led to this media-created firestorm? First, some Congressional Democrats–Pelosi included–discussed launching a truth commission to determine who was responsible for the authorization/implementation of torture.

Second, the CIA released several documents showing that Pelosi and other Congressional Democrats were briefed on “enhanced interrogation techniques” in 2002. There was no indication which techniques were described, nor was there indication of whether Congress was told those techniques were purely hypothetical or being implemented.

Nonetheless, Republicans jumped on the documents of proof that Speaker Pelosi knew about waterboarding in 2002 and was therefore somewhat culpable in the torture coverup.  But that conclusion isn’t borne out by the evidence–it makes assumptions about what was in those briefings that aren’t grounded in reality.

The CIA  alleged that Congress was told exactly what they were doing; Pelosi contradicted them and said the CIA was misleading the public, just like they had mislead Congress in 2002. Since there are no solid records of what the CIA told Congress–since these were classified intelligence briefings–we don’t know who is telling the truth.

Conservatives are taking the CIA’s side because it’s politically advantageous to them, but it’s not very sensible. It’s hardly as if the CIA is an objective, unbiased player in all this–doesn’t it serve the CIA’s interest to divert attention away from the implementation of torture and onto a political sideshow? I mean, if there was a comprehensive investigation into torture, wouldn’t it put the entire CIA under a microscope? They have a vested interest in clouding up the investigation with political posturing and conflict, since it saves them from having to confront–and be held responsible for–their role in torture.

Plus, the CIA is pulling together records of these briefings from whatever they have lying around from 2002.  Remember, the CIA circa 2002 wasn’t a bastion of competence and credibility; that was about the same time they were gathering the faulty intelligence that led to the Iraq War. As much as John Boehner may cry about the poor maligned “intelligence professionals” I don’t think you can give them the benefit of the doubt.

This story is only a few days old and we’re already seeing evidence that the CIA’s recollection of events isn’t accurate.  Take this, for instance:

Almost every briefing described in the document — including the September 2002 Pelosi briefing that’s directly at issue — refers to “EITs,” or enhanced interrogation techniques, as a subject that was discussed. But according to a former intelligence professional who has participated in such briefings, that term wasn’t used until at least 2006.

That’s not just an issue of semantics. The former intel professional said that by using the term in the recently compiled document, the CIA was being “disingenuous,” trying to make it appear that the use of such techniques was part of a “formal and mechanical program.” In fact, said the former intel pro, it wasn’t until 2006 that — amid growing concerns about the program among some in the Bush administration — the EIT program was formalized, and the “enhanced interrogation techniques” were properly defined and given a name.

And this:

Rep. David Obey has sent a letter to [CIA Director Leon] Panetta complaining that a staffer identified in the documents as being briefed was in fact denied access to the briefing.

And this:

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who chairs the oversight subcommittee of the House intelligence committee, told MSNBC’s Ed Schultz (h/t Democratic Underground):

On our subcommittee we are beginning an inquiry into a situation … initiated by the ranking minority member to look at a situation where the CIA did mislead the Congress … a documented issue of the CIA misleading the Congress.

A Schakowsky spokesman told TPMmuckraker that she was referring to the findings of a CIA inspector general report, portions of which were released last fall, which concluded that the agency had withheld crucial information from Congress and DOJ investigators who were probing whether CIA personnel committed crimes relating to the shooting of a missionary plane in Peru in 2001.

[Emphasis added]


April 2002 (two briefings), September 2002: When Bob Graham first asked the CIA when they had briefed him on torture, they gave him a list of four dates, two in April 2002, and two in September 2002. However, when Graham reviewed his famously detailed notes, he discovered he had not attended any briefing on three of those dates (both April dates and one September date). The CIA conceded he was correct on the issue.


February 4, 2003: The CIA claims that, along with Pat Roberts and two staffers, it briefed John Rockefeller on EITs “in considerable detail” including “how the water board was used.” Rockefeller says, however, that he “was not present and was not later briefed individually by anyone in the intelligence community.”

And finally, from the CIA themselves:

As the agency has pointed out more than once, its list — compiled in response to congressional requests — reflects the records it has. These are notes, memos, and recollections, not transcripts and recordings.

[Emphasis mine]

In short, the CIA hasn’t proven themselves trustworthy in the past and they don’t appear to be very trustworthy on this particular issue.

Let me be clear: this entire issue is nothing more than a political witchhunt. The CIA is doing classic CYA, trying to keep their complicity in the torture debacle from becoming public.  The GOP is piggybcking on the CIA’s CYA in order to attack Speaker Pelosi and Congressional Democrats.

They want to drive a wedge between Pelosi and the anti-torture left by trying to mixing Pelosi up into the Bush administration’s torture program, hoping she’ll be forced to justify at least some of it.

They want to throw enough dirt on Pelosi to keep her from launching a truth commission, in case she ends up implicated.

And most of all, they want a scalp. They want to destroy Pelosi’s career, make that the opening salvo in their much dreamed-of political comeback. All the GOP knows to do anymore is drum up a scandal and ride it to political success; it looks like they’re hoping like that particular chapter of their playbook still works.

Let’s not take our eye off the ball.  The Bush administration authorized and implemented torture. They broke the law; they need to be held accountable. Whoever may have been told what when isn’t important; who actually justified torture and made it happen is.  Don’t let the real criminals get away; don’t let them divert your attention onto trivial political distractions.


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