2009/05/23

A "conflict" that never should have been

We've seen people arguing that the current Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, was briefed on torture while she was still House Minority Leader and the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. The lefty response to this accusation has been two-fold. If she is indeed guilty of having "enabled" or "approved" of torture, sure, okay, let's have her standing in the dock along with the known criminals of the Bush Administration. The "Bushies" are the guys who should be doing hard prison time here in any event. If Pelosi should join them there, okay.

The second question is "Is the accusation accurate?" The answer to that is a bit less clear, but as of this point (23 May), those who say she wasn't accurately briefed on waterboarding have pretty much won the argument.

As to what the current debate is all about, member of al Qaeda Abu Zubaydah was captured on a raid on safe houses in late March 2002. The FBI had custody of him at first and claim that their reasonably gentle methods of persuasion got some useful information out of him. The CIA took custody of him in April and immediately began torturing him via waterboarding (What US soldiers in the Philippines in the early 1900s referred to as "the water cure").

A major problem with the accusation that Pelosi was informed as early as September 2002 though, is that the reference in the CIA notes of the briefing state simply that she was informed of "EITs" or Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. That indeed might mean that she was informed of waterboarding, but that's an awfully thin reed upon which to rest one's case. Deprivation of sleep could count as an EIT, but would not immediately or forcefully "shock the conscience." There's no reason anyone would remember such a reference as a particularly shocking act, but it also would fit under the definition of EITs. Some careful parsing of DCI Porter Goss's version of events asks the question as to what exactly Pelosi and others were told and it's far from clear they were told of waterboarding.

It's also far from clear just what she could have done about it.

Should Sen. (sic, she's actually a Rep.) Pelosi have held a press conference and outed Bush? Should she have leaked classified information? Should she have tried to stop Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld by any means possible? And how do you suppose the Republicans would have responded if Pelosi had tried to impede Bush? (which is something they now condemn her for NOT doing)
The GOP controlled the House and would have given Bush anything he wanted. Why then didn't Bush take the lawful path and simply ask Congress to change the laws banning torture?

The House of Representatives allowed the issue to get so far out of hand that Republicans were able to get a vote (They lost, 252 to 173) on an investigation, just of Speaker Pelosi and not of the torture issue as a whole. Of course the traditional media, as hopelessly corrupt and decadent as it is, despite having been informed right from the beginning that "the CIA's list might not be accurate," didn't really focus on that crucial point until Time Magazine finally acknowledged on 20 May that there really was no conflict between Speaker Pelosi's recollection and Bob Graham's (Retired Representative D-FL) careful, exhaustive notes and the CIA's version. It's just that the CIA's version is obviously incorrect. Amazingly, the WaPo is not yet ready to give up on the clearly wrong interpretation and continues to insist that there just might be something to what is, by now, clearly a non-story. Pelosi herself has said:

"I have made the statement that I'm going to make on this," Pelosi (D., Calif.) said yesterday at a televised news conference from Washington. "I don't have anything more to say about it. I stand by my comment."

Sadly, to view the whole discussion on waterboarding as a partisan "gotcha" talking point, as a Democrats vs Republicans or better yet, as a "hard left" vs "non-partisans" issue appears to be the only way that our NY Times/WaPo/Sunday talk shows traditional media press corps is able to comprehend the issue, or indeed, much of any serious issue. It's an extremely, pathetically sad commentary that parts of the press corps even concentrated on criticizing a 69-year grandmother's looks. This was an extremely good point about the press corps in general:

Additionally, this staunch avoidance of anything approaching a substantive assessment of the actual illegal conduct, in favor of a petty fixation on the partisan "helps or harms" game, helps only the "side" that has committed the crimes and wrongdoing.

As the news guy Mark Halperin put it: "Drudge rules our world." The press corps is obviously infatuated with a reporter whose stock-in-trade is gossip and triviality.

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