House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accomplished two unusual feats last week: She got the head of the CIA to call her a liar, and she implicated herself in what her left-wing base must, by dint of its own contrived logic, consider a war crime.
Last week, Pelosi denied that the CIA informed her in September 2002 that it had used enhanced interrogation techniques, or EITs, on archterrorist Abu Zubaydah, and she went so far as to accuse the agency of “misleading the Congress” by withholding this information from representatives. To that weighty charge, CIA Director Leon Panetta effectively called Pelosi a liar in a statement contradicting her claims and reaffirmed that a declassified agency document indicating that Pelosi had been informed about the use of EITs was indeed accurate.
That Pelosi was told about the use of waterboarding in fall 2002 isn’t news; it’s her furious objections to the contrary that are novel. In 2007, The Washington Post broke the story of the meeting, describing it as a “virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.” Pelosi’s latter-day obfuscations have left former intelligence committee Chairman Porter Goss, who also attended the 2002 briefing, “slack-jawed.” He recently told The New York Times that “not only was there no objection” from those in the room about the use of harsh techniques such as waterboarding but “there was actually concern about whether the agency was doing enough.”
But let’s assume that the speaker is telling the truth (a risky proposition, but bear with me). Pelosi said the CIA told her only about methods it was “considering using in the future.” According to the kangaroo court standards of those braying for Bush administration officials to be prosecuted, the mere drafting of memoranda that deemed the stringently circumscribed use of waterboarding to be lawful itself constitutes a “war crime.” Pelosi’s knowledge of this legal justification therefore makes her complicit in the commissioning of said war crime, just as a person told of a murder plot who does nothing to stop it could be held liable as an accessory to the act.
More likely is that Pelosi was told about waterboarding in 2002 and didn’t view it as the great moral problem that currently vexes so many liberal commentators, who are trying to outdo one another in expressing just how outraged and ashamed they are of their country. That Pelosi would be nonchalant about the use of waterboarding seven years ago is hardly surprising. Despite the sanctimony now sweeping the nation’s capital and editorial pages, few Americans in 2002 would have batted an eye at the simulated drowning of Al Qaeda terrorists for the purpose of saving American lives (and, according to recent polls, the vast majority still wouldn’t lose sleep over it). Far easier now, on “a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009,” as Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said in his self-contradictory contextualization of the recently released “torture memos,” to insist upon the criminalization of political differences.
Contrast Pelosi’s insouciance toward EITs with the behavior of Jane Harman, her fellow female California legislator and longtime rival. In February 2003, Harman attended a CIA briefing alongside Pelosi’s intelligence aide Michael Sheehy in which the group was told explicitly about the use of waterboarding and other techniques. Days later, Harman wrote a letter to the CIA asking whether “these practices are consistent with the principles and policies of the United States.” Sheehy, meanwhile, told his boss about the proceedings. And she did nothing. So all along it was Harman, the hawkish Democrat reviled by the left (and most recently slandered by them as an Israeli spy) who bothered to raise objections about the CIA program, while the progressive, anti-war and (supposedly) anti-torture Pelosi remained silent.
This would not be the first time Pelosi has put politics ahead of national security. After Democrats retook the House in 2006, she passed over Harman for the chairmanship of the House intelligence committee — a job for which Harman was eminently qualified — in favor of Silvestre Reyes, a Pelosi loyalist. Weeks before he took the committee gavel, Reyes gave an interview in which he attested to Al Qaeda’s Shiite constitution and confessed his ignorance as to the religious denomination of Hezbollah (it’s the latter that’s Shiite; the former, Sunni).
To listen to Hill Democrats on the issue of torture is to realize the muddiness of their record. “You have to remember, in the 2002 period, the whole atmospherics, it was all about scaring people every day,” Steve Elmendorf, former chief of staff to then-Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, told POLITICO. “People were legitimately concerned that we were going to be attacked again, and there was a constant drumbeat coming from the Bush administration of, ‘Bad things could happen, bad things could happen.’”
If people were legitimately concerned that we were going to be attacked again in 2002, how does Pelosi become absolved of responsibility but Bush lawyers are guilty of war crimes?
We’ve long known that Pelosi, now calling for a truth commission to investigate the use of interrogation methods she once condoned, is a hypocrite. The more pertinent question now is whether she’s a liar.