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Obama -- Torture and the Liberal Blind Spot -- Two Articles


The Politics of Liberal Amnesia

Torture and the 'Truth Commission'--Why has Congress failed to outlaw waterboarding?


If Congress made waterboarding illegal now, they would be making clear that it was not illegal before.


The Politics of Liberal Amnesia


By BRET STEPHENS
April 28, 2009
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124087384453961191.html

Nancy Pelosi is "pushing back" against charges that she was aware of -- and acquiesced in -- the CIA's harsh interrogations of terrorist detainees nearly from the moment the practice began, reports the Politico Web site. Maybe she's suffering from amnesia.

Maybe, for instance, the speaker doesn't remember that in September 2002, as ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, she was one of four members of Congress who were briefed by the CIA about the interrogation methods the agency was using on leading detainees. "For more than an hour," the Washington Post reported in 2007, "the bipartisan group . . . was 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.

"Among the techniques described," the story continued, "was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder."

Or maybe the speaker never heard what some of her Democratic colleagues were saying about legal niceties getting in the way of an effective counterterrorism strategy.

"Unfortunately, we are not living in times in which lawyers can say no to an operation just to play it safe," said Democrat Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during the 2002 confirmation hearing of Scott Muller to be the CIA's general counsel. "We need excellent, aggressive lawyers who give sound, accurate legal advice, not lawyers who say no to an otherwise legal opinion just because it is easier to put on the brakes."

Or maybe the speaker forgot that after 9/11, the operative question among Americans, including various media paladins, wasn't whether the Bush administration had gone overboard. On the contrary:

"I asked the president whether he and the country had done enough for the war on terror," writes Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in his book "Bush at War." "The possibility of another major attack still loomed. . . . Was it not possible that he had undermobilized given the threat and the devastation of September 11?" (My emphases.)

Or maybe the speaker missed what former CIA Director (and Bill Clinton appointee) George Tenet writes in his memoir, "At the Center of the Storm," about the CIA interrogation of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

"I believe none of these successes [in foiling terrorist plots] would have happened if we had had to treat KSM like a white-collar criminal -- read him his Miranda rights and get him a lawyer who surely would have insisted his client simply shut up. In his initial interrogation by CIA officers, KSM was defiant. 'I'll talk to you guys,' he said, 'after I get to New York and see my lawyer.' Apparently he thought he would be immediately shipped to the United States and indicted in the Southern District of New York. Had that happened, I am confident that we would have obtained none of the information he had in his head about imminent threats to the American people."

Mr. Tenet continues: "From our interrogation of KSM and other senior al Qaeda members . . . we learned many things -- not just tactical information leading to the next capture. For example, more than 20 plots had been put in motion by al Qaeda against U.S. infrastructure targets, including communications nodes, nuclear power plants, dams, bridges and tunnels."

Maybe, too, the speaker no longer recalls what she knew, and when, about the Bush administration's other much-reviled counterterrorist program, the warrantless wiretaps.

"Within weeks of the program's inception," writes Mr. Tenet, "senior congressional leaders were called to the White House and briefed on it. . . . At one point in 2004 there was even a discussion with the congressional leadership in the White House Situation Room with regard to whether new legislation should be introduced to amend the FISA statute, to put the program on a broader legal foundation. The view that day on the part of members of Congress was that this could not be done without jeopardizing the program."

Maybe, finally, the speaker has forgotten the role that previous grand congressional inquisitions played in gutting U.S. intelligence.

"After the Watergate era," the bipartisan 9/11 Commission reported, "Congress established oversight committees to ensure that the CIA did not undertake covert action contrary to basic American law. . . . During the 1990s, tension sometimes arose, as it did in the effort against al Qaeda, between policy makers who wanted the CIA to undertake more aggressive covert action and wary CIA leaders who counseled prudence and making sure that the legal basis and presidential authorization for their actions were undeniably clear."

The speaker and her partisans are the current beneficiaries of this politics of amnesia. It won't be so forever. And when the time comes to pay the price for their forgetfulness, it will not be small.


Torture and the 'Truth Commission'--Why has Congress failed to outlaw waterboarding?


By WILLIAM MCGURN
April 28, 2009
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124087403668161211.html

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) wants a commission that will get to the "truth" about torture. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) says she wants a truth commission too. And so does Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.).

On CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Mr. Leahy said a truth commission would help get to the heart of how the recently released memos on CIA interrogation techniques were drafted. "I want to know why they did that," he said. "What kind of pressures brought them to write things that are so off the wall and to make sure it never happens again. That's why I want [a Truth Commission]."

Mr. Leahy overlooks a small point here: Under our Constitution, the truth commission is supposed to be Congress.

Our Founders didn't look to outsource our most controversial public issues to appointees. They established institutions and arrangements that would hold those who have power accountable to the American people. And when the people's lawmakers believed the people's president was misinterpreting the law, the Founders expected the former to stand up and do something about it.

Over the past few years, the Democrats have moved to ban waterboarding only when it was clear that such a bill would not pass -- or would be vetoed by George W. Bush. In September 2006, Sen. Edward Kennedy introduced an amendment to the Military Commissions Act that would have effectively defined waterboarding as a war crime, and it was defeated largely along partisan lines. In February 2008, when Democrats were in control of Congress, they made a big fuss about sending a bill that would have limited interrogation to techniques found in the Army field manual. They did so knowing President Bush would veto it, and that he had the votes to sustain that veto.

Today the Democrats have an even larger majority -- plus a president who would sign such legislation. So why the call for a truth commission instead? The answer is a nasty one: If Congress made waterboarding illegal now, they would be making clear that it was not illegal before.


Andrew McCarthy is the former assistant U.S. attorney who put Omar Abdel-Rahman (the blind sheik) behind bars for the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. Mr. McCarthy explained it this way to me: "When Senate Democrats didn't have the votes, they voted to make waterboarding illegal. Now they have the votes, but there's no effort to ban waterboarding. And the reason is that they are more interested in setting off a partisan witch hunt than passing a principled ban on something they say is torture."

In other words, what the Beltway has planned is a circus -- where the decks are stacked, people are smeared, and conclusions are foregone. In such an environment, the only way to restore some sense of fairness is with fuller and more honest disclosure. Here are a few places to start.

First, former vice president Dick Cheney has called for the release of classified memos that he says show the CIA's interrogation program produced valuable intelligence that helped us break up terrorist plots and save innocent lives. Though CIA Director Dennis Blair fudged his own answer to Mr. Cheney's claim by issuing two separate statements -- one for public consumption, one for internal use -- he did concede that the program yielded "high value" intelligence. Since then, we've had nothing but claims and counterclaims. How about releasing the info and allowing the American people to judge?

Second, Mrs. Pelosi has categorically declared the CIA never told her waterboarding was being used. "My experience was they did not tell us they were using that, flat out," she recently told reporters. "And any, any contention to the contrary is simply not true."

Her claim puts her at odds with Porter Goss, a former CIA director who had at the time of the briefings served on the same House Intelligence Committee with Mrs. Pelosi. In an op-ed for the Washington Post on Saturday, Mr. Goss said he was "slack-jawed to read that members claim to have not understood that the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed."

Surely the CIA kept notes about those briefings. How about releasing the record -- how many briefings there were, when they occurred, who was at them, what was said, how our political representatives reacted -- and let the people judge who's telling the truth?

Finally, thus far all the focus has been on the techniques approved by the White House. The impression is that Mr. Bush allowed every technique to go forward. How about releasing any memos that speak to techniques that were rejected -- and the reasons? If there's information in any of these classified documents we don't want our enemies to see, they can easily be redacted on a case-by-case basis.

And if after all this, members of Congress still insist that waterboarding is a war crime, maybe they could explain to the American people why they don't just go ahead and outlaw it.
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