One of the occupational hazards of partisan politics is attacking the other side for something people on your own side knew about or participated in. Of course, that’s politics; but it becomes a serious problem when you raise the rhetorical temperature to the point of calling your political opponents war criminals … and it turns out your own people knew about the “war crimes” and didn’t see anything wrong with them at the time, or at least didn’t act as if they did. It’s a pretty clear sign that they don’t believe it now, either – but try telling that to the people who have bought the “war criminal” bill of goods and now find out that you did what they consider the equivalent of sitting in camp construction meetings with Himmler and not making a peep.
So we find that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, despite her angry denials, has to face up to having been briefed back in 2002 on the CIA’s ‘enhanced’ coercive interrogation techniques:
In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), 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, said two officials present, 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, two U.S. officials said.
Pelosi’s laughable defense is now to admit that she was briefed on the Bush Administration having obtained Office of Legal Counsel memos on waterboarding but she thought they got those memos but didn’t actually intend to use them:
Pelosi denied these claims. “We were not — I repeat — were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used. What they did tell us is that they had . . . the Office of Legal Counsel opinions [and] that they could be used, but not that they would,” she said.
She said some officials, such as Goss, who went on to become CIA director, argued the lawmakers should have known the waterboarding would be used because they were told it was a legal practice. But she said they had no way of knowing that for certain…
Yes, I guess George W. Bush was ordering up OLC memos as an intellectual exercise, so he could kick back and read some dense legal reasoning to unwind at the end of a long day of not using the anti-terrorism tools at his disposal on captured Al Qaeda leaders. That’s credible, right?
Pelosi’s other tactic is to claim that she was sworn to secrecy so she couldn’t do anything anyway:
[T]hey were then forbidden from talking about what they had learned so they could not work to outlaw the practice.
She summed up the briefings this way: “This is what they’re doing. That’s all they do. They don’t come in to consult. They come in to notify. They come in to notify. And you can’t — you can’t change what they’re doing unless you can act as a committee or as a class. You can’t change what they’re doing.”
Uh, didn’t she just say they were briefing her on what they were not doing?
Now, when Congressional leaders are sworn to secrecy for national security purposes, they better have a very good reason for breaking that pledge. But when they learn about something that the Executive Branch is doing, claims is legal but ought to be made explicitly illegal, can the Speaker of the House be powerless to introduce legislation stopping it? Is our Congress that powerless if it thinks that tyranny or torture is actually afoot? As it happens, the Framers of the Constitution, being far wiser and more courageous than Nancy Pelosi, already thought of this problem and thoughtfully even gave her explicit instructions that in such a situation she could speak out without fear of prosecution. It’s right there in Article I of the Constitution (Joe Biden, if you’re reading this – that’s the one that deals with Congress):
Section 6. The Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services, to be ascertained by law, and paid out of the treasury of the United States. They shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place.
Under the Speech and Debate Clause, if Speaker Pelosi was told that the Executive Branch was committing war crimes, she has an absolute constitutional privilege to speak about that on the floor of the House, as well as to introduce legislation to stop it.
Unless, of course, it wasn’t really a war crime at all. Unless, of course, it would have been too politically risky in 2002 to come out against a hard line on interrogation of terrorists.
There is deep foolishness of many kinds in the desire to criminalize the Bush Administration’s efforts to protect the nation. The more Speaker Pelosi and her party insist that waterboarding is a war crime, the more they have to distort the evidence to fit their narrative, the harder it is to justify their own acquiescence, their actions that spoke louder than words when they learned what was being done to keep the nation safe. And the harder it will be for those who watched them nod their heads one day and turn Inquisitor the next to do their jobs with the same zeal. Back when the real Nazis stalked the land, there were indeed people who sat down and tried to do business with them, and they almost brought the West to ruin; but even in the direst and darkest hour, when he had been called upon to replace those people after years of enduring their mockery, Winston Churchill gave a warning that today’s Democrats would have been wiser to heed:
I am not reciting these facts for the purpose of recrimination. That I judge to be utterly futile and even harmful. We cannot afford it. I recite them in order to explain why it was we did not have, as we could have had, between twelve and fourteen British divisions fighting in the line in this great battle instead of only three. Now I put all this aside. I put it on the shelf, from which the historians, when they have time, will select their documents to tell their stories. We have to think of the future and not of the past. This also applies in a small way to our own affairs at home. There are many who would hold an inquest in the House of Commons on the conduct of the Governments–and of Parliaments, for they are in it, too–during the years which led up to this catastrophe. They seek to indict those who were responsible for the guidance of our affairs. This also would be a foolish and pernicious process. There are too many in it. Let each man search his conscience and search his speeches. I frequently search mine.
Of this I am quite sure, that if we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future. Therefore, I cannot accept the drawing of any distinctions between members of the present Government. It was formed at a moment of crisis in order to unite all the Parties and all sections of opinion. It has received the almost unanimous support of both Houses of Parliament. Its members are going to stand together, and, subject to the authority of the House of Commons, we are going to govern the country and fight the war. It is absolutely necessary at a time like this that every Minister who tries each day to do his duty shall be respected; and their subordinates must know that their chiefs are not threatened men, men who are here today and gone tomorrow, but that their directions must be punctually and faithfully obeyed. Without this concentrated power we cannot face what lies before us. I should not think it would be very advantageous for the House to prolong this debate this afternoon under conditions of public stress. Many facts are not clear that will be clear in a short time. We are to have a secret session on Thursday, and I should think that would be a better opportunity for the many earnest expressions of opinion which members will desire to make and for the House to discuss vital matters without having everything read the next morning by our dangerous foes.
Once upon a time, the Bush Administration did not seek to drag members of the prior Administration into the dock for their role in leading us to the pass of September 11. Once upon a time, the threat – or at least the political climate – was clear enough that Speaker Pelosi saw the wisdom in not broadcasting what was being done to our dangerous foes. Today, drunk on their own rhetoric, complacent that the threat has passed, confident that political power will never again pass from their hands, the Democrats ignore Churchill’s advice at their peril. But the genie has escaped the bottle, and the questions won’t stop. If the writing of the OLC memos was a war crime, then Nancy Pelosi can’t escape her role in aiding and abetting that crime by saying she knew about the memos but didn’t inhale them.