In the Arena

Waterboard Memories

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The Washington Post makes a convincing case that Congressional Intelligence Committee leaders, of both parties, were fully briefed on CIA interrogation techniques, including waterboarding and stress positions, back in 2002 and 2003. That includes Nancy Pelosi:

Pelosi declined to comment directly on her reaction to the classified briefings. But a congressional source familiar with Pelosi’s position on the matter said the California lawmaker did recall discussions about enhanced interrogation. The source said Pelosi recalls that techniques described by the CIA were still in the planning stage — they had been designed and cleared with agency lawyers but not yet put in practice — and acknowledged that Pelosi did not raise objections at the time.

According to the Post, the only Congressional leader who may have protested the “enhanced” interrogation techniques was Jane Harman of California:

Harman, who replaced Pelosi as the committee’s top Democrat in January 2003, disclosed Friday that she filed a classified letter to the CIA in February of that year as an official protest about the interrogation program. Harman said she had been prevented from publicly discussing the letter or the CIA’s program because of strict rules of secrecy.

Now, there is going to be a lot of shouting and breast-beating over this. Republicans will say, “See! See! The Democrats knew all along!” Some of the more extreme elements on the left-wing of the Democratic Party will lapse into their traditional wailing about the Bush-appeasing weakness of their party leaders. But the Washington Post reporters and their sources make clear that these briefings took place in the months after the September 11 attacks. There was fear that we would be attacked again by terrorists, and on a regular basis. Few were thinking clearly about the nature of the threat and how to deal with it. (By the time Harman was briefed, in 2003, people were thinking more clearly–hence her letter of protest.)

What the United States stands for now, and in the future, should be far more important than where we stood during the post-9/11 panic. The U.S. military and most Democrats are completely opposed to “enhanced” interrogation techniques. Some Republicans, including many of the presidential candidates, sadly are not. But it is essential for the nation’s moral health and for our standing in the world that Congress passes and the President signs legislation that makes it absolutely clear that waterboarding is torture and torture is not acceptable–that we reaffirm the Geneva Conventions and the interrogation techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual.
I’m writing this from Iowa and one thing I’ve heard consistently from people who do not live in Washington–or profit from the partisan debates therein–is that they simply hate the steady diet of screaming, blaming and finger-pointing that dominates almost every last Congressional debate. It is time to simply and definitively outlaw torture, and move on.