Friday, June 05, 2009

More on Pelosi and the Torture Briefings: An Ex-CIA Dog Refused to Bark

Cheney and his right-wing friends have lied so often about so much that it's astonishing that various news organizations still seem to take them seriously. How is this possible? Profits? Rating wars? The politics of owners? Who knows.

To be honest, at this late date, Cheney, Limbaugh, Gingrich and others are simply an embarrassment to our nation and our history. But there are things worth noting.

First, Pelosi is probably telling the truth on not knowing about waterboarding in 2002. Former Senator Bob Graham seems to back up her version. Last month, S.W. Anderson of Oh!Pinion noticed a post by Greg Sargent and wrote:
The latest inconvenient truth undermining GOP attacks comes from Porter Goss, who headed the House Intelligence Committee in 2002, and who was present at the same Sept. 4, 2002, briefing Pelosi received without being told torture was being used — just as she tells it.

Goss refused to defend Pelosi but he also refused to deny her version. It's the case of the dog who didn't bark. If Pelosi were not telling the truth, Goss would have found a way to say so. (Goss became CIA Director in 2004 after George Tenet left. I'm speculating but Goss has his own legal problems because of the Duke Cunningham and Dusty Foggo connection; he came out clean but cannot afford to draw too much attention to himself).

It's been my contention that Dick Cheney could orchestrate exactly what Congress was told and that he was throwing enough of his weight around that any CIA report written would be a version convenient for his own purpose. We already know that during 2002-04 Cheney, Rumsfeld and others were playing political games in terms of what briefers from the executive branch were telling Congress. As one example, if I remember this right, the intelligence committee would be told one thing behind closed doors and when difficult questions were raised, the Pentagon, as an example, would say the issue was being discussed with the armed services committee and because of the sensitive nature of the discussions, they couldn't talk about it any further; later, they would pull the same trick behind closed doors with the armed services committee, claiming they could not discuss certain issues that has been discussed with the intelligence committee. Because members of each committee could not legally discuss such matters with members of another committee, no one could compare notes. Cute.

We now learn that Cheney was present at several briefings of Congress about the torture program in 2005, though it's not clear exactly who were at these meetings. Via the Los Angeles Times, here's the story from Paul Kane and Joby Warrick of The Washington Post:
Cheney's role in helping handle intelligence issues in the Bush administration has been well documented, particularly his advocacy for the use of aggressive methods and warrantless wiretapping against suspected terrorists. But his hands-on role in defending the interrogation program to lawmakers has not been previously publicized.

The CIA made no mention of the former vice president's role in documents delivered to Capitol Hill last month which listed every lawmaker who had been briefed on "enhanced interrogation techniques" since 2002. For meetings that were overseen by Cheney, the agency told the intelligence committees that information about who oversaw those briefings was "not available."


The CIA declined to comment on why Cheney's presence in meetings was left out of the records. One senior intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said identities of individual briefers are intentionally concealed in all cases -- names do not appear in any of the CIA documents that describe congressional briefings. In at least some cases, he added, the identity of the briefer was never recorded in the agency's internal records. For all but seven of the 40 meetings listed, however, the documents outlined which agency led the briefing and which provided support.

If things are left out of the records, they can just as easily be slipped into the record, particularly if vague language is used. Although the meetings Cheney oversaw were in 2005, we can assume that Cheney asked to see any report of those meetings and got any changes he asked for. He may have done the same in 2002 and other times as well whether he attended those meetings or not. Just the fact that critical information, such as Cheney's presence, are left out of the reports obviously makes these reports somewhat suspect. Even if it's acceptable procedure, it's a case of far too much deniability and far too much room for manipulation. Perfect conditions, I might add, for someone like Cheney. It's reasonable to wonder if Cheney, in 2002, had meetings with the briefers before the meetings with Congress as well.

In my mind, George W. Bush is the most failed president in American history. But much of that failure can be traced to the behavior, stupidity and antics of people like Dick Cheney and his good buddy, Donald Rumsfeld. I have talked before about my gut reaction when in 2004 Rumsfeld was expressing his regrets about what happened in Abu Ghraib. Rumsfeld wasn't unhappy that the Geneva conventions were thrown out the window; he was unhappy that pictures were taken.

Cheney and Rumsfeld were both a part of the culture of torture. What is astonishing is how able these two clowns were at pushing and pulling levers and how profoundly stupid they were at the same time. We're now five years later, and one would have to do some work to pull out the facts which I know are still there in the records, but Cheney and Rumsfeld were fools if they thought the torture could be kept secret. The secret in 2004 was already out and it was out in the wrong place: outside the walls of Abu Ghraib, Iraqis already knew. And that knowledge was doing enormous damage to us in Iraq, and as the word began reaching places outside Iraq, the knowledge was doing enormous damage to us in the broader Arab world and elsewhere.

No one can hide torture for long. In the end, Cheney and Rumsfeld, along with their enablers, Bush, Alberto Gonzales and Condi Rice, were fools with little understanding of the damage they were doing to the United States. Keep in mind that George W. Bush gave flowery speeches on democracy in Iraq at the same time he already knew what was going on in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

In normal times, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush would have been impeached for violating the laws of the United States. The primary reason they were not impeached were right-wing Republicans in Congress and elsewhere who saw no crime and did their utmost to defend the president and vice president. The same right-wing Republicans are still around and still taken far too seriously by far too many people.



Anonymous Burr Deming said...

In considering Vice President Cheney's informal testimony, we should consider the evaluation of his credibility by former Republican spokesperson, Nancy Pfotenhauer

6:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On torture

This evening I caught the bus from the train station to my apartment. Nothing remarkable there, except that I kept my ticket in my pocket instead of immediately validating it in the onboard machine, while keeping my eye peeled in case the monitors who occasionally pop up to squelch such shenanigans might be at the next stop.

I usually have a wad of tickets in my pocket and generally I use them. Once in awhile, no. Today I'd walked more than half the distance home when a bus happened to arrive; it was hot and the AC on board wasn't working. I rationalized and kept my ticket in my pocket. I probably had company.

Now, how to put this? Yeah, every now and then I cheat on the bus. Plus, having done so, I might be smarter to keep the story to myself. No rationalization can make what I did legal or right. If I'm caught I will face consequences. So I repeat the story to make a point.

We are seeing two threads of rationalization over torture, right now. One has to do with legal rationalization, or the lack of it, in support of the principle of using torture in the name of security, the other is the devil-is-in-the-details accounting for how difficult it is to change institutional and political culture. An article in The New Yorker on Leon Panetta and the CIA is a good example of the second.

Torture is wrong. It is ineffective, counterproductive, immoral. As a citizen and as a man, I am ashamed to think others face torture in my name.

Worse, we have seen 'enhanced interrogation' and other euphemisms deployed as if to soften the reality, although to my ear the only thing these circumlocutions actually accomplish is to underscore the ugliness of the reality. We also have fallen into another trap, of image spin, because the previous administration was unable to resist the additional temptation of utilizing the idea of torture (excuse me, enhanced interrogation) to prop up its mythology of the threat and its justification for going to war.

I have a bit of advice. If you need to ride the bus without a ticket, do it. Be reasonably sneaky about it, but not obviously so. Try to avoid being caught, but when you are, stand up to it. Save yourself damage, and everyone else time and heartache, by owning up. If you are really good at this, including your exercise of really good judgment in how much force to apply, and when (rarely), we may never know.

That might be smarter for everyone. Just imagine Machiavelli resisting a slight smile at knowing about this stuff, too.

From The Prince

12:05 PM  

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