Monday, August 25, 2008

Did Nancy Pelosi enable the Bush torture program?

According to Salon's War Room, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi met the same kind of welcome in Denver today that she ran into recently in her San Francisco home district. My Congressperson has stirred up some hornets.

DENVER -- Some very pink, very loud, very awkward protest drama erupted in an unexpected venue on Monday morning when more than a dozen members of antiwar group Code Pink hijacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's appearance at an event sponsored by a group called Unconventional Women. ...

At first, the crowd reacted warmly to the invasion of the now-ubiquitous peace protesters, and as the women amassed in front of the stage, unfurling a huge "Impeach" banner, Hunt stood up and gestured at them almost affectionately, exclaiming, "Code Pink! Welcome!"

But all politesse drained from the room as the protesters began to yell, "Liar, liar" at Pelosi, who remained smiling and composed in her chair. The mostly female audience began to stir uncomfortably, and started to rally to Pelosi's defense, chanting "Nancy, Nancy" over the disturbance. The protesters held their ground, though, and continued to yell: "Accountability for war crimes"; "You said you'd impeach Bush"; "You lied to my face"; "Explain yourself"; "It's in your hands, Nancy."

Security then started to round up the protesters and shoo them up the aisles as the audience booed, hissed and continued to chant Pelosi's name. But Code Pink had scattered so effectively that the process took more than five minutes.

What are so many so angry at the Speaker about?

Certainly she often serves as the focus for frustration that a Democratic Congress cannot seem to end the Iraq war. After all, that's what many of us elected them to do. She's the leader; we think the failure is her fault.

But there's more; as soon as Democrats took control of Congress, Pelosi famously announced that "impeachment is off the table." Since impeachment is the Constitutional remedy for illegal acts by committed by government officials, this amounted to saying that the Bush Administration could get away with operating above the law.

And there's more to the anger with Pelosi even than that. According to the Washington Post, the Bush Administration may have successfully made Pelosi an accessory to its torture policy.

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.

"The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough," said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange.

Bet the CIA got that exchange on tape, if it really happened.

According to Robert Scheer writing in the Nation, Pelosi claims through aide Brendan Daly

that the Washington Post report on her CIA briefing was "overblown" because Pelosi, then the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, thought the techniques described, which the CIA insists included waterboarding, were merely planned and not yet in use. Pelosi claimed that "several months later" her successor as the ranking Democrat, Jane Harman, D-Calif., was advised that the techniques "had in fact been employed." Harman wrote a classified letter to the CIA in protest, and Pelosi "concurred." Neither went public with her concerns.

Harman told the Washington Post, "I was briefed, but the information was closely held to just the Gang of Four. I was not free to disclose anything."

It seems hard to believe that Pelosi didn't realize that U.S. interrogators were using or intending to use any interrogation methods they bothered to tell Congress about. There's more to this, but clearly we don't know the truth of who knew what, when. Without a legal inquiry, some kind of war crimes investigation, we're not likely to know the truth, at least very soon. That's what Pelosi and the Democratic Congress have denied us by refusing to take on the Bush Administration.

So Pelosi continually gets confronted by angry constituents and former women supporters. And this year she has an opponent. Antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan isn't likely to replace the Speaker, but neither does Pelosi get a free ride.


Jane R said...

And isn't it ironic that the Repubs are currently dumping on Pelosi for being too liberal, or whatever they are accusing her of this week.

Thanks for helping us see the complex picture. Not cheery, but necessary.

A Very Public Sociologist said...

That's right. If progressive people are going to get anywhere we have to look reality unflinchingly in the face.

Tom said...

SEE VIDEO: Digg Pelosi Question Now: Who gave you the right to take impeachment off the table? Aren't you violating your oath when you refuse to impeach a war criminal?

Digg is interviewing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will be in the spotlight with your questions presented by Digg CEO Jay Adelson on Wednesday 8/27 at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Digg John Perry's question please.

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