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Tom Head

Nancy Pelosi, Torture, and Culpability

By May 14, 2009

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At a press conference today, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi admitted that she had received a briefing on the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" from the CIA in 2002, while she was serving as ranking Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, but did not register a complaint regarding their possible constitutionality because she did not know that waterboarding was going to be put to use. Conservatives are understandably delighted to finally find a Democrat who bears some complicity, albeit indirect complicity, in the waterboarding scandal.

Fine, great, good. But remember two things:
  1. Rep. Pelosi was not in a position to actually prevent the use of waterboarding and other iffy interrogation techniques, just to send a strongly-worded letter to the CIA protesting same so that, if the issue came up later (as it's coming up now), she would be able to say that she had objected to the use of torture.
  2. The people actually responsible for implementing the torture policy--i.e., the Bush administration--are getting a free pass from the same conservatives who are raking Rep. Pelosi over the coals for not protesting it.
That said, Rep. Pelosi's own failure to protest the torture when it might have meant something undermines her credibility as the House member vested with disproportionate power to determine whether or not the use of torture is formally investigated. (And Rep. Pelosi's call for a truth commission is no substitute for a criminal investigation. Truth commissions, by definition, do not file charges; the whole principle behind them, as exemplified in the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, is that immunity from criminal prosecution allows people to tell the truth.)

Rep. Pelosi has had a little over two years as House Speaker, during which time she has done as little as possible to investigate the Bush administration's use of torture. Her decision to let the Bush administration have a free pass on this issue, right or wrong, has now been tainted by her pre-Speakership history of letting the Bush administration get a free pass on controversial interrogation techniques. In order to protect the credibility of the House Democratic leadership, she should step down as Speaker.

Related: Is Torture Ever Justified?


May 15, 2009 at 2:18 pm
(1) Rebel8h says:

I disagree with your comment that Ms. Pelosi was not in a position to prevent or stop tourture when she was first briefed about it.
1. She could have made the information public. National security is NOT an excuse for criminal behavior.
2. She could have demanded an investigation of all Executive branch employees (up to, and including Mr. Bush) responsible for both the policy and the actions.
3. She could have introduced bills of impeachment against those Executive officials (again, up to and including Mr. Bush) responsible for torture – both policy and action.
4. She could have introduced legislation to specifically define “waterboarding”, “enhanced interrogtion techniques”, or whatever other euphamisms were used, as torture under the various international accords and US statutes concerning torture.

That she failed to take any of these actions makes her, and her colleagues in the Congress who also failed to act, culpable.

May 15, 2009 at 3:45 pm
(2) TS says:

As Speaker of The House and third in line for the Presidency she has a DUTY to speak out in an instance when there is ALLEGEDLY criminal wrong doing!She MUST step down.As far as I am concerned she is complicit in the ALLEGED torture.

May 15, 2009 at 5:50 pm
(3) Thomas says:

I want nothing to do with “truth and reconciliation”. I want investigations, arrests, trials, convictions, and long prison terms for those convicted. They can seek “reconciliation” from their cells.

It’s not about “them”. It’s about the rest of us, and what kind of country we are. It’s not about the forlorn hole that perhaps “immunity” will somehow engender “truth”. It’s about reversing the current course of history and sending a strong message to future leaders, military men, and bureaucrats in the US that this behavior will no longer be tolerated by a free people. It’s only justice.

May 15, 2009 at 5:51 pm
(4) Thomas says:

That’s what I get for getting cranky and typing too fast. “Forlorn HOPE” is what I meant. LOL

May 15, 2009 at 6:22 pm
(5) Larry Farrell says:

Waterboarding is NOT torture, beheading people (Phillip Berg) with a dull sword is.

Pelosi is unfit to be Speaker, and should, immediately, resign.

May 15, 2009 at 6:50 pm
(6) Lee says:

I agree with Thomas that there should be a complete investigation, no truth commissions and all that other pussy-footing around stuff. We need to prosecute those involved. Let those guilty of torture and illegal wars be tried and convicted!!! Justice for all, not just a few!!!!!!!
Criminal Justice is not just for the pauper, it should be applied equally TO EVERYONE, even Pelosi (George Bush, Cheney, etc)!!!!!

May 16, 2009 at 2:35 pm
(7) Penelope says:

Pelosi’s nose has grown so big she’s got her own torcher weapon now!

May 16, 2009 at 7:09 pm
(8) Allan says:

I agree with Larry. The courts said waterboarding isn’t torture. Pelosi has lied and misspent funds. Step aside.

May 17, 2009 at 11:17 am
(9) Howard Lauther says:

Sometimes you wonder how these things get started. Take this big flap in the news about what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was told about prisoners being tortured by American officials, and the fact that a growing number of Republicans are saying she concurred with the practice. How damned convenient for them that she was once briefed by the Bush Administration.

Now, remember: Nancy Pelosi didn’t torture anyone. Nor did she ORDER torture to be committed. Nor did did she WRITE a memo that authorized it. Nor did she make any CLAIMS that what was being done in America’s name wasn’t torture. IT WAS THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION THAT DID THOSE THINGS. The blame rests solely upon those who wrote the memos, ordered the torture to commence, and who actually performed that torture. But you wouldn’t know that if you listened to the news.

Focusing upon Pelosi is like blaming a bystander for witnessing a car wreck. Peter King, for example, who’s the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said that if Pelosi failed to object to the torture techniques at the time she was briefed, then — now, pay close attention to this neat twist of logic — she was “an ENABLER” and “an ACCOMPLICE.” Republicans say that any probe into torture should be broadened to include what Pelosi knew and how much influence she had in shaping the Bush administration’s controversial policies. Can you appreciate the chuztpah it takes to make such a statement? Do you catch a whiff of blackmail in the air?

People who do bad things to other people, regardless of their motives, are rarely found to be fountains of honesty. And when they descend from their self-appointed high places to explain themselves, they not only tend to blame others for their actions but also rush to find accomplices where none exist.

What you’re seeing is a distraction, pure and simple, one which was purposely orchestrated by the brain trust of the Republican Party. They want to divert your attention away from what really happened and, instead, keep you busy pondering some other crappy little details that don’t amount to a bead of sweat on a gnat’s behind. It’s another form of “bait ‘n switch,” except here the Republicans are successfully switching the public’s attention away from some terribly rotten bait that came right out of their own bag several years ago, but which is now stinking up the ship of state. They keep pointing in other directions as the source of the smell. And the media, which should know better by now, is stupidly falling for the switch and is performing as their salesmen. In a word, it’s shameful.

May 18, 2009 at 11:09 pm
(10) Boyce Robbns says:

These idealistic and pure liberals who feel free to attack their own country up to and including treasonous acts are despicable. When New York is attacked for the third time and this time it is much,much worse, they will have to answer for their indignation and complicity with our enemies. I hope they will be able to sleep at night.

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