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:
- 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.
- 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?