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.
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.
Bipartisan support for authoritarian, inhumane measures–who’da thunk it? But hey, at least one brave Congresscritter was willing to blow the whistle. Well, sort of:
[Jane] 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.
“When you serve on intelligence committee you sign a second oath — one of secrecy,” she said. “I was briefed, but the information was closely held to just the Gang of Four. I was not free to disclose anything.”
A classified letter of official protest–ooooh, I bet that had the CIA quaking in their Bruno Malis. Marcy Wheeler may be willing to give Harman a cookie for wanting to do the right thing, but it was a hollow gesture, in no way akin to Daniel Ellsberg’s superlative example of how to blow the whistle, damn the consequences to one’s life and career. Harman made a cowardly choice: she apparently decided that her secret oath to the committee trumped any duty to defend the Constitution, the rule of law and the national interest.
Matt Yglesias, also too forgiving, at least kinda sorta gets it:
A member who believes he or she is in possession of evidence of crimes being committed and covered-up through illegitmate [sic] classification ought to seriously consider civil disobedience: calling a press conference, stating the facts, and accepting responsibility for the consequences. The White House could, of course, then turn around and seek to prosecute a member for violating classification laws, and the member could argue justification and we’d have it out. That’s a tough call to make, clearly. But our political leaders have responsibilities to the country and to the constitution and I’ve never seen a candidate for office say something like “I’m the one who likes to abdicate responsibility, decline to make the tough calls, and then when someone else gets to the bottom of things try to make sure that my ass was covered.
“Ought to seriously consider civil disobedience?” Try “is ethically and legally obligated to engage in civil disobedience.”
[Harman’s] oath to protect the Constitution obligated her to do that very thing. She should not have considered civil disobedience an option, but her only option, once aware that the administration had intent to violate the Geneva Conventions and deceive the populous about that decision.
Oh, and Dems in the Senate aren’t off the hook either, as Greenwald points out:
Jay Rockefeller was one of the key Democrats briefed on the torture methods who never objected. But it’s far worse than that. In September, 2006, Rockefeller was one of 12 Senate Democrats to vote in favor of the Military Commissions Act, one of the principal purposes of which was to explicitly authorize the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program” to proceed (even though it continues to be illegal under the Geneva Conventions). Thus, not only did Rockefeller remain silent when continuously briefed on illegal torture methods by the CIA, he then voted to legalize those methods by voting in favor of one of the most Draconian laws in modern American history. That law also retroactively immunized government officials from any liability for past lawbreaking.
Rockefeller is not just any Democrat. He is the individual whom the Democratic Senate caucus thereafter elected — and still chooses — to lead them on all matters relating to intelligence. Just consider how compromised he is and they are when it comes to investigating abuses by the intelligence community over the last six years. Rockefeller was complicit in all of those abuses, and the Democrats voted for him — and still support him — as their Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. How can Rockefeller possibly preside over meaningful investigations into conduct and policies — including the destruction of the videotapes and the conduct which those videotapes would reveal — of which he approved? And how can Senate Democrats pretend to be outraged at such policies when the leader they chose supports them?
Simple answers to simple questions time, kids: they fucking can’t pretend, Glenn. They never fucking could. Those damn Communists, reporting on the CIA torture tapes, nail it:
From the beginning of the Bush administration, the Democratic Party has played a critical role in facilitating the massive attack on democratic rights and legal constraints. It has helped confirm the nomination of all the administration officials who have spearheaded a policy of torture—including [CIA Director Michael] Hayden and, most recently, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who was approved by a Democratic-controlled Senate despite his refusal to denounce water-boarding as torture.
The Democrats are now pushing for a bill that would bar the CIA from using “enhanced interrogation techniques,” knowing full well that if passed—which appears unlikely—it will simply be vetoed by Bush.
[T]he Democratic leadership has resolutely, since winning control of both houses of Congress over a year ago, ruled out any impeachment investigation. No serious hearings or investigations have been carried out into the Bush administration’s torture program and other brazen violations of American and international law under the Democratic Congress.
There may be fall-out from the destruction of the videos. Some lower-level individuals may be made fall guys for the White House and the CIA. But the Bush administration is counting with good reason on the Democrats to keep things under control.
This new revelation underscores the lawless character of the clique around Bush and the immense dangers it represents to the democratic rights of the people. It also highlights the Democratic Party’s lack of any serious commitment to the defense of democratic rights.
I for one am entirely unwilling to forgive well-intentioned road workers as they (once again) lay asphalt on the highway to Hell. Wanting to do the right thing is no excuse for useful idiocy (if not willful indifference). At some point the elite has to be held accountable–on both sides of the aisle. At least, as Lambert points out, we now know why impeachment has always been off the table: the Dems knowingly allowed a highly illegal policy of officially-sanctioned torture to proceed without doing jack-fucking-shit to stop it (sorry, kids–intellectually offensive Kabuki performances like the Mukasey confirmation hearings don’t cut it).
Still, something tells me that once the weeping and gnashing of teeth has subsided the net-rooty USian Progressosphere will go back to
cheerleading advocating the same vicious cycle that has lead to the current state of affairs:
Last word goes to Melissa:
All along the way down this dark road we’ve traveled the past six years, there have been people in positions to say something, to do something, to take a stand and say no, enough, stop. And if any one of them had publicly done so, had taken that risk in service to the country we’re supposed to be, we might still be that country.
If all of them had, we surely would.
And a goddamn dapple-grey pony. Fuck them all. And the horses, too.
Related: Ken Silverstein reports that designated torture tape scapegoat Jose Rodriguez Jr “is doing business in Texas with the brother of Silvestre Reyes, the Democratic chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where Reyes has served since 2001” and “Rodriguez and Chairman Reyes are extremely close friends, and the congressman “set up Rodriguez with his brother.””
what does it say about the strength of congressional oversight of the CIA when the top Democrat on the intelligence panel has this type of relationship with the man who until recently headed clandestine services?
Ooh, I know! I know! It says that one can safely assume (with 100% accuracy, even) that the Dems will once again do absolutely nothing to meaningfully address this most recent Executive birdflip to the Constitution, international law and basic fucking decency. (h/t ReWind.It @ Bread and Roses)
Update: Arthur Silber (h/t Lambert @ Corrente):
People consider such disclosures at this late date to be “news” or to be at all surprising only if they have refused to acknowledge and understand the necessary meaning and implications of the United States’ actions in recent years. With regard to torture, the timeline is significantly longer: the U.S. has regularly employed torture for many decades. Most liberals and progressives, together with Democratic apologists generally, prefer to view the Bush administration as “unique” in American history, as representing a profound shift in national policy. None of this is true: these are lies cravenly dishonest apologists tell themselves to justify their otherwise indefensible political allegiances.
The emerging consensus in the blogosphere seems to be that even if they had the presence of mind to object, the Representatives and Senators who were briefed were in a bind: as members of the Intelligence Committees or the leadership, they signed various secrecy pledges which stopped them from going public. To go public, it seems to be agreed, was to “jeopardize their careers and risk jail” as Kevin Drum put it; even so, Matthew Yglesias suggests that this called for civil disobedience, and that the representatives should have dared the administration to arrest them.
All this misses a critical aspect of our constitutional structure. Thanks to the Speech and Debate Clause there was a way for any Senator or Representative who wanted to blow the whistle to do so in a way that involved no risk of jail or fines – at worst they might have lost their security clearances (and even there the law is a little murky).
Article I, section 6 of the Constitution reads as follows,
The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.
No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.
(emphasis added)The Speech and Debate clause has been interpreted to extend beyond floor speeches, e.g. to committee statements, but it unquestionably applies to floor statements. Thus, it would have been possible for Rep. Harman, or Senator Rockefeller, or the others allegedly briefed to go to the floor, either during the times when members may speak on topics of their choice, or under one of the extraordinary mechanism for privileged statements, and denounce the Bush administration’s determinate to torture helpless captives in secret offshore detention facilities.
As Froomkin further notes, “it was…courage, not the legal avenue to expose wrongdoing, which was in too short supply in Congress.”