As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Who Is Gunning For Nancy Pelosi?

Like Marcy Wheeler, I don't know what the WaPo is trying to get at with this story alleging that a top Pelosi aide knew about waterboarding because he attended a briefing with Jane Harman in early 2003 where that was made known. First of all, the aide in question, Michael Sheehy, worked for Harman at the time. Second, the briefing list does not actually specify that waterboarding was covered in the briefing. Third, the briefing was highly classified, and Sheehy wasn't working for Pelosi, so the idea that he would have at that time or any point in the future (he eventually returned to work for Pelosi) divulge the secrets of the briefing would violate federal law - is that the impression the WaPo wants to give? And fourth, Harman lodged a complaint as a result of this briefing, asking that the CIA tapes not be destroyed, and given that this was basically the end of the line as far as Democratic opposition was concerned, whether or not Pelosi knew is kind of immaterial. Pelosi acknowledged this a long time ago:

"It was my understanding at that time that Congresswoman Harman filed a letter in early 2003 to the CIA to protest the use of such techniques, a protest with which I concurred," Pelosi said in the Dec. 9, 2007, statement.

Marcy also notes that the WaPo stretches the truth in suggesting that Pelosi learned about waterboarding from Harman:

And from discussions dating back to 2007, the WaPo completely misrepresents the plain statement of a Pelosi statement on Harman's stance on torture (but not necessarily specifically waterboarding).

"Pelosi herself acknowledged in a December 2007 statement that she was aware that Harman had learned of the waterboarding and had objected in a letter to the CIA's top counsel."

That's not what Pelosi said: She made no specific reference to waterboarding (as opposed to enhanced techniques) [...]

So to review: WaPo says that the CIA briefing list proves Sheehy learned about torture in February 2003. And WaPo says that Pelosi's statement proves she learned the CIA was waterboarding by around that point. While I don't dispute the underlying facts (that Sheehy learned about waterboarding in February 2003, that Pelosi learned about it around then--I don't know one way or another), neither of these statements prove what the WaPo says it does. If the WaPo knows this for a fact, it knows this from another source.

Which is why I find this tidbit--the only anonymous source in an article based on interviews with Democrats Jane Harman and DiFi and Republicans Crazy Pete Hoekstra and Cryin' John Boehner--so interesting.

"A Democratic source acknowledged yesterday that it is almost certain that Pelosi would have learned about the use of waterboarding from Sheehy."

In other words, someone's out to get Nancy Pelosi - and it's a Democrat, quite possibly a member of her California delegation. All of this "who knew" timeline stuff, furthermore, is a misdirection when compared with the plain fact that the CIA, under the direction of the highest levels in the White House, violated domestic and international law, twisting the law to make it seem legal; and those same people at the top who authorized this destroyed dissenting opinions to theirs. And this exercise in tautological thinking and the chasing of red herrings gets us approximately nowhere.

Even after the release of the torture memos, Republicans persist in denying that techniques like waterboarding or chaining a prisoner in a standing position for hours constitute torture. The most common defense of waterboarding is that we subjected our own soldiers to it. That's true--as a way of training them to withstand enemy torture. When you reverse engineer a torture-resistance program, you're almost by definition engaging in torture.

We either have a legal system designed to adjudicate lawbreakers or we don't. Obsessing over who knew what at what time in secret briefings misses the point.

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