Here’s my favorite section from Nancy’s press conference yesterday:
They mislead us all the time. I was busy fighting the war in Iraq at that time too, you know.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has violated the foremost rule of public relations: Nancy has made Nancy the story. First in our round-up of Nancy’s screwball P.R. mess is Steny Hoyer, who’s well-known not to be a dear friend to dear Speaker:
“Hoyer questions Pelosi’s CIA charge,” from Politico.com’s Glenn Thrush:
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) isn’t exactly rushing to support Nancy Pelosi’s claim she was “misled” by CIA officials during a 2002 intel briefing on waterboarding.
Hoyer — a polished floor debater — was drawn into an extended exchange with Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on the issue this afternoon and said he didn’t have enough information on the briefings to draw a conclusion — and wasn’t inclined to doubt the CIA anyway. [...]
[Hoyer on the CIA] “I have no idea of that, don’t have a belief of that nature because I have no basis on which to base such a belief. And I certainly hope that’s not the case. I don’t draw that conclusion.
“Nancy Pelosi draws fire over CIA claim,” from Politico.com’s Glenn Thrush:
[...] “The only mention of waterboarding in the briefing was that it was not being employed,” Pelosi said during a press briefing. The California Democrat said that the CIA briefers had given her “inaccurate and incomplete information.” Asked whether they’d “lied” to her, Pelosi nodded her head yes.
The Republican pushback came quickly.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking member on the House intelligence committee, called Pelosi’s account “Version 5.0 from Nancy on what happened in that September meeting.”
Writing in POLITICO’s Arena forum, former Bush White House press secretary Dana Perino said Pelosi had succeeded only in raising more questions.
“Is she suggesting that career government officials, those very CIA briefers, are the ones that ‘lied’ to her? What would have been their motivation for lying to her but others who got the same briefing not being lied to? Why does she suggest she was powerless?” Perino wrote.
Sean Hannity on Nancy’s varying stories:
Writes John for Powerline:
As the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza notes, Pelosi “would not have held this sort of press conference unless she and her inner circle believed that she was losing altitude — politically — on the issue.” But it seems clear that she has now gone too far. The matter cannot be left to rest with her assertion that the CIA “lied” to her and “misled the Congress of the United States.” The Agency will have to respond. And already, Republicans Pete Hoekstra and John Boehner have called on the CIA to release the Agency’s detailed notes on its briefings of Congress to Hoekstra as ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.
I don’t suppose anyone imagines that the CIA was foolish enough to lie to Pelosi and others about the use of waterboarding. On the contrary, it seems obvious that everyone in the chain of command was covering himself or herself by disseminating information about the harsh interrogations of three al Qaeda leaders. Pelosi has now opened the lid on a box that she will not be able to close. The CIA has no choice but to defend itself by demonstrating that she, not the Agency, is lying. Possibly Leon Panetta can save her, but at the moment, it is hard to see how this affair can end with Pelosi remaining as Speaker of the House.
Then there’s Charles Krauthammer’s op-ed in today’s Washington Post, “The Torture Debate, Continued.” It’s notable that Krauthammer is a psychiatrist as well as a writer:
My column also pointed out the contemptible hypocrisy of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is feigning outrage now about techniques that she knew about and did nothing to stop at the time.
My critics say: So what if Pelosi is a hypocrite? Her behavior doesn’t change the truth about torture.
But it does. The fact that Pelosi (and her intelligence aide) and then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss and dozens of other members of Congress knew about the enhanced interrogation and said nothing, and did nothing to cut off the funding, tells us something very important.
Our jurisprudence has the “reasonable man” standard. A jury is asked to consider what a reasonable person would do under certain urgent circumstances.
On the morality of waterboarding and other “torture,” Pelosi and other senior and expert members of Congress represented their colleagues, and indeed the entire American people, in rendering the reasonable person verdict. What did they do? They gave tacit approval. In fact, according to Goss, they offered encouragement. Given the circumstances, they clearly deemed the interrogations warranted.
Moreover, the circle of approval was wider than that. As Slate’s Jacob Weisberg points out, those favoring harsh interrogation at the time included Alan Dershowitz, Mark Bowden and Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter. In November 2001, Alter suggested we consider “transferring some suspects to our less squeamish allies” (i.e., those that torture). And, as Weisberg notes, these were just the liberals.
So what happened? The reason Pelosi raised no objection to waterboarding at the time, the reason the American people (who by 2004 knew what was going on) strongly reelected the man who ordered these interrogations, is not because she and the rest of the American people suffered a years-long moral psychosis from which they have just now awoken. It is because at that time they were aware of the existing conditions — our blindness to al-Qaeda’s plans, the urgency of the threat, the magnitude of the suffering that might be caused by a second 9/11, the likelihood that the interrogation would extract intelligence that President Obama’s own director of national intelligence now tells us was indeed “high-value information” — and concluded that on balance it was a reasonable response to a terrible threat.
And they were right.
You can believe that Pelosi and the American public underwent a radical transformation from moral normality to complicity with war criminality back to normality. Or you can believe that their personalities and moral compasses have remained steady throughout the years, but changes in circumstances (threat, knowledge, imminence) alter the moral calculus attached to any interrogation technique.
You don’t need a psychiatrist to tell you which of these theories is utterly fantastical.