The Politics of Liberal Amnesia
By BRET STEPHENS
Nancy Pelosi is "pushing back" against charges that she was aware of -- and acquiesced in -- the CIA's harsh interrogations of terrorist detainees nearly from the moment the practice began, reports the Politico Web site. Maybe she's suffering from amnesia.
[Global View] AP
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Maybe, for instance, the speaker doesn't remember that in September 2002, as ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, she was one of four members of Congress who were briefed by the CIA about the interrogation methods the agency was using on leading detainees. "For more than an hour," the Washington Post reported in 2007, "the bipartisan group . . . 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.
"Among the techniques described," the story continued, "was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder."
Or maybe the speaker never heard what some of her Democratic colleagues were saying about legal niceties getting in the way of an effective counterterrorism strategy.
"Unfortunately, we are not living in times in which lawyers can say no to an operation just to play it safe," said Democrat Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during the 2002 confirmation hearing of Scott Muller to be the CIA's general counsel. "We need excellent, aggressive lawyers who give sound, accurate legal advice, not lawyers who say no to an otherwise legal opinion just because it is easier to put on the brakes."
Or maybe the speaker forgot that after 9/11, the operative question among Americans, including various media paladins, wasn't whether the Bush administration had gone overboard. On the contrary:
"I asked the president whether he and the country had done enough for the war on terror," writes Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in his book "Bush at War." "The possibility of another major attack still loomed. . . . Was it not possible that he had undermobilized given the threat and the devastation of September 11?" (My emphases.)
Or maybe the speaker missed what former CIA Director (and Bill Clinton appointee) George Tenet writes in his memoir, "At the Center of the Storm," about the CIA interrogation of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:
"I believe none of these successes [in foiling terrorist plots] would have happened if we had had to treat KSM like a white-collar criminal -- read him his Miranda rights and get him a lawyer who surely would have insisted his client simply shut up. In his initial interrogation by CIA officers, KSM was defiant. 'I'll talk to you guys,' he said, 'after I get to New York and see my lawyer.' Apparently he thought he would be immediately shipped to the United States and indicted in the Southern District of New York. Had that happened, I am confident that we would have obtained none of the information he had in his head about imminent threats to the American people."
Mr. Tenet continues: "From our interrogation of KSM and other senior al Qaeda members . . . we learned many things -- not just tactical information leading to the next capture. For example, more than 20 plots had been put in motion by al Qaeda against U.S. infrastructure targets, including communications nodes, nuclear power plants, dams, bridges and tunnels."
Maybe, too, the speaker no longer recalls what she knew, and when, about the Bush administration's other much-reviled counterterrorist program, the warrantless wiretaps.
"Within weeks of the program's inception," writes Mr. Tenet, "senior congressional leaders were called to the White House and briefed on it. . . . At one point in 2004 there was even a discussion with the congressional leadership in the White House Situation Room with regard to whether new legislation should be introduced to amend the FISA statute, to put the program on a broader legal foundation. The view that day on the part of members of Congress was that this could not be done without jeopardizing the program."
Maybe, finally, the speaker has forgotten the role that previous grand congressional inquisitions played in gutting U.S. intelligence.
"After the Watergate era," the bipartisan 9/11 Commission reported, "Congress established oversight committees to ensure that the CIA did not undertake covert action contrary to basic American law. . . . During the 1990s, tension sometimes arose, as it did in the effort against al Qaeda, between policy makers who wanted the CIA to undertake more aggressive covert action and wary CIA leaders who counseled prudence and making sure that the legal basis and presidential authorization for their actions were undeniably clear."
The speaker and her partisans are the current beneficiaries of this politics of amnesia. It won't be so forever. And when the time comes to pay the price for their forgetfulness, it will not be small.
When you go after your political enemies it is often funny how the course changes and you end up being the one on the defensive. Ask Newt.