June 02, 2011

Interrogation Deniers

Former director of the Central Intelligence Agency Michael Hayden lumps interrogation deniers in with the birthers and truthers.

Let me add that this is not a discussion about the merits or the appropriateness of any interrogation technique. Indeed, I personally took more than half of the techniques (including waterboarding) off the table in 2007 because American law had changed, our understanding of the threat had deepened, and we were now blessed with additional sources of information. We can debate what was appropriate then, or now, but this is a discussion about a particular historical fact: Information derived from enhanced interrogation techniques helped lead us to bin Laden.

And so those who are prone to condemn the actions of those who have gone before (while harvesting the fruits of their efforts) might take pause.

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May 09, 2011

Torture Controversy Resuscitated

The torture controversy has made a brief comeback with the death of Osama bin Laden.  It turns out our earliest leads on the courier who ultimately led us to bin Laden's door came from individuals who had been subjected to waterboarding.  

Lefties are in denial over it.  They've been painting themselves into a corner by their insistence that waterboarding is torture, but how do you call something torture when it is part of the survival training given to our own military personnel?  As far as I know, congress hasn't outlawed the use of it as part of S.E.R.E. training.  S.E.R.E. stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape.  Here is a first hand description of the technique.

Then it was time for the dreaded waterboard. What I didn’t know then, but I do now, is that as in all interrogations, both for real world hostile terrorists (non-uniformed combatants) and in S.E.R.E. a highly trained group of doctors, psychologists, interrogators, and strap-in and strap-out rescue teams are always present. My first experience on the “waterboard” was to be laying on my back, on a board with my body at a 30 degree slope, feet in the air, head down, face-up. The straps are all-confining, with the only movement of your body that of the ability to move your head. Slowly water is poured in your face, up your nose, and some in your mouth. The questions from interrogators and amounts of water increase with each unsuccessful response. Soon they have your complete attention as you begin to believe you are going to drown.

But the left, intent on casting the Bush administration as war criminals, lowered the bar on torture so that it now includes survival training techniques.  Unfortunately for the left, waterboarding as a political weapon took a hit when CIA Director Leon Panetta confirmed that waterboarding was how they got the first bits of information that ultimately led to Bin Laden.  (My emphasis below.)

“WILLIAMS: Turned around the other way, are you denying that waterboarding was in part among the tactics used to extract the intelligence that led to this successful mission?

PANETTA: No, I think some of the detainees clearly were, you know, they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees. But I’m also saying that, you know, the debate about whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always going to be an open question.”

When pressed by Brian Williams, Panetta intentionally left the political question open by speculating that they might have gotten “the same information through other approaches.”  But by doing that he also confirmed precisely where we did not get the information.  That was from every other approach except waterboarding.

This isn't the first time we've heard that the enhanced interrogation techniques proved to be extremely effective for getting information out of uncooperative detainees.

How a Detainee Became An Asset
Sept. 11 Plotter Cooperated After Waterboarding

By Peter Finn, Joby Warrick and Julie Tate
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 29, 2009

In 2005 and 2006, the bearded, pudgy man who calls himself the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks discussed a wide variety of subjects, including Greek philosophy and al-Qaeda dogma. In one instance, he scolded a listener for poor note-taking and his inability to recall details of an earlier lecture.

Speaking in English, Mohammed "seemed to relish the opportunity, sometimes for hours on end, to discuss the inner workings of al-Qaeda and the group's plans, ideology and operatives," said one of two sources who described the sessions, speaking on the condition of anonymity because much information about detainee confinement remains classified. "He'd even use a chalkboard at times."

These scenes provide previously unpublicized details about the transformation of the man known to U.S. officials as KSM from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its "preeminent source" on al-Qaeda. This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.

"KSM, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate or incomplete," according to newly unclassified portions of a 2004 report by the CIA's then-inspector general released Monday by the Justice Department.

The debate over the effectiveness of subjecting detainees to psychological and physical pressure is in some ways irresolvable, because it is impossible to know whether less coercive methods would have achieved the same result. But for defenders of waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general's report and other documents released this week indicate.

But, in spite of such convincing evidence to the contrary, the left continues to insist not only is waterboarding cruel, inhumane, and illegal, it's an ineffective interrogation technique. John Quiggin of Crooked Timber was one who was quick to disparage any notion that waterboarding could in any possible way have led us to Osama bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan.

In my post on bin Laden’s death, I noted the spin in a New York Times story suggesting that torture had helped to extract the clues leading to bin Laden’s location, even though the facts reported suggested the opposite. This analysis, also in the NYT, confirms both the spinning and the fact that the evidence produced under brutal torture was deliberately misleading. Given the failure of the Bush Administration to get anywhere near bin Laden, it seems likely that they were in fact misled, deluded by the ancient belief that evidence extracted under torture is the most reliable kind.

What a pathetically weak argument, to suggest that "it seems likely" that interrogators were misled.  Likely?  Misled about what?  And it's even less convincing to argue that we would have gotten the same information from other sources.  I wouldn't want to bet my life on that.

And though congress voted to ban waterboarding in 2008, (George Bush vetoed that legislation.) members were not always opposed.  At the time waterboarding was first going to be used, members of congress were briefed on it.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, 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, two U.S. officials said.

"The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough," said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange.

Congressional leaders from both parties would later seize on waterboarding as a symbol of the worst excesses of the Bush administration's counterterrorism effort.

Unsurprisingly, when the briefings were made public, certain Democrats who were briefed denied that they understood what they had been told.

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, who in 2002 was the ranking Democrat on the House committee, has said in public statements that she recalls being briefed on the methods, including waterboarding. She insists, however, that the lawmakers were told only that the C.I.A. believed the methods were legal — not that they were going to be used.

By contrast, the ranking Republican on the House committee at the time, Porter J. Goss of Florida, who later served as C.I.A. director, recalls a clear message that the methods would be used.

“We were briefed, and we certainly understood what C.I.A. was doing,” Mr. Goss said in an interview. “Not only was there no objection, there was actually concern about whether the agency was doing enough.”

Senator Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida, who was committee chairman in 2002, said in an interview that he did not recall ever being briefed on the methods, though government officials with access to records say all four committee leaders received multiple briefings.

How embarrassing to have their focus on politics over national security right out there where everybody could see it. 

It's not as if such posturing were really necessary.  In general Americans have been pretty evenly divided on the use torture to extract information from terror suspects.

On nine occasions since July 2004, the Pew Research Center has asked Americans about the "use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information." The results have been remarkably stable. In April, 49% of respondents said it was "often" or "sometimes" justified, and 47% said "rarely" or "never." Sixty-four percent of Republicans, 54% of independents and 36% of Democrats felt torture could be justified often or sometimes.

Other survey organizations also report an evenly divided public. In answer to an April ABC News/Washington Post ( WPO - news - people ) question, 49% of those polled said they supported Barack Obama's decision that his administration would not use torture, but 48% said there were cases in which the U.S. should consider using it against terrorism suspects.

In an April 2009 CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, 50% of respondents said they approved of the Bush administration's decision to use "harsh interrogation procedures, including the procedures known as waterboarding," but almost as many, 46%, were opposed.

That may explain why lefty moral indignation doesn't get a lot of traction with the American people.  And it's getting less as we go along.

Candidate Barack Obama railed against Bush administration treatment of terrorist detainees, their incarceration at Guantanamo, and the military tribunals that would determine their guilt or innocense of terrorist crimes.  But when candidate Obama became President Obama, things changed. 

When it became his responsibility to weigh the moral issues against American lives, President Obama kept Guantanamo open.  He suspended plans to try the terrorists in civilian courts in lower Manhattan.  Military tribunals at Guantanamo are the order of the day.  Lefty pundits expressed outrage over those decisions.

Who knows if their outrage is real.  Even though they will not be held accountable if a bomb should go off in a crowded subway, it must occur to them that valuing the rights and well being of terrorists over the lives of fellow Americans, doesn't cast them in a particularly good light.  They have little choice but to double down on denial. 

Even in the hypothetical situation of a captured terrorist with information vital to preventing an imminent attack, there is only one answer for progressives.  Waterboarding doesn't work.  In spite of all of facts to the contrary, they must insist, waterboarding doesn't work.  There is no other choice.  The alternative is to admit that American lives are not nearly so important to progressives as their own moral vanity.

That's not something they have to admit it, though.  We already know it.

Posted by Tom Bowler at 01:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

November 16, 2009

Intelligence Bonanza

According to John Yoo, a Bush administration Justice Department official from 2001 to 2003, the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York will be an intelligence bonanza for al Qaeda.

Prosecutors will be forced to reveal U.S. intelligence on KSM, the methods and sources for acquiring its information, and his relationships to fellow al Qaeda operatives. The information will enable al Qaeda to drop plans and personnel whose cover is blown. It will enable it to detect our means of intelligence-gathering, and to push forward into areas we know nothing about.

This is not hypothetical, as former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy has explained. During the 1993 World Trade Center bombing trial of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (aka the "blind Sheikh"), standard criminal trial rules required the government to turn over to the defendants a list of 200 possible co-conspirators.

In essence, this list was a sketch of American intelligence on al Qaeda.

It's my personal opinion that this case is going to be tried in civilian courts because it provides a rationale for revisiting the torture controversy.  2010 is an election year.  If the Obama Justice Department can move quickly enough, the front pages of our elitist mainstream press can carry lurid headlines describing KSM's torture and abuse at the hands of George Bush -- just in time for Democrats to make it the centerpiece of their 2010 campaign.  Obama and the Democrats have never stopped campaigning against Bush, and by the looks of things they're not going to now.  The trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a bit of election year strategy for a party that is very quickly becoming very unpopular.

Posted by Tom Bowler at 07:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 29, 2009

Reopening The Torture Case

The panel discussion on Fox News last night touched on Eric Holder's move to reopen of the case against CIA interrogators who may have become a bit overzealous when questioning the al Qaeda masterminds of the World Trade Center attack of September 11, 2001.  Juan Williams made a very interesting point.  I don't remember his exact words.  The gist I took from it though, was that a Justice Department investigation would effectively shut down any congressional probes.  Can't have congress interfering with an ongoing criminal investigation and all that.

In that scenario one might envision the Justice Department holding open a whitewash style operation that would take the heat off of the CIA.  Over time Holder's investigation would fade into the background.  Congress would have to find another topic on which to engage its usual hypocritical moral grandstanding.  Do I think it's a likely scenario?  No.

It's as likely as Barack Obama actually becoming the centrist, bi-partisan, post-racial president he had promised to be when he seduced the voters.  A more likely scenario is described by Andrew McCarthy.  

The abuse allegations said to have stunned the attorney general into acting are outlined in a stale CIA inspector general’s report. Though only released this week — a disclosure timed to divert attention from reports that showed the CIA’s efforts yielded life-saving intelligence — the IG report is actually five years old. Its allegations not only have been long known to the leaders of both parties in Congress, they were thoroughly investigated by professional prosecutors — not political appointees. Those prosecutors decided not to file charges, except in one case that ended in an acquittal.

Why reopen a case that's been closed for five years?

Obama and Holder were principal advocates for a “reckoning” against Bush officials during the 2008 campaign. They realize, though, that their administration would be mortally wounded if Justice were actually to file formal charges — this week’s announcement of an investigation against the CIA provoked howls, but that’s nothing compared to the public reaction indictments would cause. Nevertheless, Obama and Holder are under intense pressure from the hard Left, to which they made reckless promises, and from the international community they embrace.

The way out of this dilemma is clear. Though it won’t file indictments against the CIA agents and Bush officials it is probing, the Justice Department will continue conducting investigations and releasing reports containing new disclosures of information. The churn of new disclosures will be used by lawyers for the detainees to continue pressing the U.N. and the Europeans to file charges. The European nations and/or international tribunals will make formal requests to the Obama administration to have the Justice Department assist them in securing evidence. Holder will piously announce that the “rule of law” requires him to cooperate with these “lawful requests” from “appropriately created courts.” Finally, the international and/or foreign courts will file criminal charges against American officials.

I faced a startling discovery that came about when I went back to college and finally got my degree after all these years.  In a business law course I learned that treaties take precedence over the constitution.  I was stunned to hear it, but there it is.  It makes McCarthy's scenario is the more believable.  The left has always been hell bent on getting the U.S. into Kyoto and the International Criminal Court.  Treaties are another way for lefties to get around those inconvenient constitutional guarantees of individual liberty.  You know, the ones that thwart them in their quest for a more just and equitable distribution of your money. 

Posted by Tom Bowler at 08:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 26, 2009

Team Player

Yesterday, Pajamas Media featured a story on Leon Panetta's brief but eventful tenure as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  The story's author, Nate Hale, is unimpressed.

When Leon Panetta took over the CIA earlier this year, he was described (in some circles) as the wrong man for the wrong job at the wrong time.

Seven months later, that assessment is proving eerily prescient. As the agency prepares for a politically-charged investigation of its interrogation practices, Mr. Panetta’s leadership is noticeably lacking.

Panetta held the position of White House Chief of Staff in the Clinton administration.  Folks may recall that if there's one thing about the Clintonistas, they are a loyal bunch, willing to take one for the team.  When the 9/11 commission conducted its inquiry into how our government failed to prevent the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, former National Security Adviser and devoted Clintonista Sandy Berger, cleansed the National Archives of any hint that the Clinton administration may have ignored credible warnings of impending attack. 

Berger's theft and destruction of secret documents was a purely political act, designed to protect the Clinton legacy, thus preserving Hillary's viability as a presidential contender in the 2008 election.  Though Berger was convicted his plea bargaining got him a sweet deal.  He was convicted of illegally removing highly classified documents from the National Archives and intentionally destroying some of them, but he got off with a fine, community service, and since he's such a trustworthy guy, he'll even get his top secret security clearance back.  In the end protecting the Clintons didn't cost him that much.

But the Clintons are out, the Obama's are in, and Panetta has joined that team.  It may be the one in the same team, the Democrats.  Panetta's first notable action was to throw his agency under the bus in order to cover for the Democrat from San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi.  Pelosi had put herself in awkward position.  After demanding investigations into the CIA's alleged torture of al Qaeda detainees, it came out she already knew and approved what the CIA was doing, having been briefed on exactly what interrogation techniques the CIA employed. 

How embarrassing.  So she accused the CIA of lying to her, but the CIA stood by their story.  Pelosi had been briefed, they said.  But then along comes Panetta to say, hold the phone!  The CIA withheld information from congress, after all.  Pelosi got her credibility back.  And what exactly was it that the CIA withhold?

We refer to the manufactured “scandal” surrounding the agency’s plans to enlist contractors in the hunt for high-value terror targets. That proposal — which involved the controversial security firm Blackwater — was discussed on several occasions, but never reached the operational stage. Three previous CIA directors declined to brief the proposal to Congress, largely because there was nothing to it.

But that didn’t stop Mr. Panetta from rushing to Capitol Hill when he learned of the project, offering an emergency briefing to members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Congressional Democrats immediately pounced on Panetta’s admission, saying it supported claims (by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi) that the spy agency had repeatedly lied to lawmakers.

Sources now suggest that Mr. Panetta regrets his actions.  Columnist Joseph Finder, who writes for the Daily Beast, reported last week that the CIA director spoke with his predecessors after he reported the program’s existence to members of Congress.  George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden were all aware of the program, but they elected not to inform Congress because it never evolved past the “PowerPoint” stage.

The Clinton team was certainly political, but compared to the Obama crowd, they were slackers.  Obama's poll numbers continue to sink as his stimulus has so far stimulated nothing but government, his cap and trade legislation has been put on hold, and his version of health care reform has become so unpopular that people are screaming at their congressmen for supporting it.  What to do?  Attorney General Holder has the answer.

According to the Washington Post, Attorney General Eric Holder will appoint a special prosecutor to examine allegations that CIA officers and contractors violated anti-torture laws during interrogations of terror suspects.

Mr. Holder’s reported decision is anything but a surprise. Literally from the day they took office, members of the Obama administration have been weighing a probe into CIA practices under President George W. Bush. The recent leaks about the agency’s potential partnership with Blackwater — and claims of interrogation abuse — were little more than groundwork for Eric Holder’s pending announcement.

When all else fails, bash Bush.  An investigation in the CIA interrogation methods is red meat for the fever swamps of the left -- a slender hope that a trail will lead all the way back to George Bush or Dick Cheney.  For Obama it's a distraction from the abysmal job he's doing.  Bush is the go-to target when things go sour and Obama doesn't know what else to do.  In this case the CIA winds up as collateral damage.  The Commander-In-Chief is so sorry, and the CIA director is sadly unable to defend his agency.

Instead, Leon Panetta became obsessed with a non-scandal, losing valuable opportunities to defend his agency and its personnel. One retired CIA official I spoke with referred to him as “another Colby,” — a reference to William Colby, the DCI who cooperated with the Church and Pike Committees that probed agency abuses in the 1970s. To this day, many CIA employees feel that Colby went too far in his cooperation, opening the door for increased congressional oversight that gutted the agency’s covert operations directorate.

The bitter “Colby” reference is a sure sign that morale at Langley is plummeting. And with good reason. The looming special counsel inquiry will make a skittish organization even more risk averse. Talented personnel will continue to leave the agency, believing (correctly) that the CIA will leave them twisting in the wind when the going gets tough.

It’s a trend that is sadly familiar. Following previous scandals in the 70s and 80s, thousands of skilled analysts and operations specialists left Langley for greener pastures, leaving behind the hacks and politicians who presided over such intelligence debacles as 9-11.

Strong leadership could go a long way in taking on the agency’s critics and preventing another mass exodus from the agency.  But sadly, Mr. Panetta is not that type of leader.

I don't know what kind of leader Panetta is, but Panetta's team, the Democratic party, is all politics all the time.  There is nothing else that matters, not national defense, nothing.  Panetta proves again, he's a team player.  To paraphrase Churchill, Mr Hale is unimpressed with Panetta.  He has much to be unimpressed about.

Posted by Tom Bowler at 12:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 13, 2009

Predictably Evolving Stance

In a "surprise" move the Obama administration has taken a bold step to shore up the presidents plummeting poll numbers. Rasmussen's Presidential Approval Index has settled at -7 for the last three days, but the percentage of respondents who strongly approve of Barack Obama's performance has dropped to an all time low of 28%.  And so, signaling yet again that Obama pronouncements all come with an expiration date, Attorney General Holder announced his renewed interest in Bush administration interrogation policies, saying that he might just order a criminal investigation after all.

'WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Eric Holder may order a criminal probe into whether treatment of terrorism detainees exceeded guidelines set by the Justice Department, administration officials said.

[...]

Messrs. Obama and Holder have said they don't favor prosecuting lawyers who wrote the legal justifications for interrogation methods that the president and his attorney general have declared to be torture. They also have sought to protect CIA officers who followed the legal guidelines.

"The Department of Justice will follow the facts and the law with respect to any matter," Matthew Miller, Justice spokesman, said. "We have made no decisions on investigations or prosecutions, including whether to appoint a prosecutor to conduct further inquiry." CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said the CIA's terrorist detention and interrogation program was shaped and driven by legal guidance from the Department of Justice. The president, attorney general, and CIA Director Leon Panetta "have all said consistently that those who followed that guidance should not be punished," he said. "The Department of Justice knows, and has known for years, the details of CIA's past interrogation practices. Based on the knowledge, Justice decided when to prosecute and when not to prosecute."

The Obama administration's stance on the issue of "looking back" has evolved since the November election as the president has begun adapting some controversial anti-terrorism strategies developed in the previous administration. Meanwhile, Mr. Obama's decision in May to release the Bush-era Justice memos on interrogations set off bitter political sniping that temporarily overshadowed the president's own domestic agenda.

Mr. Holder's view on a potential inquiry has developed over time and he remains reluctant to order a criminal probe, said the person familiar with his thinking. However, in recent months Mr. Holder "saw disturbing things" as he reviewed some of the practices detailed in documents, including a CIA internal report that the Obama administration is still debating whether to release in full, according to this person.

"At the end of the day, his hand may be simply forced by what he's now seen," this person said.'

Right.  And what he's really now seen are Obama approval numbers heading through the floor.  It's time for a distraction from Obama's ongoing economic policy failures.  Time to focus attention somewhere else.  Once again the Obama administration is trying to shift some kind of blame to the Bush administration.

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May 22, 2009

Cheney vs. Obama

I didn't watch President Obama's address at the National Archives last night.  He said that the U.S. went off course in the war on terror.  He argued against the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods and in favor of closing Guantanamo, claiming those things did more harm than good.  Personally, I don't agree with him.

'The president unblinkingly, methodically confronted a string of national-security decisions that have drawn criticism from the political left or right. He called the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay an inherited "mess" that "has weakened American national security" by providing a rallying cry for enemies.'

Actually I think it's been a rallying cry for Democrats more than anybody else. 

Meanwhile former Vice President Dick Cheney spoke at the American Enterprise Institute.

"When President Obama makes wise decisions, as I believe he has done in some respects on Afghanistan, and in reversing his plan to release incendiary photos, he deserves our support," Cheney said. "And when he faults or mischaracterizes the national security decisions we made in the Bush years, he deserves an answer."

Cheney continued: “Though I'm not here to speak for George W. Bush, I am certain that no one wishes the current administration more success in defending the country than we do. ... What I want to do today is set forth the strategic thinking that drove our policies.”

"Watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities," Cheney said. "To make certain our nation country never again faced such a day of horror, we developed a comprehensive strategy.

It's interesting to note that favorable opinions of Cheney are on the rise.  I hope he stays out front on this.

(Updated at 8:07am.)

Posted by Tom Bowler at 06:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 19, 2009

Cheney vs. Pelosi

It's actually pretty obvious when you compare the two of them.  As Steve Huntley writes in the Chicago Sun Times, when Dick Cheney defends the interrogation methods that were used back in 2002 he is arguing from conviction, and you can see that when you listen to him.  You don't get that sense at all when you listen to Nancy Pelosi's moral posturing.  This paragraph captures her predicament.

'Several journalists underwent waterboarding and declared it to be torture. No one has ever had to have his fingernails pulled out to deem that ordeal to be torture. That journalists had to experiment with waterboarding suggests it might fall into a gray area.'

Gray area, hell!  If journalists could experiment with waterboarding it's not torture.  Pelosi launched a political attack that went awry, and now she's caught up in it herself.  So sad.

Posted by Tom Bowler at 09:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Uh...

Posted by Tom Bowler at 08:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 16, 2009

Panetta fires back. Pelosi has problems.

Thursday House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the Central Intelligence Agency of lying to congress, which is a criminal offense, by the way.   

'QUESTION: Madam Speaker, just to be clear, you’re accusing the CIA of lying to you in September of 2002?

PELOSI: Yes, misleading the Congress of the United States, misleading the Congress of the United States. I am'

Friday Leon Panetta, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, took issue with that reply. 

'WASHINGTON -- The Central Intelligence Agency's chief fought back Friday against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's assertion that the CIA "was misleading" Congress, issuing a memo defending the integrity of its employees and contradicting her assertion that she wasn't told about agency's use of waterboarding to interrogate suspected terrorists.

[...]

"CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, describing 'the enhanced techniques that had been employed,'" Mr. Panetta wrote in a memo to agency employees. He was referring to an alleged senior al Qaeda detainee in CIA custody in September 2002, when Ms. Pelosi attended a briefing in her capacity as the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

"Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress," he wrote. "That is against our laws and our values."

Other intelligence officials also contradicted Ms. Pelosi's account of the briefing, saying her assertion that she wasn't told waterboarding was in use at the time is wrong. "That's 180 degrees different from what the CIA's records show," an intelligence official said. Mr. Zubaydah was waterboarded, which critics say is torture, 83 times during the month before Ms. Pelosi's briefing in September 2002.'

Ms. Pelosi's press conference bordered on the incoherent.  Quite frankly, the old broad needs new tricks, but there she is back at the same old well, which is beginning to show signs of running dry.  She accused the Bush administration, which is out of office by they way, of trying to shift attention away from the real issue.

'So -- so let’s get this straight. The Bush administration has conceived a policy, the CIA comes to the Congress, withholds information about the timing and the use of this subject. They -- we later find out that it had been taking place before they even briefed us about the legal opinions and told us that they were not being used.

This is a tactic, a diversionary tactic to take the spotlight off of those who conceived, developed and implemented these policies, which all of us long opposed.'

It's true that former Vice President Dick Cheney has recently stepped up in defense of Bush administration policies, but he isn't diverting anybody from anything.  Far from it.  When he decided it was time to speak up, he said straight out, putting a wet hanky on Abu Zubaydah's face isn't torture.  I for one, agree with him.  And if it is, so what?  American lives were at stake and American deaths were prevented.  The Bush administration got the information out of him, and they're proud they did.  I am too.  No diversions there.

But this has all caught poor Ms. Pelosi by surprise.  I'd be willing to bet she thought that resuscitating the old torture story was going to be just another routine smear -- a chip-shot Bush-bash, a gimme, an easy nail in the Republican coffin. 

But something wasn't quite right.  Unusually pointed questions coming from reporters -- her own team for the love of god -- were bewildering.  She tried to remind them of the good times, murmuring their special words.  "Imminent threat?" she offered.  It used to work every time.

'So let me say this: Of all of the briefings that I had received, at this same time, they were misinforming me earlier. Now, in September, the same time as the -- as the briefing, they were telling the American people there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and it was an imminent threat to the United States.

I, to the limit of what I could say to my caucus, told them the intelligence does not support the imminent threat that this administration is contending.'

But the magic isn't there anymore.  Where did their love go?  The words "imminent threat" were always like a potion, sweet nothings guaranteed to set press hearts aflutter, so she thought.  Or maybe it was never quite like that.  Maybe it was the prim and proper looking Pelosi who was the one seduced.  It's almost tragic. 

Bush never frightened anybody with wild stories of imminent threat, but saying he did made for a great story.  If only somebody could give it some legs.  Can you help us with our story, Nancy?  Can you push it?  Oh, yes.  Yes.  I can do that.  I love to do that. 

Well, they got their story but now it's old news, and there was never anything to it to begin with.  Let's just go back a few years for a peek at who said what about the "imminent threat" from Iraq.  This is from Ira Sharkansky's Shark Blog, October 21, 2003.  The emphasis below is his, and not all of his links work anymore, but the quotes are accurate.

'Al Gore September 23, 2002

President Bush now asserts that we will take preemptive action even if the threat we perceive is not imminent.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi October 3, 2002

"As the ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Intelligence, I have seen no evidence or intelligence that suggests that Iraq indeed poses an imminent threat to our nation. If the Administration has that information, they have not shared it with the Congress.

(It's fair to assume that if the administration did not share such information with the House Intelligence Committee, it is because the administration was not trying to tell Congress that Iraq posed an imminent threat)

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz December 6, 2002

Some people said [during the Cuban Missile Crisis] that Kennedy should have waited until the threat was imminent. We hear that again today. But we cannot wait to act until the threat is imminent. The notion that we can do so assumes that we will know when the threat is imminent. That wasn't true even when the United States was presented with the very obvious threat of Soviet missiles in Cuba. As President Kennedy said 40 years ago, "We no longer live in a world where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nation's security to constitute maximum peril." If that was true in 1962, facing a threat that was comparatively easy to see, how much more true is it today against threats developed by terrorists who use the freedom of democratic societies to plot and plan in our midst in secret.

Stop and think for a moment. Just when did the attacks of September 11 become imminent? Certainly they were imminent on September 10, although we didn't know it. In fact, the September 11 terrorists established themselves in the United States long before that date - many months or even a couple of years earlier. Anyone who believes that we can wait until we have certain knowledge that attacks are imminent has failed to connect the dots that took us to September 11.

President George W Bush, State of the Union speech January 28, 2003

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

Senator Edward Kennedy January 28, 2003 [in reaction to the State of the Union speech]

[The President] did not make a persuasive case that the threat is imminent and that war is the only alternative

New York Times on the State of the Union, January 29, 2003 [archive only]

The heart of Mr. Bush's argument, however, is that America and the world cannot afford to wait until it is clear that Iraq will attack America, or its allies.

''Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent,'' he said, a clear reference to European nations that argue that Mr. Hussein is contained.

Los Angeles Times January 29, 2003

THE STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS; Bush Calls Iraq Imminent Threat

The above front-page headline in the L.A. Times is the earliest media report that I can find which claims that the administration called Iraq an imminent threat.'

Leave it to the LA Times to be the first to jump on the imminent threat meme, even in the face of all the evidence to the contrary.  Maybe Ms. Pelosi took that as a pledge of press loyalty:  Yes Nancy, we know it's BS but the stakes are so high.  If you run with it we'll back you. 

But that was then and this is now, and the old sweet phrases don't mean that much anymore.  The press can't be depended upon to protect her flank.  Her's is the story that's going to sell the papers, if it's still possible to sell any.  Pelosi has problems.

Posted by Tom Bowler at 01:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack