May 17, 2009

Myopia Inside the Beltway

After the American Century

There is a myopia inside the Beltway around Washington, which leads people to misjudge the importance of issues. The most recent example is the controversy about whether the CIA properly briefed Nancy Pelosi or not back in 2002, about their use of torture. In the twisted logic of Washington and its journalists, the BIG QUESTION now is whether or not Pelosi knew about the torture. This is about as absurd as US politics gets, since the Democrats were not in control of Congress at the time, and since anyone who has attended meetings knows, it is possible to slip all kinds of things into a meeting in such a way that their true import is lost in the shuffle.

The real issues, of course, is not how much the CIA told opposition leaders in 2002. Rather, it is that the CIA, at the urging of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, pursued a policy of torture that contravenes the American Constitution. For those who have forgotten, the Bill of Rights prohibts "cruel and unusual punishments." Thomas Jefferson would not have approved of waterboarding.

Also note that Amendment 5 declares that no person "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." This is not a point of debate, it is the law. Bush, Cheney, and the CIA broke that law, repeatedly. Quite literally the whole world knows about the torture and it has severely damaged the reputation of the United States. The election of Barack Obama was in part a repudiation of the policy of torture and a demand for a return to the rule of law.

Of course it would be convenient for the Republicans to just move on and try to forget these illegalities. This being difficult, if not impossible, they are now trying to implicate Nancy Pelosi in their own crimes. The Republicans would like to spread the guilt around and divide the Democrats. To some extent this seems to be working, and now Obama's appointment as head of the CIA is disputing with Pelosi about what she knew and when. This is all beside the point. Pelosi did not initiate the torture policy, nor did she have the power to stop it, nor could she have revealed CIA secret briefings to the press, especially in the nervous year after the 9/11 attacks.

The Bush Administration remains responsible for the introduction and the use of torture, a barbaric practice that not only is illegal, but that produces "confessions" of dubious value. Recall that during the Counter Reformation the Inquisition also used torture, in a holy cause of course, and dragged amazing revelations out of its victims: they were in league with the devil, practiced witchcraft, communed with evil spirits, and committed all manner of foul deeds. Torture a man enough and he may confess to almost anything.

The whole Pelosi affair would just be silly, if the Obama Administration had no important legislation to pass.