Tortured Rationalizations

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In an opinion piece, the Wall Street Journal convincingly argues that top Democrats in Congress have been speaking out of both sides of their mouths in criticizing Bush Administration policy on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs), also known as torture.

These days, Speaker Pelosi insists she heard and saw no evil. “We were not — I repeat — were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used,” she told reporters late last month. “What they did tell us is that they had . . . the Office of Legal Counsel opinions [and] that they could be used, but not that they would.”…Ms. Pelosi’s denials are…difficult to square with a chronology of 40 CIA briefings to Congressional Members compiled by the CIA and released this week by Director Leon Panetta. For the September 4, 2002 meeting, the CIA’s summary of the discussion reads: “Briefing on EITs including use of EITs on Abu Zubaydah, background on authorities, and a description of the particular EITs that had been employed.”

Ditto in the Senate:

…in October 2008…[Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Jay] Rockefeller disclaimed any knowledge of the opinions. “If White House documents exist that set the policy for the use of coercive techniques such as waterboarding, those documents have been kept from the committee,” said Mr. Rockefeller. “That is unacceptable, and represents the latest example of the Bush Administration withholding critical information from Congress and the American people in an attempt to limit our oversight of sensitive intelligence collection activities.”

Amusingly, or almost, Senator Rockefeller’s denial is flatly contradicted by his own report on the subject released last month, which notes that “On May 19, 2008, the Department of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency provided the Committee with access to all opinions and a number of other documents prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel . . . concerning the legality of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. Five of these documents provided addressed the use of waterboarding.”

What all this cries out for is a detailed journalistic investigation of the congressional briefing process. Exactly what do lawmakers get told, who gets told, how much detail are they provided, is the information provided in such a graphic way that these non-experts can clearly understand the nature of the activity and how horrific it is? It is a common bureaucratic technique to provide one’s supervisors with briefings that do not lead them to condemn one’s activities. That’s really the issue here: were lawmakers given the same view of these reprehensible methods that the public is now getting? If so, then the elected representatives may simply be ducking for cover because of public outrage. If no, and they were in fact snookered, then we need to know more about the defects in the so-called congressional oversight process.

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