« That Dark Place | Main | The Caine Mutiny »

April 28, 2009

Memory and Accountability

Nancy Pelosi wants to uphold the rule of law and ensure those who authorized "torture" are held accountable. Fantastic. I say we begin with her:

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."

Isn't it amazing how our view of things changes in hindsight. Or does it only change once the press finally begin to pay attention?

And wasn't it the press who claimed the only way to avoid repeating our mistakes was to learn from them?

Many CIA officers, including Deputy Director for Operations Pavitt, have criticized policymakers for not giving the CIA authorities to conduct effective operations against Bin Ladin. This issue manifests itself in a debate about the scope of the covert actions in Afghanistan authorized by President Clinton. NSC staff and CIA officials differ starkly here.

Senior NSC staff members told us they believed the president’s intent was clear: he wanted Bin Ladin dead. On successive occasions, President Clinton issued authorities instructing the CIA to use its proxies to capture or assault Bin Ladin and his lieutenants in operations in which they might be killed. The instructions, except in one defined contingency, were to capture Bin Ladin if possible.
Senior legal advisers in the Clinton administration agreed that, under the law of armed conflict, killing a person who posed an imminent threat to the United States was an act of self-defense, not an assassination. As former National Security Adviser Berger explained, if we wanted to kill Bin Ladin with cruise missiles, why would we not want to kill him with covert action? Clarke’s recollection is the same.

But if the policymakers believed their intent was clear, every CIA official interviewed on this topic by the Commission, from DCI Tenet to the official who actually briefed the agents in the field, told us they heard a different message. What the United States would let the military do is quite different, Tenet said, from the rules that govern covert action by the CIA. CIA senior managers, operators, and lawyers uniformly said that they read the relevant authorities signed by President Clinton as instructing them to try to capture Bin Ladin, except in the defined contingency. They believed that the only acceptable context for killing Bin Ladin was a credible capture operation.

“We always talked about how much easier it would have been to kill him,” a former chief of the UBL Station said. Working-level CIA officers said they were frustrated by what they saw as the policy restraints of having to instruct their assets to mount a capture operation. When Northern Alliance leader Massoud was briefed on the carefully worded instructions for him, the briefer recalls that Massoud laughed and said, “You Americans are crazy. You guys never change.”

Truer words have never been spoken. We never learn, no matter how many classified documents are leaked to the media:

We knew that, like almost everything else in Washington, the program would eventually be leaked and our Agency and its people would be inaccurately portrayed in the worst possible light."

Those words were written by former CIA director George Tenet. Two years ago, in his book "At the Center of the Storm," Tenet predicted the controversy that has now engulfed Washington. The new revelations regarding the agency's enhanced interrogation techniques has captured the nation's attention with the Obama administration's release of the Bush Justice Department's secret memos on interrogation.

Near the end of the Korean War, I was an interrogator in the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps, trained to extract information from the targets of our investigations by developing relationships with them. I was taught that using force resulted in questionable intelligence.

But decades later, I was in Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, and I saw the anxiety that overtook the city after the loss of 3,000 lives in the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon. Friends and colleagues spoke openly of their fears of another attack and purchased gas masks and duct tape to secure their homes. Imagine the atmosphere in the White House, where, one month earlier, the president had received a CIA briefing entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." FBI Director Robert Mueller, new on the job, told Post reporters and editors at a luncheon several weeks after the attacks that there may be as many as 100 al-Qaeda cells inside this country.

In October 2001, I wrote that torture talk was in the air, as was the possibility of sending suspects to countries where such interrogation tactics are used. The FBI typically shies away from harsh interrogations because the results cannot be used in court. But the CIA, which was under fire at the time for having failed to prevent the attacks, was under no such constraint.

Now, more than seven years after al-Qaeda's assault on the United States, memories of the fear and pandemonium in Washington have faded, replaced by heated debates over torture, prosecutions and truth commissions. Tenet could write with confidence that the inevitable disclosure of the CIA's program would generate such reactions in Congress and among the public because it has happened to the CIA many times before -- each with devastating effects on the agency.

Will this time be different? Maybe. President Obama went out of his way last week to reassure CIA personnel that he opposes prosecution of agency officers who carried out the techniques within the four corners of the legal opinions. But Congress and human rights groups are pushing for investigations that will inevitably shine the spotlight on CIA leaders and operatives who ran the programs, along with the White House and Justice Department officials who authorized them.

Note the author of this article. It's enough to make baby Jesus cry.

Posted by Cassandra at April 28, 2009 08:31 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


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.

Nup. The briefing never happened, she wasn't there anyway, you didn't see her, you can't prove a thing, that picture was PhotoShopped, and the reporters are all lying.


Posted by: BillT at April 28, 2009 10:30 AM

The mainstream media wouldn’t do it. So we are trying to get your important messages to the American people. 18 This post is a suggested read at, http://aresay.blogspot.com/

Posted by: Aresay at April 28, 2009 10:36 AM

In defense of Speaker Pelosi, hasn't everyone forgotten, at one time or another, what happenned last night and with whom?

Posted by: Uncle Teddy at April 28, 2009 11:17 AM

You'd have to be as permanently drunk as Uncle Teddy to buy that excuse for La Pelosi's 'disremembering'!

But La Pelosi's behavior in this regard almost makes one pull up the "double coyote ugly" joke.
Her behavior is shameful.

Posted by: Mike Myers at April 28, 2009 11:23 AM

I don't know, but that's kind of the nature of forgetfulness, isn't it.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 28, 2009 11:24 AM

Bella Pelosi... what a joke.

Doesn't she think that people take notes on incredibly important national security meetings?

She will be revealed to be a liar..at which point she will fall back on "I just forgot." Man... almost makes one wish for the Clinton years.

Posted by: MAS1916 at April 28, 2009 11:25 AM

I posit that Pelosi knew exactly what was being said. With an eye to the 2006 elections that would give the liberals a majority she was catering to the current real public concerns about another attack. She also knew that the liberals were being given a hot topic to turn back on Bush for the 2008 Presidential election.

Remember the mantra "Bush lied, people died?" It was predictable that it would carry-over to programs Pelosi, et al, supported when it was convenient then play the victim card when called on it in the future. It also helps that Pelosi believes she can count on a compliant media in the tank for all things Obama.

Pelosi reminds me of the governor, Charles Durning, in "Best Little Whorehouse In Texas"

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don't-
I've come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,
cut a little swathe and lead the people on."

It should have been called "The Best Little Whorehouse In Washington, D.C.

Posted by: vet66 at April 28, 2009 11:39 AM

Nancy Pelosi is popular this morning in the blogosphere :)

This Little Piggy Went to Market This Little Piggy Stayed Home This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef….

Market Trend Not Going Unnoticed.

Whatcha Gonna Do Mama Now That The Roast Beefs Gone?


Posted by: Ree at April 28, 2009 11:49 AM

It should have been called "The Best Little Whorehouse In Washington, D.C.


Posted by: BillT at April 28, 2009 01:23 PM

Lipstick on pigs...

Posted by: Manchurian-bubba-hun at April 28, 2009 01:35 PM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 04/28/2009 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M at April 28, 2009 03:04 PM

The "best" part of this for the donks is that they don't actually have to have hearings (because they know what will come out if they do), they can just let it continue to be 'tried' in the papers, on the tv 'news', on the sunday morning talk shows, etc. All the gain, none of the pain. I guess if they could Gorelick the panel by, say, putting Pelosi on the 'independent, nonpartisan' panel, then they might do it.

Posted by: Falze at April 28, 2009 04:59 PM

Again, bingo. You guys are on fire today. Maybe you should be writing my posts!

Posted by: Princess Leia in a Bipartisan Bikini at April 28, 2009 05:09 PM

Remember Jamie GORElick on the 9/11 commission before she recused herself for conflict of interest? She went on to fame and fortune at Fannie Mae. Best known for reinforcing the "Gorelick Wall" between CIA and FBI between 1993 and 2001.

I'm pretty certain she and Reno weren't going to hinder Louis Freeh during his investigation of Clinton and Gore and their foreign fundraising activities. Didn't we learn anything from that fiasco that carried over into 2008?

Posted by: vet66 at April 28, 2009 05:16 PM

Falze; thanks for jogging my memory!

What is a bi-partisan bikini? Blue on top and red on the bottom?

Posted by: vet66 at April 28, 2009 05:20 PM

What is a bi-partisan bikini?

I don't know. Neither does anyone else, but it leaves everyone vaguely unsatisfied... :p

Posted by: Princess Leia in a Bipartisan Bikini at April 28, 2009 05:25 PM

Well it's gonna end my involvement with power tools today... =;^}

Posted by: Manchurian-bubba-hun at April 28, 2009 05:44 PM

What is a bi-partisan bikini?

The bold promise of revealing transparency followed by the harsh reality of a massive coverup...

Posted by: BillT at April 28, 2009 08:13 PM


Posted by: Princess Leia in a Bipartisan Bikini at April 28, 2009 08:35 PM

I was thinking it was more akin to barbed wire:
surrounds the property without spoiling the view...


Posted by: DL Sly at April 28, 2009 09:10 PM

Oh. Sorta like an electric blue thong, then.

Posted by: BillT at April 29, 2009 08:08 AM