In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), 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, 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. The CIA last week admitted that videotape of an interrogation of one of the waterboarded detainees was destroyed in 2005 against the advice of Justice Department and White House officials, provoking allegations that its actions were illegal and the destruction was a coverup.
Yet long before "waterboarding" entered the public discourse, the CIA gave key legislative overseers about 30 private briefings, some of which included descriptions of that technique and other harsh interrogation methods, according to interviews with multiple U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge.
With one known exception, no formal objections were raised by the lawmakers briefed about the harsh methods during the two years in which waterboarding was employed, from 2002 to 2003, said Democrats and Republicans with direct knowledge of the matter. ...
This information was almost certainly leaked to the Post by intelligence officials who are highly irritated -- understandably so -- from watching the manipulative spectacle whereby these Democrats now prance around as outraged victims of policies to which they deliberately acquiesced, when they weren't fully supporting them. ...
Jane Harman was the "one known exception," although her "objection" was pathetically weak.
John Aravosis thinks the leaker(s) were motivated by a desire to embarrass Pelosi:
t's pretty clear that either one of the Republican members of Congress at the meeting, or the CIA, decided to leak what happened at a super-classified post-9/11 briefing in order to embarrass Pelosi and the Democrats. And I don't doubt for a minute that Bush approved the leak, as he always does.
It's also clear that had Pelosi raised any private objections during the meeting - remember, it took place in the first year after September 11 - Bush and the Republicans would have leaked that fact to the public (like they just did) and destroyed her career and marked her publicly as a traitor. No member of Congress, no American, could have spoken up about anything in the months after September 11 and survived. It's patently unfair to suggest that somehow because Pelosi didn't object then that she doesn't have the right to object now.
I don't see why it's "unfair." It's not as if Pelosi and the other Democrats are objecting now because they have gotten new information about what waterboarding is and does. It's not as if Pelosi was somehow "misinformed" about waterboarding in such a way that could lead her to believe it wasn't torture. She was briefed -- fully, accurately, and in detail -- about waterboarding and, according to the WaPo article, a number of other "harsh interrogation techniques" used on detainees. And she approved it.
I disagree strongly with John's take on this. If it's unreasonable to expect Democrats to stand up to illegal, immoral government acts because Republicans will respond like the Huns that they are, then Democrats should not be in Congress representing the American people.
Glenn speaks to this point as well:
I wish none of this were true. I wish we had a genuine, vibrant opposition party. It would be indescribably beneficial if the rare, isolated and usually marginalized voices within the Democratic Party (and the even rarer and more marginalized voices in the GOP) were predominant. But they just aren't. That's just a fact that can't be ignored. The Democratic Party in Congress is largely controlled and led by those who have enabled and affirmatively supported the worst aspects of the Bush foreign policy and the most severe abuses of our country's political values.
And efforts to apologize for what these Congressional Democrats have done by claiming that they "were virtually helpless to respond," or suggesting that knowingly inconsequential expressions of private protest are somehow noble, are counter-productive. Why excuse or apologize for the profound failure of those who seek leadership positions on the Intelligence Committee -- who, after all, are being briefed precisely because they are expected to act when they learn of illegal behavior -- when they abdicate their responsibilities? That only encourages such malfeasance to continue.
Powerful Committee members have all sorts of options for stopping such lawbreaking. They chose not to avail those options, either out of fear, indifference and -- apparently in many cases -- because they supported the lawbreaking. The solution is to work to replace those who have done that with those who won't. Torture methods aren't any less reprehensible when endorsed by Democrats.
There is an old Yiddish expression -- "a shonde fur de goyim" -- which means, literally, a disgrace for non-Jews. The more idiomatic, underlying meaning is: a Jew who gives non-Jews an opportunity for mockery or hostility toward Jews in general by acting in a disgraceful way where gentiles can see it.
With slight modification, that expression can very aptly be used to describe Democrats in Congress.