December 9, 2007

CONGRESSIONAL DEMOCRATS’ flip-flop on waterboarding:

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. . . .

“In fairness, the environment was different then because we were closer to Sept. 11 and people were still in a panic,” said one U.S. official present during the early briefings. “But there was no objecting, no hand-wringing. The attitude was, ‘We don’t care what you do to those guys as long as you get the information you need to protect the American people.’ “

Lots of people who were talking tough back then subsequently changed their tunes — out of either a sudden flowering of scruples or an unprincipled desire to go after the Bush Administration with any weapon that came to hand. But, you know, if you’re going to say “it was different back then,” it really has to be more than just an all-purpose excuse for politicians. It’s also a reason not to hang people out to dry for doing what politicians, and the public, wanted back then, when things were so “different.” Your call, but Jules Crittenden notes: “Next thing you know, someone’s going to say the Clinton co-presidency thought Saddam had a nuclear program and backed regime change.”

Yeah, and start showing videos like this. Unfair!

UPDATE: Reader Joseph Beaulieu has a difficult question for Pelosi, et al., on waterboarding: “If it was an acceptable practice five years ago, when the world was a more dangerous place, then what has happened in the past five years to make the world a less dangerous place where such harsh methods are no longer necessary?”

MORE: Dean Esmay: “Not a word of this surprises me.”