Madame Speaker, Have You No Decency?

This exchange between Senator Lamar Alexander and Attorney General Eric Holder was revealing:

ALEXANDER: If you're going to investigate the lawyers whose opinion was asked about whether this is legal or not, I would assume you could also go to the people who created the techniques, the officials who approved them, and the officials in Congress who knew about them and may have encouraged them.

HOLDER: Hypothetically that might be true, I don't know. What I want to do is look at, in a very concrete way, what that OPR report says and get a better sense from that report about what it says about the interaction of those lawyers with people in the administration and see from there whether further action is warranted.

Democrats now complain that Republicans who call for inclusion of Pelosi and other lawmakers in any "truth" probe are "playing politics with national security." Well, that's rich.

The contretemps is entirely one of the Democrats' own making. The decision to criminalize and potentially prosecute Bush administration officials is a unique political witch hunt, heretofore never attempted by any party or administration. By raising the issue of the Democrats' involvement and lack of objection to the enhanced interrogation policies, Republicans are making clear just how partisan an affair this is. They are also making clear how lacking in merit is the underlying premise of the accusers that, of course, these methods had to be torture because everyone would have concluded that their use "shocked the conscience." Well, except for those lawmakers who attended some 40 briefings.

It is far from certain where this is all leading. Democrats might persist in their ongoing inquiries, currently being held out of public view, but resist any and all calls to include congressmen and senators within the inquiry. A "just our version of the truth" doesn't seem like a formula likely to engender public confidence. The controversy already swirling over Pelosi's involvement will only intensify as Republicans rush to claim a cover-up is now underway to conceal the Democrats' involvement.

Another option is to pursue hearings, letting the chips fall where they may. That could well provide ample ammunition to Pelosi's critics on the Left and Right to argue that she has lied about her involvement and deserves some sort of rebuke, if not loss of her gavel. Well, that seems a long shot given Pelosi's iron grip on the House.

Or this might all quietly fade into the political ether. The Justice Department probe of Bush administration lawyers Bybee and Yoo could conclude with no recommendation for further action. And the congressional hearings would wrap up with some mumbling about how awfully the Bush administration behaved in employing enhanced interrogation techniques to prevent further attacks on Americans. (Well, they would spin it more delicately than that).

But there is no easy escape from the corner in which Democrats now find themselves. What was intended as a free swing at the Bush administration and one more sop to the leftwing of the Democratic Party has become a radioactive game for those who started it. But this should come as no surprise. History tells us that congressional bullies who attempt to use the awesome power of their office as a political weapon are often exposed and disgraced.

June 9 is the 45th anniversary of that memorable occasion when Army lawyer Joesph Welch turned the table on Sen. Joe McCarthy, asking, "Senator, may we not drop this?... You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

History has long forgotten the name of the young Army lawyer whose reputation McCarthy was besmirching (Fred Fisher), but McCarthy's has become fixed in our collective memories as the epitome of an unprincipled and lawless bully. It remains an open question whether Pelosi's name and those of other Democratic inquisitors will take on a similar connotation.