Belmont Club

She said, he said

Nancy Pelosi claims she was misled by the CIA when they briefed her on interrogation methods.

At a somewhat chaotic news conference, the speaker  — who used to be the leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee — turned her fire on the CIA itself. Previously she said she had been briefed in 2002 that waterboarding and other controversial methods had been approved but not that they had been used. Now she says the agency misled her by explicitly informing her that those methods had not been employed.

The news came as the CIA rejected a request by former Vice President Cheney “to declassify records of abusive interrogations of suspected terrorists, a spokesman for the spy agency said Thursday. In a written statement, CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said the two documents Cheney requested are the subject of two pending lawsuits seeking the release of documents related to the interrogation program and cannot be declassified.” The Weekly Standard has more detail.

“In researching the information in question, we have discovered that it is currently the subject of pending FOIA litigation (Bloche v. Department of Defense, Amnesty International v. Central Intelligence Agency). Therefore, the document is excluded from Mandatory Declassification Review,” Nelson wrote in the letter to the National Archives, the agency responsible for handling Cheney’s request. …

Initially, Obama administration officials seemed open to releasing the Cheney memos. … Holder said he had not seen the documents. But added: “It is certainly the intention of this administration not to play hide and seek or not to release certain things in a way that is not consistent with other things. It is not our intention to try to advance a political agenda or to hide things from the American people.”

But with the rise in political interest over the subject, the stakes have gone up considerably. It’s not just national security anymore. Careers are at stake. The Weekly Standard notices that phrases are already being trimmed at the edges.

In a letter to his intelligence community colleagues sent to explain the release of the OLC memos, Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, wrote: “High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qaeda organization that was attacking this country.” But when Blair’s office released parts of his letter as a public statement on the subject, that sentence was cut. Blair also noted that members of Congress had been briefed on the methods, but that section was also cut from the public statement.

(Blair’s office claimed that the assessments were cut for space — an odd explanation since such statements are released on the internet or over email. And, in a subsequent clean-up statement, said he supports Obama’s position because it might have been possible to extract that valuable information using other techniques.)

Although Obama decided yesterday to block the public release of photos depicting prisoner abuse, he has promised to run the most transparent administration in history. The day after he took office, Obama issued a memorandum for executive branch departments and agencies.

John Kerry recently wrote in a  CNN op-ed that “torture elicits lies — not just from those experiencing it, but from those who seek to conceal it. After years of Orwellian denials and legalistic parsing, what a relief it was to hear our new attorney general-designee finally acknowledge what we know to be true: that yes, ‘waterboarding is torture.’ As we move forward, President Obama is wise to ‘reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals’ — but the American people should know that closing a prison conceived outside the rule of law will not be easy.”

Kerry’s statement may be part of the biggest lie of all. The reason why Nancy Pelosi and now Barack Obama are caught up in having to both simultaneously denounce coercive interrogation and yet continue it in whatever way they can hide it — by rendition, denial, classification, legal parsing; by hearing things they didn’t hear and winking when there was a mote their eye  — is that there is often a choice “between our safety and ideals.” Cheney knows it and wants the documents declassified to show it. The right approach would have been to make the choice. In many cases the public should have chosen, through their officials, to have given up some degree of public safety to preserve the national ideals and paid the price that upholding morals has always exacted. At other times, the public may have elected to do what it felt was necessary and taken the responsibility for it; to be praised or condemned as posterity judged, just as Sherman, Truman, Curtis Le May, and Franklin Roosevelt are now weighed in the balance.

But they wanted to have it both ways. Now both Pelosi and Obama are caught between the political necessity of preventing another 9/11 and losing their jobs or explaining what might have to be done and risk losing their jobs. Kerry was right: “torture elicits lies.” But not in the way he meant.

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