Is "torture" a bipartisan scandal?
The torture debate just got more torturous. Calls from prominent Democrats to investigate members of the Bush administration for authorizing torture are being answered with calls to investigate prominent Democrats who may have been briefed about "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has been one of the most prominent officials calling for a "truth and reconciliation commission" to probe alleged Bush administration misdeeds in the course of waging the war on terrorism after 9/11.
Pelosi claims she didn’t know the CIA was using waterboarding to interrogate terrorist detainees when she was the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee in 2002 and 2003. But new reports suggest that Pelosi and her staff had been briefed at length. Pelosi now claims that the CIA and Bush administration misled her about the initial use of torture. And even if she had known, she couldn’t voice any objections because the briefings she received from the CIA were classified.
Does Pelosi’s ducking and weaving make the torture controversy a bipartisan scandal? Is it time for an independent, nonpartisan investigation? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, weigh in.
Nancy Pelosi sought to use allegations of torture as a partisan cudgel against Republicans. But she knew very well what the CIA was up to. And so did her colleagues in the Democratic congressional leadership. Not only did they know and approve of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" that have since been redefined as torture, they actually questioned whether those techniques went far enough.
And legitimately so. At the time, most everyone expected "the other shoe to drop" after the deadly attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The anthrax attacks in the months following 9/11 only heightened the fear of more terrorist strikes. Republican and Democratic elected officials believed, not unreasonably, that the government needed wide latitude to preempt future terrorist threats. And as a political matter, neither party wanted to be portrayed by the other as "soft on terrorism."
Did the United States go too far? Did Congress give too much leeway to the president? Yes, probably on both counts.
That’s easy to say in retrospect, of course. Now that the Democrats control the executive and legislative branches, they’ve given into the temptation to exact retribution on their Republican opponents. Let’s have investigations and, if necessary, prosecutions, they say. Disbar the lawyers who wrote the memos outlining the legal justifications for waterboarding! Charge them all with war crimes! Well, what comes around goes around. Pelosi knew. If Bush administration officials need to pay a price for erring on the farthest, darkest side of caution, then so does she.
Nancy Pelosi’s bobbing and weaving about what she knew and when proves one thing: Torture isn’t — and shouldn’t be — a partisan political issue.
It wasn’t so long ago that there was a bipartisan consensus that torture was wrong. It was President Ronald Reagan, after all, who signed the U.N. Convention on Torture, which prohibited abuse of prisoners under all circumstances. And though liberals have been exceptionally vocal in their opposition to waterboarding , walling and all the other techniques used against terror suspects, they have been joined by a number of conservatives — including, it must be noted, Sen. John McCain.
Somehow, though, the 24-hour news cycle turned torture into just another political football — like taxes or stimulus spending — with the usual suspects lining up on the usual sides: Democrats against Republicans, MSNBC against Fox News, The Nation against National Review. It’s an easy way to frame the debates, but also a lazy one.
The torture debate isn’t about politics: It’s about legal and illegal, right versus wrong. The people who advocated and enabled torture are on the wrong side of those questions — and it doesn’t matter which party they belong to.
The growing evidence of Nancy Pelosi’s acquiescence to torture might, perversely, be a good thing. It takes torture off the table as a "wedge issue" to be used as a cudgel against one’s political opponents and returns it to a far more serious realm: A serious examination of who Americans are and what values we truly embrace in the face of danger. Those are questions for all of us, not just the politicians.
(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis blog daily at http://www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and http://politics.pwblogs.com/.)