Friday, May 15, 2009

Pelosi, Torture and Partisan Politics

Dead eye Dick Cheney has been rather talkative these days about the Bush Policy of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.” Of course as one wit commented calling torture “Enhanced Interrogation” is like calling rape “Enhanced Seduction.” So like the Chinese suggested many centuries ago let us call all things by their proper name. Cheney and others are still trying to excuse, legitimize and standardize the use of torture as U.S. policy.

It will be left for another time to analyze why a five time draft dodger has all of a sudden gotten so rough, tough and Jack Bauer on us. Perhaps there is a little overcompensation for missing out on Vietnam? Still the irony of the man who used the deferment process to get out of being an actual warrior vice a arm chair general should be noted.

It is Cheney’s actual performance as part of the National Security apparatus that will be investigated. Mounting evidence point to the possibility that Cheney and thus Bush by extension decided on a policy to torture just after the 9/11 tragedy. Having been blind-sided by non-state actors wielding nothing more advanced than box-cutters the Administration went into full panic mode. Condoleezza Rice has admitted to as much in her public statements.

Thus there is a strong suspicion that Bush and his Administration decided to torture “terrorists” and Al Queda types before they actually had any such suspects in hand. They got their hired guns to reverse engineer the SEERS course to extract the Chinese Communist program of abuse used on our servicemembers during the Korean war. Jesse Ventura, no bleeding heart liberal he, succinctly observed that the U.S. had set up its very own “Hanoi Hilton” in Gitmo and Bagram.

The defense, such as it is, is two fold. First it is the denial that specific procedures are not torture. For the chicken-hawks who inhabit large sections of Republican Party this is much simpler than it should be. Having never had to serve, having never faced the dangers of combat, having never been subjected to the small taste of stress that military basic training subjects one to, they can mock the physical and mental pain inflicted by some of the more “harmless” torture techniques. There is not a servicemember alive who does not understand how enervating going for 72 hours or more without sleep can be. They understand what it is like to work so long fueled only by fear and/or caffeine. They also understand the stresses the body goes under standing stock still for any amount of time. One of the very first thing a recruit learns in boot camp is the little tricks of shifting body weight and body movement while appearing to stand stock still.

But it is in waterboarding that the deniers have made their most suspect defense. We have prosecuted waterboarders in the United States, in Texas, during the governorship of George W. Bush, and convicted them. Waterboarding is a crime because it is torture. It is specifically a war crime that has been prosecuted by the US in the Philippine-American War, the Second World War and in Vietnam. It is crime and it is not “harmless” in any way, shape, or form. When done wrong it can kill its target. It is not “simulated drowning” it is the genuine article as far as the physiology of the human body is concerned. Thus waterboarding, a creation of the Spanish Inquisition, is as much torture as anything else the warped mind of Torquemada came up with.

So let us leave behind those who would argue that the program that Bush and Cheney administered was not torture because it was not sufficiently savage enough. These people are of a type who could excuse flogging suspects with a cat-o-nine-tails given the opportunity. Let us move on to the second defense: that the Democrats were fully briefed on the matter.

At best this is the fallacious argument of Ad Hominem Tu Quoque. Simply put it is the five year old brat’s rejoinder of “you’re one too.” Let us assume that the charge leveled against Pelosi is 100% valid, then what? What does it matter? All it means that Pelosi should be in the dock with Bush and Cheney. Let us assume that Jonathan Turley is absolutely correct and Pelosi was completely derelict in her responsibilities of oversight what difference does that make? The policy still stunk to high heaven and was quite possible a prosecutable war crime. If the facts lead to Pelosi’s culpability in this matter then she should be frog-marched in an orange jump suit to The Hague with all the other Bush enablers.

Of course such a claims of full Democrat compliance and briefing flies in the face with everything we know about how Dick Cheney ran business during his tenor as Vice. Dick Cheney portioned out information like a miser portions out coppers to the hired help. Pelosi could probably sympathize with Oliver Twist in wishing to have a little more doled out to her. Did the CIA actually “lie” to Ms Pelosi or was there a more sinister withholding of information that lead to a significant distortion of what was actually going on?

We already know that the CIA briefing provided to Congress prior to the Iraq War was doubly expurgated. The classified version buried the descent that some in CIA had deep in footnotes or in the latter part of the report. One had to really dig into the minutia to find the suppressed voices of the loyal opposition. The declassified version was even worse; all descent was expurgated in that version. Thus was the declassified version a “lie” or a heavily edited report deeply skewed in fun house mirror way to reflect the political agenda of the Executive Branch? More to the point, is there really a difference as far as the final result?

We have no idea of what kind of briefing Pelosi and others got from the Dark Lord of the Sith or his minions in the CIA. Such briefings are super-secret and can not be reveled. We do know that even Republican stalwart Lindsey Graham is contradicting the CIA’s story of who was briefed and when. The most charitable interpretation that one can give is that this is an institutional fight between Congress and the Executive. At worst this is evidence of a program of deliberate deception perpetrated by the CIA to hoodwink Congress about policy, procedures and tactics.

Could the Congress have pressed its prerogative of oversight much harder as Mr. Turley would wish? Of course they could have and should have. The responsibility of serious Congressional oversight has been abandoned since at best the Clinton Administration and one could argue since Watergate. Congress has abdicated large swaths of its responsibility for a very long time. This abandonment has become institutionalized because it provides an advantage to the legislative branch exclusively. More exactly it has become institutionalized in at least two branches of the government. Both the executive and the Congress benefit from the lack of accountability. The Executive gets to do pretty much what ever it pleases. Case in point is the eight year train-wreck of the Bush Administration (plus the excesses of Ronald Regan and Bush Sr. that were never accounted for.) When the whole policy of the Executive goes down in flames Congress can rightly claim that they were not involved. Thus Congress gets to take credit for the executive’s successes and avoid the responsibilities of the failures of that very same executive. Heads I win, Tails you loose.

No one, not Mr. Turley nor John Dean who are actually aware of the institutional shortcomings of the Congress can provide any real answers to how to fix the problem. Turley can point how Pelosi let Bush et al use her for a rug, but he has no real solution for the problem other than more intestinal fortitude from Congressional leaders. The problem is that such bravery is more often than not punished inside the beltway. Go along to get along is the Mantra of D.C. Pelosi probably knew that Dead Eye Dick was being less than forthcoming with information but what were her real options? We are not talking the Civics Class preferences of Mr. Turley; we are discussing the realities of what the Legislature is today.

Congressional Oversight has decayed into an almost vestigial organ. Unfortunately Mr. Turley is expecting the Leader of the House to perform feats of heavy lifting that are not possible at this time. The institutional muscles have so atrophied that the Congress could not even think of lifting the type of burden that the founders planed for it in the beginning. It is like expecting a neglected, oil-burning car with a blown out differential, body rot and a family of rats living in the wiring to negotiate the hairpin curves it once tackled in heyday. Even worse many in Congress are more than happy to have that car continue to rot in the back yard.

Pelosi may have infuriated the liberal/progressive wing of her party by putting impeachment off the table but she also may have been conceding to political reality. The only way she could become leader of the House, the only way she could get any type of real work done was do concede to Bush’s power grab. She really did not have a majority in House with all the Blue Dogs so why fight a loosing battle?

The calculation today is a little different. With the wipe-out of 2008 there are enough Democrats in House to not worry about the DINOs (Democrats In Name Only) in the caucus. Unfortunately, there are still far too many “moderate” Democrats (exiled Rockefeller Republicans / Corporate sell outs) in the Senate to make any type of progressive reform difficult. Enter Dead Eye Dick Cheney. In his narrow-minded campaign to institutionalize the Bush-Cheney torture regime he is irritating Pelosi no end. She is steaming mad and fighting back. Her ego is on the line. And the cardinal rule in D.C. is you never rub a powerful politician’s ego the wrong way without serious consequences.

Cheney never got that memo, which is why he got sacked in the Ford Administration. He was able to avoid the consequences of his abrasive personality while V.P. because he had incurious George backing him up. He got to be a grade “A” jerk because he had almost limitless power. Now that the he is out of office he is still is acting like the bully he was in power and making people with real power furious. His back-stabbing of his former mentor, George W. Bush is not helping him one bit either. The Bush Family both Poppy and Jr. are well know for their harsh treatment of those who are disloyal to it.

Dick Cheney may just be the man who makes Congress live up to its oversight responsibilities. Not because it is the right thing to do or because that it’s what the founders expected of the legislature but because Dick Cheney crossed the wrong woman. We might be seeing the transformation of Ms. Pelosi into Xena the warrior princess. Aii!!
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