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Pelosi the Enabler

Posted on May 12, 2009
Cheney, Bush and Pelosi
White House / David Bohrer

Vader, Decider, Enabler?: Former Vice President Dick Cheney and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applaud former President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address on Jan. 23, 2007.

By Robert Scheer

Nancy Pelosi is no Dick Cheney, nor a George W. Bush. She was neither the author of a systematic policy of torture nor has she been, like Cheney and most top Republicans in Congress, an enduring apologist for its practice. It is a nonsensical distraction to place her failure to speak out courageously as a critic of the Bush policies on the same level as those who engineered one of the most shameful debacles in U.S. history.

But what she, and anyone else who went along with this evil, as lackadaisically as she now claims, should be confronted with are the serious implications of their passive acquiescence. Why did she not speak up, or if it were a matter of a lack of reliable information, demand an accounting from the executive branch, as befits a leader of the loyal opposition in Congress?

If the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and later House Democratic leader, lacked the authority to publicly question a policy of torture, then how can we condemn, indeed imprison, ordinary soldiers who thought it their duty to follow orders? 

Even though Abu Zubaydah had been waterboarded 83 times before the September 2002 briefing of Pelosi, she now claims she was told only that the practice might be used and that it had been approved by the Bush Justice Department as legal. Wasn’t that approval in itself sufficiently alarming to justify a strong and public dissent? Certainly that would have been the appropriate response when Pelosi aide Michael Sheehy, along with Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., were informed by the CIA in no uncertain terms five months later that Zubaydah had been subjected to specific “enhanced” methods including waterboarding. Pelosi admits to possessing that information, but according to one of her aides quoted in Politico, after Harman’s letter questioning the practice received “no response” from the CIA, “there was nothing more that could be done.”

Why not? Does the CIA or the White House that directs its activities stand above the law without any congressional restraint, as mandated by the U. S. Constitution that Pelosi has sworn to uphold? 

Should the members of the 9/11 Presidential Commission not have been informed that two of the “key witnesses” upon whom their report was based had provided the information critical to the report’s conclusions only after being waterboarded a total of 266 times? On Page 146 of that report, there appears a boxed disclaimer that even the commissioners, possessed of high security clearances, were not allowed to meet, let alone cross-examine, the witnesses or even talk with those who did the interrogations. 

As the presidential commissioners conceded in their report, “We submitted questions for use in the interrogations, but had no control over whether, when or how questions of particular interest would be asked. Nor were we allowed to talk to the interrogators so that we could better judge the credibility of the detainees and clarify ambiguities in the reporting.”

In short, the basic narrative of the origins and conduct of the 9/11 attack that so fundamentally perverted American politics relied on cherry-picked information that the White House and its operative in the field chose to release to the commission. As a result, we the public still know nothing of certainty about the financing of the terrorist organization emanating from Saudi Arabia and the UAE or the logistical support supplied to the Taliban and al-Qaida by agencies of the government of Pakistan.

What the public was offered was not an unvarnished look at the available evidence concerning the attack but rather a fear campaign justifying an undifferentiated and illogically constructed international war on terror. As Steve Elmendorf, chief of staff to Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., the Democratic leader following 9/11, put it: “You have to remember, in the 2002 period, the whole atmospherics, it was all about scaring people every day.”

That fear-mongering drove a majority of Democrats to support the president in his invasion of Iraq, the one Arab nation where al-Qaida had been most brutally oppressed by its sworn enemy, Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack. The “key witnesses” affirmed that reality even after being subjected to torture, which would have proven deeply embarrassing to the Bush administration were it revealed in open court proceedings.

By acquiescing to the cover-up of unpleasant truths in the treatment of prisoners, Pelosi contributed to the betrayal of the ideal of public accountability that is the bedrock of our system of governance, which Congress is charged with protecting.


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By RdV, May 13, 2009 at 4:57 am Link to this comment

ardee: Concerning silence—the Good Germans claimed they didn’t know about the camps.
  Pelosi knew the Bush administration was trying to link Saddam and 911—we all knew it was a crock. It was obvious they were fear-mongering. The cause for the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a fraud-yet Pelosi gave it credibility through her cowardly silence.

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By Carol, May 13, 2009 at 4:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why are they trying to implicate Pelosi in something if they weren’t guilty of anything?  This to me is the most telling thing.  I heard Cheney had his own “hit squad”; it’s possible Pelosi was threatened.  Paul Wellstone was killed.

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By RdV, May 13, 2009 at 4:42 am Link to this comment

The DLC brand of corporate “New Democrat” has no moral compass or particular platform. They go where they think the votes are—because in redefining the party they abandoned the party’s purpose becoming moderate Republicans to curry favor from increasingly powerful deregulated Global corporations. This is the blowback from Clinton’s sell-out triangulation strategy—truly what branded him as a whore. You have to stand for something and stand up for it—even when it is unpopular—because tomorrow what you sold your soul out for is bound to become a ball and chain.

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By ardee, May 13, 2009 at 3:49 am Link to this comment

Purple Girl raises the question of action by the Judicial Branch and this link (from 2006) discusses that very subject:

Of course, in order to involve the judicial system one first needs a lawsuit, and a whistleblower.

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By Purple Girl, May 13, 2009 at 3:06 am Link to this comment

Can Find a Guy in a Spider hole in a sea of sand but can’t locate a 6 ft Dialysis patient in nearly 8 yrs?
Funny McCain seems to be still keeping his sure fire ideas to himself.Perhaps Biny’s Palace is nicknamed Hell and Johnny boy stops at the gates to remove his shoes before going in for Dinner & Drinks.God know Binny owes people like McCain and his group a huge debt for funding him against the Russsians and helping pad his resume and ranks.
As fro Pelosi, I’m not a fan since she took impeachment off the table- “Caver”, No “paver’- so prosecute her too if need be. But let’s remember she ismerely an accomplice after the fact. Was legal barred from talking freely about what she heard about Classified information in those briefings. Hell Cheney admitted W only knew ‘Basically’ what was going on (usurped a Pres?Dick)
Although Scalia sounds like he too was in the thick of it (helped with Yoo & Baybees memos’?), It is time we reinstate our Thrid Branch of Gov’t as a truely operating entity. The SCOTUS should have been a working branch to provide the Check an dBalance when both Executive was overstepping it’s authority and the Congress was rendered impotent- Wasn’t that the idea behind 3 Branches? Should SCOTUS be reviewing not only operations, but legislation to assure they do not conflict with Consitutional Law before they are enacted and committ a crime against it? It is ridiculous that the SCOTUS must Wait until a infraction occurs before being consulted and able to execerise it’s authority over what is legal and what is not. Why have a Highest Court to protect and defend US and our Rights that must wait until a Clear violation occurs AND Someone files for their Case to be heard? That’s not the Third Branch of Gov’t that’s just a higher ranking court. It’s obvious neither the Exec Branch nor Legislators have a Clue what is lawful and what is not under our Constitution or our International Obligations- Lets make SCOTUS the overseers of this BEFORE such High Crimes are committed!Seems the Pentagon has taken up the Rights and Responsibilties as the Third Branch- or is it the Corps? Or Both The Miltiary industrial Complex Weilds more power than SCOTUS? WE need to put the Balls and Teeth back on SCOTUS as the Foudners ahd intended as the Third Branch to provide Checks and Balances Before the Fact.Perhaps the other offices and agencies in this gov’t will once again be reined in from their excesses and abuses.

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By ardee, May 13, 2009 at 2:10 am Link to this comment

That the use of torture awakens emotional responses in civilized folks is a good thing, it means that we are not all monsters or callously indifferent.

I would appreciate a thoughtful response to something a friend mentioned that, I believe, has weight here; those members of Congress who are on the Intelligence committees are sworn to secrecy regarding the information they receive in committee. So when Mr. Scheer asks:

“Wasn’t that approval in itself sufficiently alarming to justify a strong and public dissent? Certainly that would have been the appropriate response when Pelosi aide Michael Sheehy, along with Rep. Jane Harman,D-Calif., were informed by the CIA in no uncertain terms five months later that Zubaydah had been subjected to specific “enhanced” methods including waterboarding. Pelosi admits to possessing that information, but according to one of her aides quoted in Politico, after Harman’s letter questioning the practice received “no response” from the CIA, “there was nothing more that could be done.””

I must ask was the question of secrecy behind the silence of Pelosi and Harmon? Were not the Senate intelligence committees briefed equally and thus as informed as Speaker Pelosi? What, if anything, could have been done if speaking out was a form of treasonable action?

I truly detest being on the side of silence, I trust those who read this will not post a knee jerk response to a position that I myself loathe to take, nor do I wish to seem to be a supporter of Nancy Pelosi’s inaction or poor leadership. It is a question that needs to be asked in the interest of fairness I believe, and, when asked of me I had no answer. Do you?

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By Isa Kocher, May 13, 2009 at 2:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

republicans and pro-torture media throw pelosi at us like we are the junk yard dogs. the criminals who brought this shame upon us, and everyone knows who is who here, have no standing in this issue. they know who and we all know who instituted this criminal conspiracy. pelosi is not the issue. she not only had no command and control, she didn’t even get reliable information, and all of us went along just like her, some looking on in horror and some with perverse pleasure. let’s get real.

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By rockinrobin, May 13, 2009 at 12:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

torture didn’t begin with Bush it has been the pattern of the 2 party system (after all, you must have a choice) as one of them stated; who along with the Pentagon parasites who can launder more money thru their “contractors” back into their own & politicians pockets than any other agency; said to say, the “financial” and “housing” crisis was manmade by deliberate actions on the long term goals and laid out plans of a Gov operating on criminal basis folks; It is NOT a democracy and has not been for a very long time; true, laws are put on the books for looks, and the constantly shifting of sand of changing them whenever they so choose to do so but mainly ignoring all of them, including those of the USA, Congress and they have declared they are above all international laws as well.
Exploitation, which they claim, is the “way” democracy works, is a CRIME. It is the deliberate targeting and harming for PERSONAL PROFIT AND GAIN folks; and WE, the PEOPLE, are the target.

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By Marshall, May 13, 2009 at 12:11 am Link to this comment

Robert - for some reason your article dives over the fact that the memos claim Pelosi actually knew that these techniques were being used and that, if true, this makes her current position not just “acquiescence” but an outright lie.  And a hypocritical one at that given her public stance against these techniques as torture.  If she went along with them, then she obviously knew.  I understand that you see the Bush administration as the lowest of the low, but you needn’t use that position to elevate Pelosi to anything higher than that of a hypocritical politician caught in a lie who should suffer the consequences.

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