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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dems Lack Waterboarding Exit Strategy

Many Democrats in Congress have pushed for release of documents and the holding of hearings on waterboarding and other interrogation methods. Putting aside for now whether the release of such information should take place, it appears that Obama started the ball rolling down hill by releasing the interrogation memos. Barring active intervention by Obama, there will be some further level of document release, Congressional investigations, and public hearings.

This presents a problem mostly for Democrats. Republicans who were briefed on the interrogation methods at least will be consistent, for the most part, in maintaining that the methods were lawful and useful. No Republican is going to be harmed politically by the revelations because most Americans support these methods against people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. If leaks of a Justice Department report are to be believed, there will be no prosecutions. Republicans are safe politically and legally.

For Democrats, however, the damage could be significant. Nancy Pelosi already has lost a great deal of credibility from her changing stories. Dozens of other Democrats, including such senior Senators as Jay Rockefeller, apparently also were briefed on the interrogation methods and either were silent, approved, or encouraged the policy.

The irony is that a full blow investigation and hearings will turn mostly on what the Democrats knew, and when they knew it. The Republicans mostly couldn't care less if they were "blamed" for keeping the country safe even if it necessitated waterboarding the mastermind of 9/11 to prevent further attacks. When faced with sacrificing a city versus using harsh interrogation methods, most voters would opt for harsh interrogation.

That the Democrats have more to lose is demonstrated by the looming fight between Democrats in Congress and the CIA. The Democrats are complaining that the CIA is out to get them through selective leaks of documents. These are the same Democrats who cheered when the CIA leaked information damaging to Bush administration policies. So that complaining is going to go no where.

Where this seems to be heading is: (1) Republicans claim Democrats are damaging national security, thereby setting Democrats up for blame when there is a terrorist attack; (2) Republicans claim the mantle of putting the safety of the country ahead of politics; (3) Democrats claim the mantle of putting politics ahead of the safety of the country; (4) Democrats end up exposing Democratic Party leaders to be untruthful, misleading, deceptive and/or too smart by half; (5) the CIA fights as it always has for its institutional interests, in a battle politicians mostly lose; and (6) Democrats turn on each other.

Just a month ago, who would have expected this headline:

This is the same Stenny Hoyer who lost out to Pelosi back in 2001 for Minority Whip, and who Pelosi opposed for his present position of Majority Leader (Pelosi backed John Murtha). No connection, I know. He just wants the truth to come out about Pelosi for the sake of the truth coming out.

Democrats vs. national security. Democrats vs. CIA. Democrats vs. Democrats. This is an investigation only Democrats could dream up, and Republicans can get behind. Republicans will be dragged kicking and screaming into the hearing room so they can ask Nancy Pelosi what she knew and when she knew it. If Democrats shield themselves, Republicans may need to schedule counter-hearings, also known as, "The Whole Truth Commission."

You know it's bad when Media Matters complains that Republicans have managed to change the subject:

Adopting the GOP's emphasis on what Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats knew about the Bush administration's use of harsh interrogation techniques, some in the media have ignored evidence that the Bush administration began using the tactics before briefing Democrats, and that upon learning of them, Rep. Jane Harman unsuccessfully expressed concerns to the CIA.
So Jane Harman is the Democrats' big hope? The same Jane Harman who Nancy Pelosi refused to allow to become Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, despite Harman's seniority? The same Jane Harman who Democrats tried to throw under the bus on the now-dropped AIPAC prosecutions by leaking that Harman was wiretapped talking to a possible "Israeli agent"? That Jane Harman? The only person who did object to waterboarding is expected to run interference for Democrats who went along to get along and who have treated her so poorly in the past several years?

What will Democrats do if they find that other Democrats were morally if not legally culpable in waterboarding? Do the Democrats have an exit strategy?

Here's my prediction of what will happen if Democrats push the investigation to the bitter end causing damage to national security, a political death match with the CIA, and Democrat-on-Democrat finger pointing:

Stenny Hoyer, Speaker; Jane Harman, Majority Leader; Nancy Pelosi, Chair of the House sub-committee on fresh water fisheries; Republicans, unexpected gains in 2010 mid-term elections.
The Democrats wished hard for an investigation into waterboarding and other interrogation methods. They may have wished too hard, because they are about to get what they wished for, with no way out.

UPDATE: This just in, Pelosi Accuses CIA Of Lying. If only I could predict the stock market this well.

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  1. Pelosi and company are leaning hard on the notion that the Executive runs the IC show and Congress's role is merely "oversight" -- they brief us but we're powerless to do anything but listen (except for writing a CYA letter as Harmon did.

    This is emphatically not the case. Begiining with the 1974 Hughes-Ryan Amendment that arose from Congressional probing of CIA covert operations in Vietnam, the whole point of the oversight committees dedicated to intelligence matters was to give Congress a reasonable chance to weigh in with its funding and other legisaltive authority in a timely way to influence covert activities. The 1980s Iran-Contra controversy arose from an oversight committee look into covert actions in latin America, where they found what they believed might be illegal activities, causing a special prosecutor to be named.

    What's more, CIA and the IC generally have been for years very conscious of the value of a close, cooperative relationship with Congress, where the intel committees have by and large been advocates for the IC.

    I think it's fair to say that a strong rebuke and a warning from either Pelosi ot Harman would have been enough to cut off the whole enhanced interrogation program. (Let's remember that the White House was not pushing this, but responding to proposals from CIA. In any case, it would not have been practical for Bush and company to have foisted such a program on a CIA made reluctant by a rebuke from Congress.

    In short, Pelosi, Harman, Rockefeller, et al. could have stopped this program in its tracks. My own feeling is that it did not occur to them to object strenuously -- or at all -- because it was not that big a deal (Harman did write that letter but it has bears all the earmarks of a CYA memo to the record). Like everyone else, at the time, they were more concerned about getting intel about al Qaeda.

  2. If Pelosi and other Democrats can't defend their actions, fine, we'll get better politicians to replace them -- eventually.

    I still want to know if you would torture to prevent the Oklahoma City bombing, if such had been possible? And how few lives lives do you need to threaten before torture doesn't become the overriding moral imperative that you seem to think it is?

    What if the terrorists want to trade for an attack where the bomb is already planted in some large city of over a million? For instance, if instead they are allowed to take out several more prized targets. Let's say, a city of million, for several Jewish activist organizations instead or populated communities. How many innocent Jewish lives do you think that would be worth?

    Numbers please.

  3. Retireiwnelgyroc - what a disgusting question.I will assume that your question presumes we have one of the terrorists in custody so I'll give you a number: NONE. Not One person in the path of a bomb or in the custody of madmen about to be beheaded is worth sacrificing - so YES waterboard! - which ISN'T torture in the sense that the RACK was torture, just a really, really, really unpleasant experience. AND yes, waterboarding would have been very acceptable for the Ok City Bombing, although, Tim McVeigh MAY HAVE ALREADY been waterboarded as part of his training (I don't know) so it might not have worked in his case, since he may have known what to expect.

    What a wretched, horrid question which reveals more about your biases than anything else...

  4. The problem with "replacing" the Speaker of the House is that you either need to convince her (or his) district to vote for someone else, convince her party to select someone else, or win back the majority in the House. All three are practically Herculean tasks in this particular day and age.

    Mr. Jacobson seems to favor the second method. However, as long as Speaker Pelosi has the support of President Obama, I doubt we'll see a revolution in the House leadership. My preferred method, of course, is for the GOP to take back the House. But, whatever happens, it will take a long time.

    As for hearings, I doubt we'll ever really have them. The public "outrage" over waterboarding, as well as the call for Bush's and Cheney's heads, won't even last 'til the end of the year. If it's even mentioned in the mid-term elections, it will be by extremely far-left third parties who will try to oust Pelosi, Hoyer, Harman, and the others because they didn't "push hard enough". However, the current leadership will band together, as they did in '06, to keep the House out of Republicans' hands. If they lose control of the House in 2010, then they'll band together even more tightly. The only thing that will split the Democrats at this point is if they win another round of elections.

  5. Dear Professor Jacobson--What a well-considered piece. I loved every word of it.

  6. ****"The Democrats wished hard for an investigation into waterboarding and other interrogation methods. They may have wished too hard, because they are about to get what they wished for, with no way out."****

    You're only missing the maniacal laughter. I don't care whether they lose their seats or not, but if the investigations can't stop, well, it's going all the way through Cheney and ultimately W, Bybee, Yoo, etc.

    People on the left have been critical of Pelosi for a long time. She's almost unaware of how transparent she is. Of course she knew, but all of the Dems were scared of terrorists and scared of the previous administration. I bet a large percentage of them are still scared of terrorists.

    If they lose their seats, I hope the seat falls further left as being identified with the harsh interrogations is a right-wing administration's problem. Group complicit parties to the right, and poof no gain for Republicans. Think about it. The question would be: would you have been silent when suspicion of torture passed through your ears? The right leaning candidates won't distance themselves from the issue.

  7. If it is essentially true that many powerful congressional Democrats knew all about the interrogations of certain captured ‘militants’ or ‘terrorists,’ ( you decide) conducted using techniques now deemed in official circles to be "torture" (a crisp salute to you, Senator McCain), but have been representing themselves as ignorant of the same, what then is the moral implication of their current agenda?

    We know all of these calls for truth commission investigations were meant as a way to at least publically vilify the Bush-Cheney team and possibly criminalize them. When the former President escaped unscathed back to Texas, the Democratically-controlled main gun swiveled toward certain underling lawyers who were involved. Somebody has to pay. The current object we all know is to destroy their careers and ruin their lives in retribution for all those who have suffered under Bush for eight long years.

    ALL dastardly Republicans knew about it from the beginning. But, we know they are evil.

    Yet, it is obvious the top Democrats also all knew about said torture from the beginning.


    These same Democrats are now embarked upon this relentless effort to destroy the lives and reputations of a bunch of CIA agents and Justice Department lawyers for doing what they, the Democratic leadership, knew for years they were doing without objection.

    Why? To score points as occupiers of some media-inspired moral high ground. All hail the Dems!

    This is sick stuff. Really vicious and disgusting. These are the people who lead us.

  8. Great post. I think the main danger to the Democrats, however, comes from their hard-Left supporters (the MoveOn, ACT, and Code Pink crowd) turning on them. Maybe we'll see Mother Sheehan challenge Speaker Pelosi in her home district again, and this time get more than a few votes?

    One can hope. :)

  9. First off, great piece. This whole Democrat led disaster would be truly amusing if it wasn't so threatening to our national security.

    That being said, the Dem exit strategy will be the same as with most of its scandals. As soon as they pull their heads out of their backsides and realize they are the ones beginning to be threatened they will make the necessary phone calls and stop the mainstream media from covering the story. Soon thereafter, the mostly liberal media (and nutroots) driven "public outrage" will precipitously disappear. After all, the left has little to fear from its own base, who are largely incapable of independent thought.

  10. "hoist on their own petard" comes to mind ....

    This has never truly been about 'torture' - the accusation has just been a convenient rhetorical rubber hose to use in the effort to beat their political opponents to a pulp.

  11. In other words, the Republicans were always in favour of torture, but at least they are consistent. Safe politically and legally? Sure, but morally bankrupt.

    "The Republicans mostly couldn't care less if they were "blamed" for keeping the country safe even if it necessitated waterboarding the mastermind of 9/11 to prevent further attacks."

    This isn't how it works; torture doesn't elicit reliable confessions. But of course that makes no difference, the point is to ensure that one is protected legally and politically. I can't believe Cornell, what an embarrassment you are for them.

  12. I just did a post and linked over here. I think irony is a best served to Speaker Pelosi.

    So much for her (and Obama's) so-called Bi-partisanship. heh.


  13. retireniwnelgyroc and lacegrl130 - two quick points. One Timothy McVeigh had an absolutely ordinary term of service as an Army infantryman, with no specialized training like you imagine. I retired from the Army in 1995 and was a member of the OK City bombing investigation task force. There is a school the Army runs that teaches resistance to interrogation (the SERE school) but only a very small number of officers attend it, and almost no enlisted soldiers.

    As for how many make torture justifiable (and I am not here claiming torture is ever justifiable, just going along with your thought experiment), consider Dirty Harry's dilemma, which coincidentally was shown on AMC last night. That would provide some sort of answer, I think.

  14. << This isn't how it works; torture doesn't elicit reliable confessions. >>

    Duh...no method of questioning or interrogation consistently produces reliable confessions or intelligence. This is why intelligence officers would want to compare the information with intelligence they've obtained through other means. Ya think?

    Even well rehearsed stories might contain inconsistencies when a question is asked 20 different ways. Especially when the subject is stressed. Some few of those inconsistencies may produce actionable intelligence when independently investigated. Low level operatives may give up a great deal of information about organizational structures (not time-critical) if wheedled and cajoled for a long enough time.

    The bottom line, however, is that the Democrat leadership--up to and including President New Coke®--were comfortable with the program, but were attempting to undermine the CIC and national security during a time of war. All for political gain.

    Giving aid and comfort to America's enemies, to win elections, is not a wildly popular stance--even for Democrat voters. That's why Pelosi, et al, are lying about it. But you lefties keep on believing this is the way to win the hearts and minds of rank and file Democrats.

  15. I figured McVeigh was not trained with waterboarding - I was just making the point that many of our soldiers are - therefore it isn't torture so much as it is horribly, dreadfully unpleasant. retireiwneldfkdjfsj seemed to be making some nasty anti-semetic references which really bothered me. Why did he have to use the example of Jewish activist organizations? Why not just a group of Americans in general? I was probably responding out of ire. William's post is spot on - the Dems have opened a can of worms...

  16. Harold, unfortunately for your thesis, the Democrats have proven to be both inconsistent and morally bankrupt.

    I sure hope that doesn't get in the way of Pelosi cleaning the swamp of that culture of corruption in the House. How's that coming along, by the way.

    Oh. Inconsistent *and* morally bankrupt. Nevermind.

  17. Harold,
    Waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques are not used to extract confessions, but rather, information. The information most desired at the time was about Al Q operations still in the planning stage. While an attack on LA was thwarted, they obviously did not stop the Madrid or London bombings.

    Confessions extracted by waterboarding would be both useless as well as pointless. The interrogated men weren't going to court.


  18. "This isn't how it works; torture doesn't elicit reliable confessions"

    I'm reasonably certain torture isn't used to elicit confessions, reliable or otherwise, as such a confession would be laughed out of court. If your objective is to arrest and prosecute terrorists, there's no question torture is pretty useless.

    If, on the other hand, your objective is to locate terrorists and kill them, you probably have a different situation. Whether a safe house location revealed during interrogation is accurate or not can be verified in a few minutes. Advice that the interrogation will become somewhat more stressful if the information proves to be incorrect might well encourage those being interrogated to be truthful.

  19. "This isn't how it works; torture doesn't elicit reliable confessions"

    "torture".. you mean enhanced interrogation techniques, like ANY and ALL methods of getting information, is tested and verified, before acted on. Honestly... how dumb you must think the CIA is, to just take something spouted under any conditions, and run with it?
    Those who use this line of argument are just not serious thinkers.