Let's Talk About Anything Other Than the Issue

Nancy PelosiI'm no fan of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. When she insisted that the impeachment of George W. Bush was "off the table," she set the historical precedent that there is no such thing as an impeachable offense. The United States paid for that mistake then, it's paying for it now, and it'll pay for it long into the future. The Bush administration and their Republican apologists have poisoned the political debate in this country, destroyed people's trust in government, and created the impression that all federal and international laws applying to the executive branch are optional. In short, the house was on fire and Pelosi didn't just refuse to put it out, she refused to even consider putting it out.

That said, I have no problem believing her when she says the CIA lied to her. The agency is loaded down with Bush appointees. And, as we've seen in the past, the Bush administration valued loyalty as a job qualification over competence or ability. We know that the Bush White House was a BS factory, so any agency staffed with Bush appointees should be suspect. If Pelosi says she was misled, I see no reason to disbelieve her. I quit giving the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt a long, long time ago.

"We were told that waterboarding was not being used," Pelosi said at a press conference. "That's the only mention, that they were not using it. And we now know that earlier they were." Former Sen. Bob Graham, the only other Democrat to be briefed on detainees by the CIA at the time, tells the same story.

"I do not have any recollection of being briefed on waterboarding or other forms of extraordinary interrogation techniques, or Abu Zubaydah being subjected to them..." Graham told Greg Sargent. "Something as unexpected and dramatic as that would be the kind of thing that you would normally expect to recall even years later."

But the Bush administration and Republicans, not content to slink off and let us clean up their messes, are trying to make this all about Nancy Pelosi. "Someone important appears not to be telling the truth about her knowledge of the CIA's use of enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs)," Karl Rove wrote in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. "That someone is Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. The political persecution of Bush administration officials she has been pushing may now ensnare her."

It goes on in that tone. I'm pretty sure that Rove was a tattle-tale as a kid. It's like he's shaking his finger and saying, "Someone took the last cupcake!" It makes for an insufferable read.

It also ignores -- as former Bush officials almost always do -- logic. If it's a problem for Pelosi to have been told about waterboarding and not objecting, then why isn't it a problem to have authorized waterboarding? I suppose the idea is to turn Nancy Pelosi into a hypocrite, but there's no logical reason to believe a hypocrite is always wrong -- if a heroin addict tells you not to use heroin, I'd go with that advice. Ignore the fact that it's hypocritical. Given that, whether or not Pelosi's telling the truth is beside the point.

And the point is an issue former Bushies have given up arguing -- whether waterboarding is torture and, therefore, a crime. In fact, they'd rather debate any other question than the central one. Clearly, they know they've lost that argument.

That's also what we're seeing in Dick Cheney's big media tour. Obama's making us less safe, Dick argues. Torture works. We should keep torturing. If we don't, we're all going to die. Rove has taken the same position.

"[T]he memoranda about the enhanced interrogation techniques and making them public has been a value to our enemy," he said recently. "It has served, frankly, I think, as a recruiting tool. They can now take these memoranda and go to prospective, you know, recruits and say, This is the worst that the enemy, the United States, would ever do to you, and they've even forsworn these things."

Now, keep in mind we're talking about people who are willing to commit suicide for their cause. If waterboarding isn't torture, then they're not going to give a crap. I'm not sure what Bushies want us to believe about waterboarding -- that it's just annoying, maybe -- but you can't make Rove's argument about the release of the memos and say it's not torture at the same time. Add to that the fact that the Bush administration denied they were doing it at the time and Rove's argument becomes absurd. If saying you're not doing it is bad, then saying you're not doing it is bad. It doesn't make any difference whether or not you're lying -- as the Bushies were.

But neither Rove nor Cheney have to make any sense. They just have to make the issue appear complicated. Cheney's argument -- that torture works -- is just as dumb as Rove's. A lot of crimes work. If I'm broke, I can rob a bank or commit fraud and I'm not broke anymore. Whether or not it works is beside the point; there are legal ways to get that intelligence, just as there are legal ways to get money. Why we should care that their crimes were well-intentioned is beyond me.

This big pro-torture media blitz by former Bush administration officials is just a distraction. We know that because they've stopped arguing this central point -- whether they're guilty of a crime. Any other question, any other issue, is just smoke. They don't have any arguments left, so they're making up things to argue about.


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