Rightwingers splayed across the corporate media, including Condi Rice and Dick Cheney, constantly remind us that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 members of the Bush administration were doing their darnedest to keep the nation safe. Bending the law a little to coerce information out of known terrorists must be seen in its context. They were operating in a “pressure cooker” atmosphere, they tell us, with intelligence “chatter” about “sleeper cells” and possibly more “mass casualty” attacks. Yet now they assail House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for not going public in 2002 after she allegedly learned about some of George W. Bush’s “enhanced interrogation techniques.” They condemn her for NOT publicly opposing torture. But they also claim that torture is vital to our “national security.”
FOX News “analysts” and other Republican mouthpieces assert flatly that Pelosi is in no position to advocate investigating Bush administration torture policies because she was culpable in their implementation. They claim that because she received some kind of briefing from the Bush White House she is now a hypocrite for being open to discovering if members of the Bush Administration violated the law. But they keep it hazy about what exactly they think Pelosi, who was then the minority leader, should have done upon hearing about the administration’s plans to use new interrogation “techniques.” Should she have held a press conference, leaked classified information, and raise a ruckus against President Bush? And how do you think the Republicans would have responded if Pelosi had chosen such a course, which they now condemn her for NOT taking?
At the time, of course, the GOP controlled the House of Representatives and would have given Bush anything he wanted in the aftermath of 9/11. So why didn’t Bush take the lawful route and ask Congress to change the statutes banning torture as he had done when he requested sweeping new powers under the “USA PATRIOT Act?” This question has nothing to do with Nancy Pelosi.
The Right’s tactic of distancing itself from torture by targeting Pelosi reminds me of an old Republican trick that the former GOP apparatchik, Allen Raymond, outlines in his book, How to Rig an Election. Raymond tells the story of one Republican candidate he worked for who had received tainted campaign cash from an indicted white-collar criminal. So Raymond neutralized the political fallout by having the same crook donate to his Democratic opponent’s campaign. When the donor lists became public the Republican denounced his challenger as a hypocrite for also accepting a tainted donation (a payment made at Raymond’s request). By constantly bringing Pelosi’s name up in connection with torture the Republicans are fighting a Raymondesque rearguard action of damage control.
But it’s worst than that.
Torture cannot be compartmentalized as if it were a merely a sideshow of the “War on Terror.” Military and CIA officials have confirmed recently that at least some of the torture the Bush White House approved was aimed at finding ties, no matter how tenuous, between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. It was that same quest that led then Secretary of State Colin Powell, on February 5, 2003, during his epic lie-fest to the United Nations, to blow out of proportion the significance of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The scholar and journalist, Loretta Napoleoni, in her book, Insurgent Iraq: Al-Zarqawi and the New Generation, shows that Zarqawi was nothing but a bit player in Al Qaeda who never even saw action in Afghanistan during the years of the U.S.-backed jihad against the Soviets. Powell pumped up Zarqawi for the same reason torturers brutalized Al Qaeda suspects: To demonstrate a link between Saddam and 9-11 as a way of justifying invading and occupying Iraq, which was, according to Paul O’Neill (and other former officials), Bush and Cheney’s agenda from the moment they were inaugurated.
So the U.S. torture policies are better understood in the context of Bush’s warmongering generally.
The bottom line is this: Had Bush and Condi and Colin and Rummy and Ari and Dick told us that the United States was going to spend $3 trillion and send 4,300 American soldiers to their deaths (as well as a quarter-million Iraqis); build permanent military bases, and the biggest, most expensive “embassy” in the history of civilization; occupy the country for eight, nine, or 10 years; and use the American military to police Iraq’s 25 million people — believe me — there would have been ZERO public support for such a gratuitous and bloody imperial adventure. Yet that is what we got. And that is why Bush and his official mouthpieces lied to the American people about their true intentions in Iraq.
And they lied about torture.
So why should we believe their assertions about what Nancy Pelosi knew, and when she knew it, about the torture program?
by Joseph Palermo
Joseph Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He’s the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).