Did the CIA lie about torture?

It doesn’t matter if Nancy Pelosi knew about waterboarding. The real issue is Dick Cheney’s role in the torture scandal

Michael Tomasky | The Guradian, UK, May 15,  2009

How important is it – in terms of future national security, in terms of our obligation to history – to establish exactly when and exactly why the United States tortured, and whether that tactic yielded the positive results Dick Cheney says it did?

I think we’d all agree that’s pretty important.

How important is it – on those same two bases – to find out whether Nancy Pelosi, not at that time third in succession to the presidency but one of 435 members of the lower legislative body, knew of waterboarding in 2002 or 2003?

Not very. And that about sums up the Pelosi flap as far as I’m concerned.

For three weeks now, the Rush Limbaugh set has been banging on about whether Pelosi was telling the truth when she said a while back that she hadn’t known of waterboarding from early CIA briefings. It had been previously reported that she knew. Those previous reports came from leaks most likely from within the CIA.

The rightwing allegations crescendoed in the past week. The CIA leaked word that Pelosi had been informed. Pelosi ducked the question for several day, then obviously decided yesterday that the kitchen was getting hot enough that she’d better open a window and give her version.

To the extent that Pelosi felt she had to respond to all this (although I’m still not sure why – I’d guess that as of yesterday morning, perhaps 4% of Americans had even heard of this fight) the right won a small tactical victory here. They’re going to spend days crowing, mainly because they haven’t had anything to crow about in months.

But really. This is a complete diversion. Which is the whole reason the rightwing has pressed the Pelosi question in the first place. Every minute of cable television time spent talking about what Pelosi knew and when she knew it is a minute not devoted to talking about what Cheney ordered and when and why he ordered it. The operatives and bloggers on the right pressing the Pelosi angle understand this very well.

As for Pelosi’s comments, she says the CIA lied to Congress. Gasp! No! They’d never do such a thing. Friends, lying to Congress is a fixed part of what the CIA does. And sometimes it’s arguably necessary. But often – well, if this is news to you, go read up on the Church and Pike committees from the 1970s.

And note that the CIA did not entirely deny Pelosi’s allegation when it responded yesterday. The agency spokesperson’s language was very interesting – the CIA had a chart showing that Pelosi was fully briefed in September 2002, and that chart was “true to the language in the agency’s records“. Great! So what?

Let me stop here and say that there are hundreds of good nonpolitical professionals in the CIA who are trying to do their important and difficult jobs. The agency has been abused by today’s Republican party over and over again. Remember that during the run-up to the Iraq war, Cheney pressed the agency to find intelligence to fit the case the administration wanted to make against Iraq – linking it to al-Qaida, fabricating a story about nuclear weapons – and even set up their own intelligence unit to give them the intel they wanted.

And most of all, Bush and Cheney really harmed the agency by putting Porter Goss in charge of it. Goss was a Florida GOP congressman. He was, in 2002, Pelosi’s counterpart on the House intelligence committee and as such was briefed with her. He brought political people into the agency who wrecked the place. Some major operations were taken out of the CIA’s hands and placed in other intelligence agencies. His number-three man was convicted of bribery in a massive scandal that involved a high-ranking member of Congress and a Pentagon contractor.

This was Cheney’s man at Langley. It’s pretty hard right now not to think that some of this rightwing pushback is emanating from somewhere in the Goss universe.

But in the end, everything points back to Cheney. What certain members of Congress were told or not told, how things were phrased, who was in and out of the loop – we have ample evidence from previously published accounts that Cheney micro-managed everything that was of concern to him.

To cut to the chase, a full-on investigation could quite possibly demonstrate, then, that the vice-president of the United States directed staff to lie to Congress. The people on the right keeping the Pelosi angle alive know this, too.

They’d never admit it publicly, but deep down, they must be worried, in the same way that liberals kinda knew deep down a decade ago that that dog Clinton probably did do something inappropriate with “that woman”.

Small wonder they want to talk about Pelosi. Pay no attention to the men behind this particular curtain, and keep your eyes on the prize.

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