I.F. Stone used to joke that what passed for investigative journalism in Washington was actually just the restating of what was already in the public record at the appropriate time.
So it is that The Politico is making a big deal today about supposed “revelations” regarding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s knowledge of the Bush-Cheney administration’s use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” House Republicans, and their amen corner in the media, are claiming that “new revelations” suggest Pelosi had a role in promoting the use of waterboarding.
“If someone is going to schedule hearings, I believe that the first witness should be Nancy Pelosi,” Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra, the hyper-partisan Republican who serves as the ranking member on the House intelligence committee, chirps in the Politico report. “Clearly, she was involved in policy formulation.”
That’s sexy spin.
Unfortunately for Hoekstra and the Politico, it is detached from reality. And that detachment is being promoted by defenders of the Bush-Cheney administration who are working night and day to block a comprehensive inquiry into potentially criminal abuses of power by the former president and vice president and their aides.
First off, we have little in the way of “new revelations.”
Some of us began writing a year and a half ago about the fact that Pelosi, a longtime member of the House Intelligence Committee, was briefed in 2002 on waterboarding. Here’s a link to “Pelosi and Torture” — a piece I wrote in December, 2007.
After detailing concerns about Pelosi’s participation in meetings where waterboarding was discussed — and the suggestion that she and others might have asked if the techniques being used were “tough enough” — I argued that:
If this is the case, Pelosi has provided aid and comfort to the Bush administration’s efforts to deviate not just from the standards set by international agreements regarding war crimes but from the provision of the Bill of Rights that establishes basic requirements with regard to the treatment of prisoners who are in the custody of the United States.
Those deviations are precisely the sort of impeachable offenses that Pelosi has said are “off the table.” Her association with the administration on the matter of torture necessarily calls into question the speaker’s credibility on questions of how and when to hold the administration to account. It also begs a more mundane political question: At a point when Republicans like John McCain are earning points with their forthright stances against waterboarding, isn’t the credibility and the potential effectiveness of the House Democratic Caucus as an honest player in the debate profoundly harmed by the involvement of its leader in behind-the-scenes meetings that by all accounts encouraged the use of that technique?