Brilliant: “But the ultimate responsibility for this fiasco lies with Mr. Bush. Too often he has appointed, or tolerated, officials who oppose his agenda, and failed to discipline them even when they have worked against his policies.”
You’ve probably already read the news that key members of congress — including Jane Harman, Nancy Pelosi, Bob Graham, and Jay Rockefeller — were briefed about the CIA’s “harsh” interrogation methods back in 2002. Harman, who I’ve oft had occasion to criticize, seems to have acquitted herself the best; lodging a letter of protest, albeit a letter whose text it seems that none of us can see in even redacted form. Pelosi, Graham, and Rockefeller don’t seem to have said or done anything.
Andrew’s right to note that there’s something of a pattern here. John Kerry certainly didn’t feel like this was something he wanted to talk about during the 2004 campaign. One question is how much of this is cowardice and how much conviction; would Democrats actually act to roll this stuff back even if they won’t take a stand against it? The evidence from the legislative history suggests mostly cowardice, as Pelosi has certainly helped move anti-torture bills through congress, though how she thought she could keep today’s revelations under wraps indefinitely is a bit beyond me.
On Thursday evening, when the media first reported that the CIA destroyed “torture tapes” documenting the harsh interrogation of al Qaeda leaders, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) said he had known about the destruction for a year:
And, we did not learn until much later, November 2006 — 2 months after the full committee was briefed on the program — that the tapes had in fact been destroyed in 2005.
But the very next day, Rockefeller issued a statement explaining that he had been misled by the CIA and was simply repeating what they had told him. To clarify, he said that he was not told of the destruction in 2006:
Last night, the CIA informed me that it believes that the leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee was told of the decision to destroy the tapes in February 2003 but was not told of their actual destruction until a closed committee hearing held in November 2006.
The committee has located no record of either being informed of the 2003 CIA decision or being notified late last year of the tapes having being destroyed. A review of the November 2006 hearing transcript finds no mention of tapes being destroyed.
This morning on CBS’s Face the Nation, Rockefeller had an opportunity to set the record straight but failed. Instead, he offered contradictory explanations, stating that he learned about the destruction in 2006 but also that he first found out about it by reading the newspaper this week:
ROCKEFELLER: And I also don’t know why we didn’t find out about that until 2006.
SCHIEFFER: You found out about it when you read it in the newspaper?
ROCKEFELLER: Yeah, yeah.
Rockefeller was also asked about a Washington Post story today that claims bipartisan leaders of Congress were briefed on waterboarding and raised no objections. He said he couldn’t reveal whether he was briefed or not due to confidentiality rules, but said he was “really disturbed by what I was reading and what we grew to know.”
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), also appearing on the program, said there was “no justification” for either carrying out torture practices or destroying the tapes. “Burning tapes, destroying evidence, I don’t know how deep this goes,” Hagel said. “Could there be obstruction of justice? Yes. How far does this go up in the White House, who knew it? I don’t know.”
Greg Miller for The Los Angeles Times has a seemingly important scoop about a “previously undisclosed program” run by the CIA and called “Brain Drain” that was “designed to degrade Iran’s nuclear weapons program by persuading key officials to defect.” Naturally, the CIA doesn’t want to talk about it:
A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the effort to cultivate defectors, saying “the agency does not comment on these kinds of allegations as a matter of course.”
Some sources were, however, willing to speak off the record about the awesomeness of this program:
The defector program was put in place under CIA Director Porter J. Goss, who has since left. The agency compiled a list of dozens of people to target as potential defectors based on a single criterion, according to a former official involved in the operation: “Who, if removed from the program, would have the biggest impact on slowing or stopping their progress?”
“Did they have replacements for these people? Any country would have,” the former official involved in the operation said. “But we did slow the program.”
But as Isaac Chotiner points out, the lede is that “The CIA launched a secret program in 2005 designed to degrade Iran’s nuclear weapons program” and the National Intelligence Estimate’s new conclusion is that Iran’s nuclear weapons program was mothballed in 2003. How could the CIA’s activities have slowed an Iranian program that had already been put on hold?
How is it that a National Intelligence Estimate on Iran wound up getting released when it was (a) made the administration look ridiculous, (b) pissed off the administration’s key pyschotic warmonger allies, and (c) the administration has stated earlier that NIEs weren’t going to be released in the future? Well, Pat Lang has some rumor-mongering that aligns perfectly with my armchair speculation:
The “jungle telegraph” in Washington is booming with news of the Iran NIE. I am told that the reason the conclusions of the NIE were released is that it was communicated to the White House that “intelligence career seniors were lined up to go to jail if necessary” if the document’s gist were not given to the public. Translation? Someone in that group would have gone to the media “on the record” to disclose its contents.
Did that really happen? Who knows. But it certainly seems to me that this is the correct and honorable way to behave for people who find themselves in possession of important information that’s being kept classified for illegitimate reasons. The motives of the “leaker” can always be called into question, but a person willing to take a stand — or as we may be seeing here, even a person willing to say he or she is willing to take a stand — publicly and bear the consequences carries a lot more weight.