Pelosi’s problems and ‘truth’ hearings

The press conference that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held last Thursday — to discuss what she knew about waterboarding and when — didn’t work out quite as she intended.

Far from resolving the questions about her knowledge of Bush administration interrogation techniques in the wake of 9/11, Pelosi’s press conference has ignited a new controversy that’s only adding to the speaker’s problems.

During her press conference last week, Pelosi accused the CIA of lying to members of Congress about waterboarding and other interrogation techniques. She also said the intelligence agency misleads Congress “all the time.”

Those are strong words, and more than just political rhetoric. It is a crime to lie to Congress. And the CIA is bound by law to honestly report its activities to selected members of Congress.

No wonder Republicans are in full attack mode this week, demanding that Pelosi provide evidence that people at CIA lied to Congress so that those people can be prosecuted. If she cannot do that, the GOP leaders say, Pelosi should apologize to the CIA for her comments.

That’s not an unreasonable demand of someone who has made such an incendiary statement regarding the intelligence agency that bears much of the responsibility for preventing another 9/11-style attack on this nation.

But it’s not just Republicans who are upset with Pelosi.

CIA Director Leon Panetta, a Democrat and former congressman from Pelosi’s home state of California, was quick to rebut Pelosi’s claims last Friday. In a memo to CIA employees that he made public, Panetta said the CIA truthfully briefed Pelosi and other members of the House Intelligence Committee about “enhanced interrogation techniques” in late 2002.

Pelosi has claimed she didn’t learn such techniques were used until 2003, when she was no longer on the Intelligence Committee, and she said the CIA didn’t truthfully explain what had been done in the 2002 briefing.

But to accept Pelosi’s version of events, you have to believe Panetta is lying. And that Porter Goss, former CIA director and a member of the Intelligence Committee at the time of the 2002 briefing, is lying. In fact, you have to conclude that a whole lot of folks, including CIA officials and other members of Congress, are lying. And only Nancy Pelosi — who has changed her story about her knowledge of CIA interrogation techniques several times — is now telling the truth.

Not likely.

There’s a lot of politics involved with the Pelosi controversy. Republicans are eager to use Pelosi’s dissembling in the 2010 congressional campaigns. But there is something more at stake.

Folks on the far left and some Democrats in Congress continue to clamor for a kind of “truth commission” to investigate the Bush administration’s use of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. Those sorts of hearings would not only tear the country apart, they would also raise a lot of questions about what Democrats knew and why they waited until now to take action. The fact is, a lot of people viewed things differently in the first few years after 9/11, when new terrorist attacks were considered a very real possibility.

Pelosi’s problems ought to be instructive to Democrats about just how destructive for everyone involved truth commission hearings would be.


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