Colin Powell is probably the most articulate current voice of the small, sane wing of the Republican Party. And he has successfully put distance between himself and the Bush administration in terms of the public's esteem, even managing to maintain the respect of those of us who deeply disagreed with him on Iraq. But there are some things he just can't seem to do. Involving himself in the question of torture for war is apparently one of them. From journalist Sam Husseini:
Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, recently wrote:
“What I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 — well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion — its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida.
But Powell isn't ready to go there:
Sam Husseini: General, can you talk about the al-Libi case and the link between torture and the production of tortured evidence for war?
SH: Can you tell us when you learned that some of the evidence that you used in front of the UN was based on torture? When did you learn that?
CP: I don’t know that. I don’t know what information you’re referring to. So I can’t answer.
SH: Your chief of staff, Wilkerson, has written about this.
CP: So what? [inaudible]
SH: So you’d think you’d know about it.
CP: The information I presented to the UN was vetted by the CIA. Every word came from the CIA and they stood behind all that information. I don’t know that any of them believe that torture was involved. I don’t know that in fact. A lot of speculation, particularly by people who never attended any of these meetings, but I’m not aware of it.
Powell seems to be somehow at odds with himself over his involvement in the former administration's policies: sorry he made the case for war at the U.N. without better facts, but somewhat defensive on the idea that he tried to make sure the facts were good before he made it. Perhaps the old soldier in him just can't go where Wilkerson is able to. Maybe he really does believe that the Iraq war was the right thing to do. Or maybe he's learning, along with the rest of us, the lengths his former colleague Dick Cheney and his band of neocons were willing to go to (including expending Powell's reputation for their cause) in order to have their war. Either that, or he's in deep denial.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney's defense Thursday of the Bush administration's policies for interrogating suspected terrorists contained omissions, exaggerations and misstatements.
In his address to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative policy organization in Washington, Cheney said that the techniques the Bush administration approved, including waterboarding — simulated drowning that's considered a form of torture — forced nakedness and sleep deprivation, were "legal" and produced information that "prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people."
He quoted the Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, as saying that the information gave U.S. officials a "deeper understanding of the al Qaida organization that was attacking this country."
In a statement April 21, however, Blair said the information "was valuable in some instances" but that "there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means. The bottom line is that these techniques hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."
A top-secret 2004 CIA inspector general's investigation found no conclusive proof that information gained from aggressive interrogations helped thwart any "specific imminent attacks," according to one of four top-secret Bush-era memos that the Justice Department released last month.
FBI Director Robert Mueller told Vanity Fair magazine in December that he didn't think that the techniques disrupted any attacks.
There's much more, but don't expect the rest of the media to rally to Landay's factual cause. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out earlier this week, the mainstream media has long since moved the center to the right, and adopted the Cheney version of reality when it comes to war and national security, and relegated all other versions to the fringe:
What is, in my view, most noteworthy about all of this is how it gives the lie to the collective national claim that we learned our lesson and are now regretful about the Bush/Cheney approach to Terrorism. Republicans are right about the fact that while it was Bush officials who led the way in implementing these radical and lawless policies, most of the country's institutions -- particularly the Democratic Party leadership and the media -- acquiesced to it, endorsed it, and enabled it. And they still do.
Nothing has produced as much media praise for Obama as his embrace of what Goldsmith calls the "essential elements" of "the Bush approach to counterterrorism policy." That's because -- contrary to the ceremonial displays of regret and denouncements of Bush -- the dominant media view is this: the Bush/Cheney approach to Terrorism was right; those policies are "centrist"; Obama is acting commendably by embracing them; most of the country wants those policies; and only the Far Left opposes the Bush/Cheney approach.
Increasingly, President Barack Obama and Democrats who run Congress are being pulled between the competing interests of party liberals and the rest of the country on Bush-era wartime matters of torture, detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists.
When it comes to torture and Bush's Terrorism policies, it's the Far Left (which opposes those things) versus "the rest of the country" (which favors them). And she described Obama's embrace of Bush's policies as "governing from the center." Apparently, Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies are Centrist. Who knew?
BTW, if you caught MSNBC's "Morning Joe" this morning, you see Greenwald's point. The show, which increasingly is obsessed with rehabilitating the George W. Bush presidency, with Joe and Mika pulling the wagons and only Donny Deutsch and Lawrence O'Donnell running interference for the reality based community, has now become the new, unofficial home of that nasty piece of right wing work: Liz Cheney. Today, they gave her a full hour to bond with Mika and kvetch about Barack Obama not appreciating her dad.
Just completed the interview with Fairness and Accuracy in Media's "Counterspin," regarding my CommonDreams article on the media's ho-hum attitude toward the Bush administration's "torture for war" program. You can catch the podcast of the show, hosted by Steve Rendall and Janine Jackson here.
Cheney's speech to the American Enterprise Institute (any wonder the two outlets to get advanced copies of Cheney's durge were Fox News and the Weekly Standard...?) contained nothing unexpected, unless you count Cheney's sudden love for the CIA as unexpected.
As for President Obama's speech, you definitely get the feeling that it's starting to bug him that so many of us out here in Americanland want him to "re-litigate" the torture policies of the past. But Obama's main points were well taken: he is not a continuation of George W. Bush, and sorry Dick, but the previous administration did clearly subvert American values. But Obama's strongest point may have been this: that the previous administration's response to the 9/11 attacks was haphazard at best.
By the way, Cheney's obsession with the CIA-torture nexus isn't new. You probably won't recall this, because the media has had no interest in it, but according to investigative reporter Jane Mayer and others, as recounted by Jason Leopold:
Former Vice President Dick Cheney intervened in CIA Inspector General John Helgerson investigation into the agency’s use of torture against alleged “high-value” detainees, but the watchdog was still able to prepare a report that concluded the interrogation program violated some provisions of the International Convention Against Torture.
The report, which the Obama administration may soon declassify, was completed in May 2004 and implicated CIA interrogators in at least three detainee deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq and referred eight criminal cases of alleged homicide, abuse and misconduct to the Justice Department for further investigation, reporter Jane Mayer reported in her book, The Dark Side, and an investigative report published in The New Yorker in November 2005.
In The Dark Side, Mayer described the report as being “as thick as two Manhattan phone books” and contained information, according to an unnamed source, “that was simply sickening.”
“The behavior it described, another knowledgeable source said, raised concerns not just about the detainees but also about the Americans who had inflicted the abuse, one of whom seemed to have become frighteningly dehumanized,” Mayer wrote. “The source said, ‘You couldn't read the documents without wondering, 'Why didn't someone say, "Stop!'""
Mayer added that Cheney routinely “summoned” Inspector General Helgerson to meet with him privately about his investigation, launched in 2003, and soon thereafter the probe “was stopped in its tracks.” Mayer characterized Cheney’s interaction with Helgerson as highly unusual.
Cheney’s “reaction to this first, carefully documented in-house study concluding that the CIA’s secret program was most likely criminal was to summon the Inspector General to his office for a private chat,” Mayer wrote. “The Inspector General is supposed to function as an independent overseer, free from political pressure, but Cheney summoned the CIA Inspector General more than once to his office.
“Cheney loomed over everything,” the former CIA officer told Mayer. “The whole IG’s office was completely politicized. They were working hand in glove with the White House.”
But Mayer said Cheney's intervention in Helgerson's probe proved that as early as 2004 “the Vice President's office was fully aware that there were allegations of serious wrongdoing in the [torture] Program." Helgerson has denied that he was pressured by Cheney.
Not only is Newt Gingrich a rank hypocrite -- imagine, the disgraced former speaker of the House, who was fined $300,000 and sanctioned by his own party for ethics violations back in the days before he himself had to resign as speaker (for having a sexual affair with an aide at the same time he was pushing for the impeachment of President Clinton ... for having a sexual affair with an intern ...) he is also a man of shallow principle. Newt, who claims that Nancy Pelosi has "disqualified herself" as speaker, and thus, should make like a Newt and resign, got caught with his proverbial pants down by Diane Sawyer this week, abba-abba-abba'ing over the various Republicans, including some of Pelosi's accusers, who've also called the CIA a bunch of liars.
The fact is that Newt, in the end, is not all that significant (except to the credulous press corps, which insists on giving him air time.) What is significant is the fact that he, and his attacks on Nancy Pelosi, and those of his party, are not actually serous. They don't represent some genuine outrage over something Pelosi has done (after all, they're accusing her of not opposing torture -- a sentiment they share.) What this is about, is the GOP persuing a strategy dating back to January, of using any opportunity to brand and attack members of the Democratic leadership, as a proxy for attacking the way too popular President Obama.
Let's travel back in time, to January, in the weeks after the inauguration, when Republicans were trying to figure out how to respond to the popular president's economic stimulus plan. ABC News noted on January 29:
Two weeks ago, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., hired GOP pollster John McLaughlin to conduct a poll on the stimulus plan to define the most effective ways to frame Republican concerns.
ABC obtained a copy of a PowerPoint presentation prepared based on that poll, available HERE.
The GOP poll showed that Obama is popular (71 percent approval) and that an overwhelming majority (64 percent) approve of “Barack Obama's economic recovery plan.”
But it showed that Pelosi, D-Calif., (34 percent favorable) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., (20 percent) are far less popular. And when asked about the specifics of the stimulus plan without Obama's name attached, the plan loses its appeal.
The result: Congressional Republicans held together and voted unaminously "no." And the GOP has carried that strategy forward ever since. It's "Operation: Get Nancy," mostly because Harry Reid is so dull (and besides, El Rushbo usually takes care of him.) What is incredible, is not that the GOP is deploying a months-old strategy to satiate their base and in their minds, take down the Democratic Party by attacking the leadership -- while, they hope, unnerving Democrats out of really investigating torture or the other abuses of the Bush administration in the process. What is stunning is how willing the Washington press corps has been to go along with the program.
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.
Indeed, and it turns out that Nichols was among the reporters who "exposed" the fact that Pelosi was briefed on torture. Only he did it in 2007. In other words: the fact that senior Democrats were compliant with the Bush administration when it came, not just to torture, but also to Iraq and overall national security policy is no new revelation. And the media has, almost to a man (or woman) failed to ask a single, quite relevant question: let's just say that Nancy Pelosi IS lying, and she WAS fully briefed about the fact that we were torturing people. What does that mean? The answer is, it would mean that Pelosi was aware of the commission of war crimes (though she claims that because her knowledge was classified, she couldn't have done anything about it) and it would mean that, ipso facto, war crimes were committed at the behest of the previous administration, with the quizzling assent of Democrats. Again, nothing new. Besides, if Pelosi's involvement is a 5 on the war crimes scale, then Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush and the CIA are at about a 12, right?
So ... does that mean Republicans, and the media, at long last, are ready to see those crimes investigated? Here's the funniest part of all: Democrats outside the Beltway are ready. And so is Nancy Pelosi.
Cheney, torture, and the very bored mainstream media
Just realized today that Commondreams ran my piece: "The media's collective yawn over torture for war" on Saturday. It starts off as follows:
Faced with what could be the biggest foreign policy bombshell since the Gulf of Tonkin lies cleared the way for Vietnam, the Washington-New York media establishment has chosen to do nothing. Much as D.C. reporters decided several years ago that they were no longer interested covering the Bush administration's duplicity in the run-up to the Iraq war (nor are the David Gregory's of the world interested in revisiting their profession's complicity with the former administration in that regard,) "the press," it seems, has decided to take a pass. And what they're passing on is truly stunning.
In short, evidence is quickly piling up suggesting that the torture of terrorism suspects, and even the alleged request from no less than the office of the vice president of the United States, to waterboard an Iraqi official, had less to do with protecting Americans from further attack after 9/11, than it had to do with bolstering a phony case for invading Iraq. Polls show a plurality of Americans will accept even torture - as sickening as that fact is to anyone who cares about civil liberties - if it's done to save innocent (read American) lives. But how would the American people square the idea of torturing people, not to save lives, but to produce false confessions in order to give a small group of ideologues - the neoconservatives - the war they desired. Most Americans have long since accepted that the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq was flawed, if not totally false. What we didn't know until recently, was that to sell that case, members of the Bush administration, possibly including Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld - maybe even the president of the United States, were willing to do things we're accustomed to ascribing to the North Koreans or Maoist Chinese: using torture not to get good information, but to produce false confessions, to justify an unnecessary war.
I'll be on FAIR's radio show "CounterSpin" tomorrow to discuss it. ... of course, we don't get CounterSpin here in South Florida, where pretty much the only things on the radio are right wing talk, sports talk, party music, and black comedians on FM talking to angry baby mamas. So you'll have to listen online. The interview is at 1:15 p.m. Not sure what time it will air.
The goal of the GOP attacks on Nancy Pelosi, which have succeeded in leading the credulous media down a pointless path, is clear: to kill any real investigation into Bush-Cheney-era torture, because such an investigation would inevitably lead to the conclusion that torture was not employed to save Americans from a "ticking time bomb," but rather, to produce false confessions tying Iraq to al-Qaida, to back fill a justification for the war. Watch Fox News work the plan:
There are exactly FOUR TV/cable reporters covering the torture for war bombshell, and all four of them are on MSNBC: Here's one of them: David Shuster:
The others are Chris Matthews, who is interviewing former NBC investigative producer David Windrem tonight, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. The rest of the collective Washington-New York media are fixated -- obsessed even -- over the Republican distraction story about Nancy Pelosi. Human events and others are now even embracing the fact that what was done was torture, so long as they can tie it to Pelosi.