Everyone Knew

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on April 25, 2009

Former House Intelligence Committee Chairman and Director of Central Intelligence, Porter Goss, calls out his erstwhile colleagues in the House of Representatives:

A disturbing epidemic of amnesia seems to be plaguing my former colleagues on Capitol Hill. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, members of the committees charged with overseeing our nation’s intelligence services had no higher priority than stopping al-Qaeda. In the fall of 2002, while I was chairman of the House intelligence committee, senior members of Congress were briefed on the CIA’s “High Value Terrorist Program,” including the development of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and what those techniques were. This was not a one-time briefing but an ongoing subject with lots of back and forth between those members and the briefers.

Today, I am slack-jawed to read that members claim to have not understood that the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed; or that specific techniques such as “waterboarding” were never mentioned. It must be hard for most Americans of common sense to imagine how a member of Congress can forget being told about the interrogations of Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed. In that case, though, perhaps it is not amnesia but political expedience.

Let me be clear. It is my recollection that:

– The chairs and the ranking minority members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, known as the Gang of Four, were briefed that the CIA was holding and interrogating high-value terrorists.

– We understood what the CIA was doing.

– We gave the CIA our bipartisan support.

– We gave the CIA funding to carry out its activities.

– On a bipartisan basis, we asked if the CIA needed more support from Congress to carry out its mission against al-Qaeda.

I do not recall a single objection from my colleagues. They did not vote to stop authorizing CIA funding. And for those who now reveal filed “memorandums for the record” suggesting concern, real concern should have been expressed immediately — to the committee chairs, the briefers, the House speaker or minority leader, the CIA director or the president’s national security adviser — and not quietly filed away in case the day came when the political winds shifted. And shifted they have.

All of this means that top Democrats were fully aware of the enhanced interrogation techniques they claim violated anti-torture statutes, and approved them. We all know that Speaker Pelosi was one of those people.

Are any of the Democrats going to be investigated in any examination of the Bush Administration’s interrogation policies? Are any of the Democrats going to be subject to universal jurisdiction? Because there is no reason that Democrats like Speaker Pelosi should be immune while Republicans like Dick Cheney stand in the dock.

  • Andy Vance

    What do you mean by “approved?” And under what law would legislators who failed to conduct oversight be prosecuted?

  • http://www.chequer-board.net Pejman Yousefzadeh

    The words “We gave the CIA our bipartisan support,” would tend to indicate approval, would they not? And this went beyond a mere failure to conduct oversight, of course. As made clear in the post, Congressional leaders of both parties urged the Bush White House on in its interrogation procedures.

  • Andy Vance

    The “Gang of Four” and the “Gang of Eight” have no authority to approve or disapprove anything. And, unlike implementing a torture regime, “urging them on” is not illegal. So again, what law could these Congress members violate?

  • http://www.chequer-board.net Pejman Yousefzadeh

    Giving “bipartisan support” constitutes more than “urging on,” of course. It represents the active approbation of the relevant Congressional members concerning interrogation policy. Since those members are the funnel through which intelligence consultations run, and though which, Congress’s own stance on intelligence policy is formulated, that active approbation is tremendously significant because that active approbation prevented Congressional action from being taken earlier to stop the implementation of the interrogation policies at question.

    Writing legal memoranda concerning what can and cannot be done in formulating and implementing interrogation policy is not illegal either. But the advocates of universal jurisdiction like to pretend that it is. As long as we are changing international law to suit the various partisan interests of some, I see no reason why it cannot be changed some more to include members of Congress standing in the dock. Turnabout is fair play.

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