"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice -- but in practice, there is."
-- Jan L.A. van de Snepscheut
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Pete Hoekstra’s Vapid Attack
Well it’s happening again. The Republicans, beset on many fronts by the successes of the Obama administration and torn from within by arguments over whether their party should try to live in the present or just close the curtains and pretend every day was Januay 19, 1989, have opted to attack when the situation calls for retreat and have thrown a bucket of mud on Nancy Pelosi – specifically, Representative Pete Hoekstra (R – MI) released a document on May 8 that he said proves the speaker of the House is lying about when she knew the administration was practicing torture: “The bottom line is she and her key staff, they all knew about it,” Hoekstra said.
The only problem, however, is that a reasonable person looking at the document sees no terribly compelling proof. The alleged record is an image of a spreadsheet, with names and dates and often just the vaguest summary of what took place at a meeting. The relevant briefing in question is described, in its entirety, as “Briefing on EITs* including use of EITs on Abu Zubaydah, background on authorities, and a particular desciption of the EITs that had been employed.” Yet it has no author, no date of publication, no sources, and offers no proof of anything. There are no signatures or initials of attendees and not even a mention of how long the meetings lasted. It looks like the world’s most-hastily-assembled CYA memo.
Even the Director of Central Intelligence, Leon Panetta, refuses to vouch for its authenticity. In a cover letter that was often mentioned in articles but surprisingly hard to track down, Panetta declares that “this information, however, is drawn from the past files of the CIA and represents MFRs** completed at the time and notes that summarized the best recollections of those individuals. In the end, you and the Committee will have to determine whether this information is an accurate reflection of what actually happened.” Basically this is the CIA’s best guess at the past.
And it’s apparently not much of a guess, either. Already Pelosi has cast doubt on the sweeping conclusion that Hoekstra derived from the meeting summary’s single sentence. She has insisted that while torture techniques were discussed, they weren’t mentioned as actually having been used, only approved for use, and that waterboarding wasn’t mentioned at the briefing she attended. In addition, Senators Jay Rockefeller and Bob Graham have both come forward disputing the content of the report with respect to briefings where they are mentioned. Graham says that waterboarding wasn’t mentioned in his briefing, and Rockefeller didn’t attend his briefing at all.
If the accuracy and credibility of this report weren’t questionable enough, there remains the fact that regardless of what was disclosed to Pelosi, there was very little she could do about it – she wasn’t allowed to take notes or consult a lawyer about the briefing. To argue that this redress-bereft acceptance of knowledge represents complicity requires a Madoffian level of intellectual accounting.
The final insult, of course, lies in the fact that Representative Hoekstra implied with his accusation of Pelosi: that to be told a fact, after the fact, implies a shared responsibility that would cause the speaker to back down from pushing any torture investigations. As though her role is so similar to the John Yoos and Jay Bybees and Alberto Gonzaleses of this episode to give her some pause. As though she wouldn’t know the difference between the criminals and the witnesses.
The hearings should be very clarifying, Mr. Hoekstra.
*EIT stands for Enhanced Interrogation Technique – or, as I like to call it, Elsewhere It’s Torture. **Memorandum for the Record.