Bigger Than the Both of Us

May 14, 2009 8:02 a.m.

We now have two big developments on the torture front that may allow the whole torture issue to take on a life of its own and frustrate President Obama’s attempts to close the door on the issue. First, as you’ve seen, is Nancy Pelosi’s claim this morning that the CIA is lying about what it told members of the Democratic opposition in the early part of this decade. It’s still not completely clear to me if she’s just talking about the narrow point of what she was told in mid-late 2002 versus what she was told in 2003. (ed.note: Just talked to Zack Roth, our reporter on this story. And he confirms that Pelosi does seem to be talking about what she knew from the late 2002 briefing. There doesn’t appear to be any dispute about the 2003 one. However, while it’s a relatively narrow point if your issue is Pelosi, I’m starting to wonder whether the unseen mover behind these changed briefings may not be uses of torture as part of the effort to find intel to justify the Iraq invasion. We’ll keep you posted.)

But this is the Speaker of the House, second in line to the presidency, accusing the country’s chief intelligence agency of lying to the country and to members of Congress. And the political pressure to get to the bottom of that — whether they’re lying, whether she’s lying etc. — will likely be irresistible.

Next you have a flurry of claims that a key motive behind the push to torture was to elicit ‘confessions’ about an alliance between Saddam Hussein and al Qaida, which was of course the key predicate for the invasion of Iraq. That again has to create much more pressure to clarify what happened. The basis of most of the anti-torture push has been the assumption that torture was used for the purpose of eliciting information about future terrorist attacks. Whether it was illegal, wrong-headed, misguided, immoral — whatever — most have been willing to at least give the benefit of the doubt that that was the goal. If the driving force was to gin up new bogus intel about the fabled Iraq-al Qaida link, politically it will put the whole story in a very different light. And rightly so.

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