Posted by: Perimeter Progressive | May 16, 2009

Who the Heck Cares? – 5/16/09 – Nancy Pelosi vs. Waterboarding

Time for a new feature at Perimeter Progressive – Who the Heck Cares?  The authors of the site get together and talk about the one issue that seems to have dominated the news from the past week, but honestly, who cares?

If you open a paper or turn on the news, there is one news item that you are certain to hear about: Whether or not Nancy Pelosi knew that we tortured people.

Now, we agree that it would be nice if all of our politicians were nice, honest, caring individuals who never lied or committed shady acts in the name of politics. But let’s face it: We live in the real world, where politicians lie, fib, and spin their pants off on a daily basis.

Here’s our take on the whole torture-Pelosi issue:

First, the Republicans, who stirred up this whole mess in the first place, made a brilliant political move. When Obama took office, he began to expose a lot of the more dastardly deeds of the previous administration…You know, like the fact that they tortured people for no good reason. Well, that’s not going to play very well in the 2010 elections, now is it? So a bunch of really sneaky conservatives got together and thought, “Hey, I bet we can make all this the Democrats’ fault!!!” And they’ve done an amazing job of deflecting the real issue. The issue that should be discussed right now is not who knew about the torture or even whose fault it was, but how best to ensure that something like this never happens again.

Then, we have Pelosi’s reaction. First, she maintained that she did not know that waterboarding was actually being used:

“It appears to call into question the longstanding assertion of Speaker Nancy Pelosi that she was never told that waterboarding and other methods were actually used, only that the Central Intelligence Agency believed they were legal and could be used.”

Then, she switched gears and

“acknowledged for the first time Thursday that she knew by early 2003 that the Central Intelligence Agency had subjected terror detainees to waterboarding but saw little recourse to challenge the practice except by achieving Democratic control of Congress and the White House.”

Okay, no surprises there. Since when do we expect politicians to be totally truthful? We are all adults here. We live in a world where politicians lie. We’d almost be disappointed if they didn’t.

Should Pelosi have raised the alarm in 2003? That’s an interesting question. Let’s look at the political landscape of that time period: The Republicans controlled the White House, the Senate, and the House. Pelosi was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, not the Speaker of the House. We lived in a world in which Dick Cheney could shoot someone in the face and have the shooting victim apologize for getting in the way. Could Pelosi have conceivably altered the course of history? Could she have raised a big enough stink to derail the government’s use of torture? Maybe. But it is far more likely that the conservative spin teams would have simply demolished Pelosi. She would have been called a liar, a traitor, and unpatriotic. She probably never would have become Speaker of the House, and it’s entirely possible that the Dems wouldn’t have been nearly as successful in the 2004 and 2006 elections as a result of the success of Republican spin.

All in all, while we could wish that Pelosi was more forthright about the entire issue, we can also understand why she chose to keep her mouth shut. But in the end, our biggest question is not whether Pelosi is telling the truth or whether she knew about torture, but why on earth we are allowing the Republicans to deflect the scrutiny away from themselves and onto prominent Dems. This is the same tactic that they used for 8 years, and they are still doing it.

What Pelosi knew and when she knew it is completely irrelevant. It is a micro-issue. Between the floundering economy, two stalled out wars, and a host of other more pressing concerns, why are we spending so much time discussing what Pelosi knew? Keep your eye on the ball, people. Don’t let Republican distraction tactics work.

Stepping back from the sheer politics for a moment (and anyone else find it disconcerting that torture is apparently a political issue?) torture is not ok.  It is more un-American than any of the protests against the war that were labelled as such.  If we did torture (and all signs point to yes) it doesn’t matter whether or not Pelosi knew.  That doesn’t change the fact that torture is wrong.  And America should not have engaged in it (if we so did, but, come on, lets face it.)  People want to finger point and say “well, so and so knew about it.”  Who cares who knew about it?  It’s still not going to change the fact that we did these terrible things.  We need to be focused on making sure we never do things like this again.  In the words of Fred Astaire, we need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again.

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