Was Speaker Pelosi lying about waterboarding disclosure?

Today, House Speaker Pelosi gave her fifth version of what she knew and when she new it with respect to disclosure of enhanced interrogation techniques. Her various accounts have been contradicted by other members of Congress and by the records of the meetings.

She has consistently claimed that she was told by the Bush Administration that they had determined that specified enhanced interrogation techniques were legal, but that she was not told that they were actually used. Other members of Congress maintain that it was clear they were being used. Moreover, another briefing disclosed information obtained from Abu Zubaydah and concurrently acknowledged use of waterboarding.

It is nonetheless not clear that Speaker Pelosi is lying. It may well be that what she is saying is just how she remembers it. It could be a lightweight form of false memory syndrome:

“Some of our memories are true, some are a mixture of fact and fantasy, and some are false — whether those memories seem to be continuous or seem to be recalled after a time of being forgotten or not thought about. … The professional organizations agree: the only way to distinguish between true and false memories is by external corroboration.” False Memory Syndrome Foundation

In other words, our minds can play tricks on us. I think that this is quite common, but that most us do not have reporters following us around with tape recorders, so our false recollections are not exposed.

This recalls the Scooter Libby case. That case revolved around Libby’s recollection of the order of events within about a week all of which happened a full year prior to his being questioned by the Justice Department. He was found guilty based upon the claim that he must have lied to the Justice Department, rather than have recalled incorrectly. The defense wanted to present testimony from a memory expert at the trial, but the judge denied that testimony.

That politicians lie would not be the most shocking revelation of the new millennium. Nonetheless, to prove a lie there must be evidence that a person knows what is true are the time she claims the contrary. That hasn’t been proven in Pelosi’s case.

Moreover, the substance of the matter does not depend upon whether Pelosi believed enhanced interrogation techniques were actually being used. The job of a Congressional oversight committee is to oversee the executive branch, and when necessarily to pass legislation in response. If Pelosi heard that the Administration had found certain practices legal, and she was opposed to such practices, then it was her job to propose legislation to forestall their use. She did not do so, so she implicitly allowed the explanation of the techniques being legal.

The briefings are classified, but that does not prevent Pelosi or any other member of Congress from acting by proposing general legislation. The current standard used by the Obama Administration is that captured terrorists cannot suffer any discomfort. That is the standard of the Army Field Manual. Pelosi, or others, could have enacted that into law at any time without disclosing what specifically prompted it.

One consequence of the Congressional oversight responsibility is the Congressional overseers must logically be included in any show trials. The purpose of show trials is to condemn as immoral, and potentially punish, any Administration officials who claimed that water boarding was legal. The claim is that water boarding is so obviously torture, that no one could have in good faith argued otherwise. If that claim is valid, then no member of Congress who assented to it could possibly have done so in good faith.

Suppose some kind of real torture had been declared legal in Congressional briefings. By real torture I mean something that no journalist would volunteer to try out so they could write a story about it; perhaps the rack or hot pincers. If that had been disclosed and Congress did nothing, then Congress would be universally thought complicit. But water boarding is claimed by the New Inquisition to be in precisely the same category: obvious torture.

It doesn’t matter whether or not Pelosi believed that water boarding was used or just found legal. Any waffling on including Pelosi in show trials removes the basis for the trials. The basis for show trials is that waterboarding was obviously torture, and not arguable. Pelosi assented, and is therefore culpable.

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