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Whom Would a Truth Commission Hurt?

If House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set out last week to build momentum for a "truth commission" on Bush-era torture, she succeeded. A week ago the idea had some high-profile support on the Hill, but resistance from the White House and others appeared to be a prohibitive roadblock.

But now that the speaker has accused the CIA of lying to her in 2002 about enhanced interrogation techniques, underscoring the fact that we don’t know some of the details about their approval and conduct, even the Republicans’ brass is warming to the idea. Here is what Michael Steele said to Meet the Press host David Gregory yesterday:

Gregory: Should there be a wider--should there be a truth commission? Should there be an investigation?

Steele: I think, I think you've heard a lot of Republicans call for that. And if this is, if this is a door that the Democrats and, and their leadership, since they have the House and the Senate and the presidency and they want to expose all of this...then let's put it all on the table and let's take a closer look at it.

Steele’s words echoed those of House Minority Leader John Boehner, who last week indicated that he wouldn’t mind a truth commission so much if Pelosi were a target of its investigation, too. Judging from their rhetoric, their logic seems to be that embarrassing the speaker more might be worth having investigators dig deeper into the Bush administration’s torture policies.

They might be right. Bush’s legacy on torture is already battered. For those who aren’t keeping close track -- most Americans -- more details probably aren’t going to dramatically alter their views. Steele can hope, however, that examining Democrats’ involvement in the process will yet expose their leaders to be rank hypocrites, blasting enhanced interrogation only after the public learned about it and turned against it. Also, by the way, the commission will divert Washington’s attention from actually governing, something the Republicans don’t have to worry about doing at the moment.

Of course, for those of us not trying to score political points, the attraction is that a truth commission would, ideally, more thoroughly and fairly document who knew and approved of enhanced interrogation and why. A few weeks ago, that didn’t look as important a task to perform immediately. But now that the CIA and the speaker’s office might engage in a war of competitive document release, conditioned by the political demands of the moment, maybe it’s time to bring in a referee.

Still, the Pelosi episode demonstrates how unlikely it is that any such inquiry conducted right now could stay above politics. It’s also maddening that Pelosigate is dominating our political debate -- and that the least bad option might be to have a long, distracting investigation that keeps us from far more consequential debates over health care or climate change policy. In that sense, the real losers are those who, at this moment of praxis, care more about where this country is going than pitched debates about where it has been.

By Stephen Stromberg  | May 18, 2009; 4:27 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Excuse me -- when did the public "turn against" the enhanced techniques? All the recent polls I have seen show that most Americans approve of the Bush Administration's use of them. Yes, most of the intellectual elite, and I'm sure Mr. Stromberg's friends, oppose them, but the American people do not.

Posted by: woocane | May 18, 2009 6:52 PM | Report abuse

Hell yes lets get this all out on the table! I think most Democrats don't care about Pelosi or how bad this makes her look. She's as much a villain to the left as she is to the right... such is the way of the power broker. So yeah if it means she has to step down as speaker or resign for us to get convictions on torture.... so be it.

Posted by: pdxgeek | May 18, 2009 7:54 PM | Report abuse

Transparency does seem important for representative government.

It would also be good to stop the systemic alienation of what the Declaration of Idependence in 1776 quaintly called unalienable rights.

BTW: Is a Gang of Eight really sufficient to prevent a coup detat?

Eight isn't many.

The founders didn't want to give Presidents the power to make treaties without significant oversight in case they were bribed. Significant oversight meant two thirds of the senate.

I wonder if the acqisitive Chinese are familiar with the Black Sox Scandal.

Posted by: BrettPaatsch1 | May 19, 2009 1:24 AM | Report abuse

woocane plays fast and loose with facts. check out this article:

An excerpt: "Would you support torture if you knew it saved American lives and prevented acts of terrorism? Would you support torture if you were serving in combat duty in Iraq, and you knew it would save the lives of your fellow soldiers? If you answered "yes" to either of these questions, you might be surprised to learn that you are in a minority and have been for the past eight years.

"We have assembled the first comprehensive archive of public opinion on the use of torture taken since Sept. 11, 2001. Despite unending orange alerts, two wars and the specter of leading political figures arguing for the efficacy of "enhanced interrogation," a majority of Americans continue to reject government use of torture, even when confronted with the "ticking time bomb" scenario.

"In 30 polls taken since the 9/11 attacks, the average public approval for American use of torture is 44 percent, ranging as low as 15 percent and as high as 49 percent, depending on the vagaries of the question. When asked most directly if they think it is "acceptable to torture people suspected of terrorism," only 35 percent of Americans express approval."

Posted by: jimkahan | May 19, 2009 1:40 AM | Report abuse

Sorry. The WP doesn't permit web links. The article was by political scientists Darius Rejali and Paul Gronke. Google them to find it.

Posted by: jimkahan | May 19, 2009 1:41 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, but that article basically has no actual stats to back it up, but only prose by authors clearly predisposed to the conclusions they give. Even the comments to the article note its flaws, and the polls which dispute it.

Posted by: woocane | May 19, 2009 3:14 AM | Report abuse

We need a truth commission. Democrats need a truth commission. Republicans need a truth commission. The United States needs a truth commission.
This past week of Pelosi obsession indicts the press for falling, like the most gullible marks, for the Republican shell game. The press fell for the oldest con in the books: following the wrong shell -- Pelosi -- for allegedly failing to to object adequately, or at all, to American torture of our prisoners.
Maybe she did fail. That's NOT the issue we Americans should be worrying about. Pelosi was never president of the United States. She was never the Dick Cheney, Bush's evil puppeteer, not even in drag.
Pelosi never held the power to order torture against international law and American law. Those, including some on this blog, should join a national examination of the nation's soul into whether torture is, in fact, the path we want our nation to follow in these dangerous times.
I vote no.

Posted by: jimsteinberg1 | May 19, 2009 4:11 AM | Report abuse

Why the rush to abandon our established system of government to review such issues? The only "truth commission" needed to examine potential abuses by the executive branch is the legislative branch. It's called "checks & balances" and it's how we do things in this constitutional republic. Any other approach is simply an avoidance tactic desired by cowardly politicians who won't take responsibility for, gasp!, honest hearings.

Posted by: jpen | May 19, 2009 6:48 AM | Report abuse

Yes, until we thoroughly clean the House and Senate, Truth will have no commission in these United States. The congress failed to do its duty ... why? the list is long, but garden variety Venality is somewhere at the top ... there are no Profiles in Courage, just Profiles in Get-Me-Elected, damn the people.

Posted by: freddiano | May 19, 2009 8:07 AM | Report abuse

A truth commission would bite the republicans much harder than the dems. Pelosi is nothing but the latest "shiny object" to distract the publics attention from the war crimes committed by the bush admin. The majority of the public is not falling for it. She did not write the policy, nor did she put the plans in place - the guilt lies at the top, whether they or their party choose to accept it or not. They have the right to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

Posted by: NotFooledByDistractionsTX | May 19, 2009 8:59 AM | Report abuse

The Pelosi kerfuffle is a distraction from the absolute necessity to prosecute crimes that were committed by Bush Administration officials. To the extent that Pelosi, Rockefeller, and other prominent Democrats were involved, they should be prosecuted too. This is not a partisan issue, even though those involved will be mostly Republicans owing to the fact that that party controlled the government when those crimes were committed. We are a nation of laws, or we are not a republic at all. Let the chips fall where they may.

Posted by: eroot | May 19, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Ventura on The View: If waterboarding is fine, why don’t cops do it?

By David Edwards and Stephen Webster

Published: May 18, 2009
Updated 1 day ago

Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, making a guest appearance on ABC’s The View, gave co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck a lesson or two about the torture technique known as waterboarding.

Ventura, who underwent a barrage of torture techniques at the military Survival, Evade, Resist and Escape (SERE) school, confirmed for Hasselbeck that waterboarding is torture and not just an “enhanced interrogation technique.”

“If waterboarding is okay, why don’t we let our police do it to suspects to learn what they know?” he asked to a chorus of applause.

“That’s an interesting question,” Hasselbeck said. “I understand that question.”

“If waterboarding is okay, why didn’t we waterboard [Timothy] McVeigh and [Terry] Nichols, the Oklahoma City bombers, to find out if there were more people involved? What’s your answer to that?” he asked. “We only seem to waterboard Muslims.”

“That’s an extremist statement,” said Hasselbeck.

“Aha!” cheered Ventura. “Have we waterboarded anybody else? Name me someone else we’ve waterboarded.”

She could not, instead shifting focus to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who has been criticized by Republicans for a seeming contradiction in disclosing what she knew about then-President Bush’s torture program, and when.

“They want her out because she lied?” asked Ventura. “Why didn’t they ask for Bush and Cheney to go out when they lied about why we went into Iraq?”

This video is from MSNBC’s News Live, broadcast May 18, 2009.

Posted by: artmann11 | May 19, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Woocane and other torture supporters have been caught up in the Cheney led effort to confine the torture issue to getting info from knowledgeable al quaida leaders.
this is peanuts.

The broader issue is the top down directives to torture hundreds- many of them innocents dragged in off the street in Iraq. The lawyers involved crafted sleazy opinions applied to all of them.
Responsible government lawyers pointing out the gross illegalities were shunted aside.
No one- even a die Bushie- can support this and claim to be an American.

Posted by: auntywbush | May 19, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Nancy Pelosi made claims about the CIA in the hopes of roping in the GOP knee-jerkers, who stand to lose big if the truth comes to light. This also keeps Obama out of it by getting the GOP to call for disclosure.

Posted by: BennyFactor | May 19, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

The Harris Poll® #93, December 21, 2005

Majorities of Public Believe that Torture, "Rendition" and the Use of Secret Prison Camps Outside U.S. are Sometimes Justified
Large majorities believe that the U.S. sometimes uses all three when interrogating suspected terrorists

Majorities of all adults believe that the use of torture, secret prison camps outside the U.S., and "rendition" (defined in the survey as "sending prisoners to be interrogated in countries where torture is common") are all justified "sometimes" or "often", according to a new Harris Poll. Specifically:

55 percent of all adults believe that rendition (as explained above) is justified either often (14%) or sometimes (41%), when interrogating suspected terrorists.
60 percent of adults believe that the use of "secret prison camps in Europe or elsewhere" is justified either often (14%) or sometimes (46%).
52 percent of all adults believe that the use of torture is justified either often (12%) or sometimes (40%).
These are the results of a nationwide Harris Poll of 1,961 U.S. adults surveyed online between December 8 and 14, 2005 by Harris Interactive®.

Much larger majorities – more than 80 percent of all adults – believe that the U.S. uses these methods when interrogating suspected terrorists sometimes or often. Specifically:

82 percent of all adults believe that the U.S. uses rendition, as defined above, often (25%) or sometimes (58%).
81 percent believes that the U.S. uses secret prison camps outside the country often (23 %) or sometimes (58%).
83 percent believe that the U.S. uses torture often (17%) or sometimes (66%).
These results suggest that Senator John McCain and the large majorities of both Houses of Congress who supported his opposition to the use of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners do not represent a majority of the public.

Posted by: boosterprez | May 19, 2009 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Basead on my last post of the Harris Poll regarding torture, I submit this probably observation:

The closer you get to 9/11/2001, the more Americans will approve of torture et al. The farther away you get from that date, the less Americans will's human nature.

Such is likely the case with Nancy Pelosi. In 2002, she didn't have a problem with torture - not because she thought personally that it was okay, but because most americans thought it was okay...and whatever the polls indicate is okay with her. But as time has passed, she's changing her tune - again, because of presumed political expediancy.

Because Obama is against the release of these documents, I suspect it does his party the most damage...thanks to Pelosi and her foot-in-mouth disease.

Posted by: boosterprez | May 19, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

How did the press get this twisted around?

What does whether Nancy Pelosi knew about it or not matter in the face of a POTUS and a VP that knowingly violated our laws to torture people, torture them to manufacture an excuse to have bombed Iraq to the middle ages and killed thousands?

Why is the silly press evolving on Pelosi and not the larger issue that Cheney's daughter is calling our President 'UnAmerican' after the damage he and Bush did to this Nation?

What happened to the very reason we are supposed to have the free press? When are you going to stop quibbling and get on with the facts - Bush and Cheney ordered torture... I don't care what the CIA and the attys did, they were following orders, send them all to rot in prison if you want, but subject is Bush and Cheney and war crimes.

The subject is NOT whether turture accomplished anything, the subject is that Bush and Cheney violated our laws to torture pows.

Shame on the press for ginning up readership while avoiding their duty!

Posted by: dutchess2 | May 19, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Excuse me -- when did the public "turn against" the enhanced techniques? All the recent polls I have seen show that most Americans approve of the Bush Administration's use of them. Yes, most of the intellectual elite, and I'm sure Mr. Stromberg's friends, oppose them, but the American people do not.

Posted by: woocane | May 18, 2009 6:52 PM | Report abuse

We need to do a Partial Birth ABortion and pull woocanes head out of his arse..

MOST American oppose torture..

Most RW Xians are Pro Torture
they wear it around their necks to prove it...

Fei Hu

Posted by: Fei_Hu | May 19, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I wouldn't allow a poll to determine the course of brain surgery I'd chose for my critically ill gay cousin, WHT would I depend on one to set the course for the future of my country?

You have got to be kidding...


Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | May 19, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse


Is that you Liz?

Working on all fronts to justify your father's craven cruelty and wanton abuse of our laws and the order of our lives?

He and W. can only hang once, spend one live in prison, and if the angry mobs got them, they could only be pulled apart by horses once...

So nothing they can ever do will make up for the damage they have done...

You apparently have no shame.

You and they need to just retire to the far distant boonies, and take up golf or
reading, stay out of the public eye, don't travel where you can be snatched up by some other country that wants to try them for war crimes, and just. go. away.

Posted by: dutchess2 | May 19, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

A truth commission might be a good idea when passions cool and a real desire for truth takes place, but we also need a truth commission to find out what elements in our society failed us and led to the economic catastrophe that has befallen so many Americans. The elements that need scrutiny include banks, Wall Street, Congress, the executive branch, the judicial branch, hedge funds etc.

To have a truth commission now on torture is to invite a Congressional circus, lots of he saids and she saids, and no focus on things like heathcare, how to get Americans back to work, improving our economy, reducing our dependence on unfriendly nations who supply us with oil and so on.

Those who think Congress can do a truth commission and chew gum at the same time overlook Congress' willingness to do anything to avoid making hard choices. There are some, including me, who see the rancour and partisanship in Congress as a way to distract the voters from the fact that our Congress is corrupt and parasitical.

Posted by: hyood | May 19, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

If the American public is in favour of torture - which, let's face it, is the core and purpose of "enhanced interrogation techniques" - something is wrong.

A truth commission would be great. You can't have a law-breaking president and vice president, a possibly stolen election, a dubious war with a hundred thousand killed civilians or more, and a Patriot Act, and pretend it never happened. You have to deal with it before you move on.

Posted by: asoders22 | May 19, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Let’s not get confused, who implemented water-boarding? Who’s hoodwinking who?

Imagine if armed banks robbers were deemed innocent because no one objected to their heists? Therefore, if there are no objections, they are entitled to a free get out of jail pass courtesy of the “hell, we told you before we robbed the bank” loophole. Or the “if you didn’t throw a fit, you must acquit!” law. What does it matter if Pelosi had been told about it? Let us all concede that she may be a prevaricator. Let us then concede that Cheney et al are criminals.

Posted by: quovadis1 | May 19, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

How did the press get this twisted around?

What does whether Nancy Pelosi knew about it or not matter in the face of a POTUS and a VP that knowingly violated our laws to torture people, torture them to manufacture an excuse to have bombed Iraq to the middle ages and killed thousands?


Bush and Cheney could NOT have the done the things that the liberals want to prosecute them for without the explicit help of the Democrats; Nancy Pelosi in particular. The "torture", if it was in fact torture, was not committed in a vacuum by a few Republicans, it was committed with the complicity of the United States government, Legislative, Executive, and Judicial. And, approximately 50% of the officials of the US Government were Democrats.

To come back seven years after the fact and try to paint the Republicans as the demons and portray the Democrats as lily-white bystanders is the height of hypocrisy.

The Obama White House began this torture charade a few weeks ago as a slam dunk exercise in ridiculing and embarrassing Republicans. As a result of Nancy Pelosi's interference, it has exploded in the Democrats faces. It has embarrassed both the Democratic Party, and Obama, and now will not end until Pelosi either proves that the CIA lied to her or she admits that she lied.

In either case, the slipshod handling of this mess is a severe blow to the Democrats, and their liberal agenda.

"Torture" is no longer the issue. It is all about Nancy Pelosi.

Posted by: mike85 | May 19, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

What to do with all these prisoners that THE INTERROGATORS THEMSEVES KNEW AND STATED WERE INNOCENT as long as 5 or 6 years ago?

Very difficult to release another innocent but tortured prisoner, particularly when they are foreigners who know their country will demand extradition of those guilty of violating laws held for centuries.

Posted by: TramplingGrapes | May 19, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

And another thing.
I'm more than tired of these fascists telling me that only they can protect me.

Liberty & honor in government are far more important to me than hearing someone tell me they will protect me no matter what.

I don't want an empire. Bring home every last troop, from every last country, and shut it down. Ron Paul is correct - we could entirely dismantle the IRS if we did that. And our country would be far safer.

Posted by: TramplingGrapes | May 19, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

I don't know where this is headed, and I'm not sure of the value.

But I laugh out loud anytime I hear "truth commission" and "Congress" in the same sentence.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | May 19, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Lets see the facts but I am not blaming the CIA what happened or what they told Congress. And Congress obviously was responsible for some oversight or more oversight. And same for the run up to war in Iraq. The CIA is definitely not the main actor but were made the scapegoat for Iraq and now torture. That's not right. And Bush and Cheney said they were in charge of everything in times of war, in this case war without end. Congress was marginalized.

Posted by: digby2 | May 19, 2009 11:42 PM | Report abuse

Dood, Frank, Pelosi, Waters, Boxer, Murtha and others will never let a full and completely open Truth Commission ever go forward. If it did and it was comprehensive they'd all come out on the short end.

Posted by: npsilver | May 20, 2009 1:02 AM | Report abuse

I fully agree with dutchess2.

Since when is ANY of this about the Speaker?

She is neither the President nor the VP.

If she did something wrong, punish her.

The larger and far more important issue is the POTUS and VP ignoring their limitations and OUR morals and ordering people tortured. And facilitating it with the removal of Habius Corpus, which was a MAJOR sea change in our justice system.

The dialogue about Speaker Pelosi is simply a distraction designed to jump start the now dead-in-the-water Republican party.

This is bigger than any political party.

If some Dems go down because of this, it's called justice served...

The important thing here is to FOCUS on where the ultimate responsibility was... the Executive Branch.

Why is this being willfully ignored by the so called "Forth Estate"?

I have yet to hear or see any mention of George W. Bush directly involved with this, yet it was his administrations actions that are in question.

Is this too, not his fault or responsibility?

Posted by: BellsBlu2 | May 20, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

"It is all about Nancy Pelosi." ROTFL

Mike85 its ALWAYS been all about Nancy Pelosi for the rethugs. you guys are obsessed with her and Hilary Clinton because they challenge your puerile 'father knows best' worldview.

Posted by: Vizier6 | May 20, 2009 6:45 PM | Report abuse

Yes, the CIA "fully" breifed Pelosi.

But did they fully breif her on the use of torture on the U.S. Guantanamo Bay concentration camp inmates, or only that they were using enhanced interrogation procedures on certain high profile terrorists?

I'm fairly certain that they didn't give a comprehensive beifing on the historical use and evolution of all the techniques they were using.

Posted by: mhoust | May 21, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

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