Waterboarding Demonstrates Democratic Failure As An Oppositon Party

I’ve noted many times in the past that the Democrats are quite ineffective as an opposition party, and we see new evidence of this today. The Washington Post reports that some Democratic leaders were briefed about waterboarding and provided no opposition:

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said…

With one known exception, no formal objections were raised by the lawmakers briefed about the harsh methods during the two years in which waterboarding was employed, from 2002 to 2003, said Democrats and Republicans with direct knowledge of the matter. The lawmakers who held oversight roles during the period included Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), as well as Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan).

Individual lawmakers’ recollections of the early briefings varied dramatically, but officials present during the meetings described the reaction as mostly quiet acquiescence, if not outright support. “Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing,” said Goss, who chaired the House intelligence committee from 1997 to 2004 and then served as CIA director from 2004 to 2006. “And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement.”

While I would wish that the Democrats involved had spoken out, to be fair we don’t know exactly how waterboarding was presented and they did face limitations:

Congressional officials say the groups’ ability to challenge the practices was hampered by strict rules of secrecy that prohibited them from being able to take notes or consult legal experts or members of their own staffs. And while various officials have described the briefings as detailed and graphic, it is unclear precisely what members were told about waterboarding and how it is conducted. Several officials familiar with the briefings also recalled that the meetings were marked by an atmosphere of deep concern about the possibility of an imminent terrorist attack.

“In fairness, the environment was different then because we were closer to Sept. 11 and people were still in a panic,” said one U.S. official present during the early briefings. “But there was no objecting, no hand-wringing. The attitude was, ‘We don’t care what you do to those guys as long as you get the information you need to protect the American people.’ “

This ultimately gets back to the failure of Democrats to make the case after 9/11 that preservation of our liberties must be considered in any response. Responses based upon panic and abandonment of our principles are exactly what terrorists seek. We needed an effective opposition to provide an alternative plan for fighting terrorism which did not violate our principles but Democrats were unable or too frightened to articulate such a view.

If the situation had been reversed, we know that the Republicans would have had no qualms about sticking to their principles (regardless of whether their principles are right or wrong) and would have pushed to oppose Democratic policies without regard for the political consequences. That is why they made a more effective opposition, and why they ultimately took control of the government for so many years despite lacking the ability to govern effectively.


  1. 1
    absent observer says:

    I am not surprised that this smear gets leaked just as people were beginning to talk about the destroyed CIA torture tapes.

    It’s a great distraction. Imagine if the rolls were reversed. The Dems have been found to have done some high crime. So, they leak some smear about the Gop’s. Would the GOP’s base get distracted a second from investigating the Dems high crimes?

    No. At some point, you have to say, “No more distractions; One problem at a time.”

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Absent Observer,

    It might turn out otherwise, but at present it appears that this was released by people who oppose torture and are frustrated with the manner in which the Democrats have failed to respond, as opposed to being released by Republicans to attempt to distract attention from the problem.

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