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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/18/09

What Did Democrats Really Know About Bush's Torture Program?

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Still, the silence on the question of accountability among a large majority of Democrats begs the question: were Democrats aware of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program and are refusing to call for a wide-ranging probe because they approved of the torture?

According to former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the brutal interrogation methods, such as slamming a detainee’s head against the wall dozens of times and the use of waterboarding, “were disclosed repeatedly in more than 30 congressional briefings and hearings beginning in 2002, and open to all members of the Intelligence Committees of both Houses of Congress beginning in September 2006.”

“Any protestation of ignorance of those details, particularly by members of those committees, is pretense,” the former Bush officials wrote in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal Friday. Their op-ed sharply criticized the Obama administration's decision to release the four Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos.

They wrote “disclosure of the techniques is likely to be met by faux outrage, and is perfectly packaged for media consumption.”

Claims that Democrats were fully briefed on the Bush administration’s torture program have been leveled as recently as last December by Vice President Dick Cheney and in books by former Bush officials such as John Yoo, the former Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the OLC who helped draft one of the four memos released Thursday.

Representatives to the current and former Democrats who served on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees—including Pelosi—would not respond to Mukasey and Hayden’s claims about what they knew and when they knew it.

A spokesman for Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee, referred me to a statement posted on his website, which essentially applauded Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for releasing the memos but did not go further.

In December 2007, the Washington Post reported that in 2002 Pelosi, who was a member of the House Intelligence Committee during Bush’s first term, Sen. Bob Graham, D-FL, and Rep. Jane Harman, D-CA, and a handful of Republican lawmakers, were “given a virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make the prisoners talk.”

“Among the techniques described [to the lawmakers], said two officials present, was water-boarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill,” the Post reported. “But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two US officials said.”

The Post story also made identical claims that Hayden and Mukasey leveled in their column: that Pelosi and other Democratic leaders were privately briefed at least 30 times. Those briefings, according to the Post, “included descriptions of [water-boarding] and other harsh interrogations methods.”

Questions about what the Democrats knew about the CIA’s torture program were raised two years ago when it was revealed that the CIA had destroyed 92 interrogation videotapes in November 2005 and that the agency had informed Democratic lawmakers about its plans.

Following the disclosure, Harman’s office released a February 2003 letter she wrote the letter to the CIA advising the agency against destroying the videotapes. The CIA declassified Harman's letter at the congresswoman's request.

“You discussed the fact that there is videotape of [high-level al-Qaeda operative] Abu Zubaydah following his capture that will be destroyed after the Inspector General finishes his inquiry,” Harman wrote. “I would urge the Agency to reconsider that plan. Even if the videotape does not constitute an official record that must be preserved under the law, the videotape would be the best proof that the written record is accurate, if such record is called into question in the future. The fact of destruction would reflect badly on the Agency.”

But Harman's letter did not raise concerns or express disapproval about the CIA's use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques." Instead, her letter advised the agency against destroying the videotapes were made out of concern the footage CIA agents captured "would be the best proof that the written record is accurate, if such record is called into question in the future.”

Still, Hayden and Mukasey’s claims that Congress had been fully briefed on the interrogation program underscores the need for an investigation and should lead members of Congress to demand sworn testimony from Hayden in particular.

Hayden, it would appear, may not be telling the truth about whether the CIA fully briefed Congress about the extent of the CIA’s interrogation program.

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Jason Leopold is Deputy Managing Editor of and the founding editor of the online investigative news magazine The Public Record, He is the author of the National Bestseller, "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit (more...)
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