At a Senate hearing this past week, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, rallied to the defense of ex-President George W. Bush's torture techniques by implicitly endorsing the Spanish Inquisition's brutal treatment of Jews, Muslims, Protestants and other alleged heretics from the 15th to 17th centuries.
In a normal world, one might have expected national outrage over a prominent U.S. senator speaking favorably of the Spanish Inquisition, which pioneered innovations in torture that encompass many of the techniques--including the water torture now known as waterboarding--that Bush used against "war on terror"- detainees at the start of the 21st Century.
Beyond the inhumanity of the Inquisition, there is the troubling fact that the torture tactics did "work"- only in the sense that they extracted many false confessions and got victims to implicate other individuals who were, in turn, persecuted, tortured and put to death for their religious beliefs.
But Graham's praise for the efficacy of the Inquisition's torture tactics passed largely unnoticed--and without any perceptible criticism--in the American news media. The Washington Post article on the Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing didn't even mention Graham's extraordinary remark; a brief New York Times article about the hearing mentioned it only in passing.
Plus, in contrast to the quiet acceptance of Graham's views on the Inquisition's torture tactics, the Washington news media flew into near hysteria over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's tortured explanations of what she knew about Bush's torture policies.
Pelosi has claimed she didn't protest Bush's tactics when she was told about them on Sept. 4, 2002, as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee because the CIA led her to believe that waterboarding was something that had been deemed legal but had not yet been employed.
At a press conference on May 14, she accused the CIA of "misleading the Congress of the United States."
The Speaker said she learned in early 2003 (from a staff aide) that waterboarding actually had been used against detainees, but she still didn't protest because it wouldn't have done any good and a more pressing need was for Democrats to retake Congress (which didn't occur until Election 2006).
Pelosi's explanation is undeniably lame, but it is a strange characteristic of today's Washington that Pelosi's failure to protest an action by a Republican President has drawn a more unified condemnation than Bush's actions did.
While Pelosi gets pummeled across the board, Bush's authorizing role in torture has its predictable defenders among Republicans and in the right-wing news media (not to mention some "pragmatic" centrists).
This dynamic is one that has prevailed in Washington for more than a quarter century. Republicans and the right-wing news media put up a fierce defense of Republican crimes, while the Democrats and the mainstream press seek to avoid a confrontation with angry Republicans and right-wingers.
Sometimes, when I speak to groups about this reality as it related to Reagan-era crimes of the 1980s, I am asked by a skeptical questioner why the Democrats wouldn't hold the Republicans accountable when the opportunity presents itself as it did in the early 1990s after Bill Clinton's election.