Thursday, April 23, 2009

Let's At Least Avoid The Political Torture

If there's one place where President Obama's political and diplomatic interests coincide, it's keeping the controversy over whether the Bush administration illegally sanctioned torture from descending into a partisan witch hunt. While cultural elites may think that an exhibitionist accountability exercise will ennoble the U.S. in the eyes of the world, it's more likely to provoke opportunism among our enemies and bemusement among our friends. At home, it will make it harder for Obama to command the center and rebuff the GOP in the 2010 midterm elections.

Though Nancy Pelosi and other liberal Democrats, seemingly intent on punishing Republicans, want a special panel on alleged torture, Obama and Senate Democratic leaders don't, and they held the line today -- an improvement on several days' mixed signals from Obama. A bright partisan spark was thrown by one of his lieutenants yesterday when House Republicans, angered because Obama released Bush-era memos authorizing harsh interrogation techniques (which some call torture), pressed Secretary of State Clinton on charges by Dick Cheney that the Obama administration is covering up evidence that the interrogations worked. She pressed back:
It won't surprise you that I don't consider him a particularly reliable source of information.
Ouch! Yet the same day, "Politico" reported:
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair acknowledged in a memo to the intelligence community that Bush-era interrogation practices yielded had "high-value information,” then omitted that admission from a public version of his assessment.
So Clinton accused Cheney of being a liar even as it was made clear that her colleagues are spinning the torture story, just like he said. If there was ever a subject in need of a no-spin zone, it's this one. And yet the Clinton-Cheney contretemps is a reliable preview of what Pelosi's process would look like. I say full disclosure on the alleged torture as well as all terrorist plots discerned and thwarted since 2001. If it's still too dangerous to talk about the latter, then it's probably premature to investigate the former and impossible to do so fairly and dispassionately.

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