Republicans Defend Torture With Two Tasty Words: Nancy Pelosi

Pelosi and Torture



By John Nichols –

That House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been a disappointing leader for House Democrats, few serious observers of the congressional condition will deny. But now, she appears to be something more troubling: a serious hindrance to the fight against the use of the crudest and most objectionable torture techniques.

Democrats and Republicans with a conscience have gotten a good deal of traction in recent months in their battle to identify the use by U.S. interrogators of waterboarding – a technique that simulates drowning in order to cause extreme mental distress to prisoners — as what it is: torture. Arizona Senator John McCain, a GOP presidential contender, has been particularly powerful in his denunciations of this barbarous endeavor. And Senate Intelligence Committee chair Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, and key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have effectively pressed the issue on a number of fronts.

Now, however, comes the news that Pelosi knew as early as 2002 that the U.S. was using waterboarding and other torture techniques and, far from objecting, appears to have cheered the tactics on.

The Washington Post reports that Pelosi, who was then a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, was were informed by CIA officials at a secret briefing in September 2002, that waterboarding and other forms of torture were being used on suspected al-Queda operatives. That’s bad. Even worse is the revelation that Pelosi was apparently supportive of the initiative.

According to the news reports, Pelosi has no complaint about waterboarding during a closed-door session she attended with Florida Congressman Porter Goss, a Republican who would go on to head the Central Intelligence Agency, Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts and Florida Democratic Senator Bob Graham.

“The reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement,” recalls Goss.

How encouraging? It is reported that two of the legislators demanded to know if waterboarding and other methods that were being employed “were tough enough” forms of torture to produced the desired levels of mental anguish to force information from suspects who, under the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Constitution, cannot be subjected to cruel or unusual punishment.

Was Pelosi one of the “tough-enough” cheerleaders for waterboarding? That is not clear, as the speaker has refused to comment directly regarding her knowledge of torture techniques and encouragement of their use. Another member of the House who is closely allied wit Pelosi did tell the Post, however, that the California Democrat attended the session, recalled that waterboarding was discussed, and “did not object” at the time to that particular torture technique.

If this is the case, Pelosi has provided aid and comfort to the Bush administration’s efforts to deviate not just from the standards set by international agreements regarding war crimes but from the provision of the Bill of Rights that establishes basic requirements with regard to the treatment of prisoners who in the custody of the United States.

Those deviations are precisely the sort of impeachable offenses that Pelosi has said are “off the table.” Her association with the administration on the matter of torture necessarily calls into question the speaker’s credibility on questions of how and when to hold the administration to account. It also begs a more mundane political question: At a point when Republicans like John McCain are earning points with their forthright stances against waterboarding, isn’t the credibility and the potential effectiveness of the House Democratic Caucus as an honest player in the debate profoundly harmed by the involvement of its leader in behind-the-scenes meetings that by all accounts encouraged the use of that technique?

Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson Reveals the Truth About Gitmo and Graib

Terror Suspect’s Case Drags on 5 years After Arrest in Minneapolis

“Some harm to civil liberties seems to be endemic to war situations and you know, at the end of the day, if we win this war against terrorism, we and the whole world will be more free and our rights will be more secure, but along the way, there may be some situations and some individuals who will have the opposite,” said Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.

December 15, 2008

On a cold December morning five years ago, FBI agents knocked on the door of a basement apartment in northeast Minneapolis, and Mohamed Abdullah Warsame answered.

He let the agents in to talk, and later they took him to another location to talk more. He hasn’t been home since.

For five years, Warsame, now 35, has been awaiting trial on charges that he provided material support to Al-Qaida. A Canadian citizen of Somali descent, he has done most of the waiting alone in a jail cell, under special restrictions that limit his contact with the outside world.

His pretrial detention is one of the longest for a terrorism- related case since Sept. 11, with the delays stemming from a variety of sources.

Authorities have needed extra time for security clearances. Attorneys have argued over Warsame’s detention conditions and debated access to facts and witnesses. Some information is classified by the federal government, and defense attorneys have no legal access to it. An appeals court is also considering whether some of Warsame’s statements to authorities, thrown out by the district judge, should be allowed to be used against him.

Warsame was one of 46 still awaiting trial as of mid-2007, among the 108 charged since Sept. 11 with providing material support to a terrorist organization, according to one analyst who tracks such cases.

The length of Warsame’s case raises questions about how the courts handle terrorism cases.

The federal courts are “being used the same way that the prosecutions in Guantanamo are being used … based on the accusation of terrorism, the normal rules don’t seem to apply,” said Peter Erlinder, a professor at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul and who has been involved in Warsame’s defense and at least one other terrorism-related case. Some Guantanamo detainees are being released in less time than Warsame has been held, Erlinder said.

Others point out that Warsame and other defendants in terrorism cases present unusual circumstances.

“Some harm to civil liberties seems to be endemic to war situations and you know, at the end of the day, if we win this war against terrorism, we and the whole world will be more free and our rights will be more secure, but along the way, there may be some situations and some individuals who will have the opposite,” said Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. “And it’s a shame, but nonetheless, if there’s a strong reason to believe that this man was involved with terrorists, I wouldn’t want him out on the streets.”

Warsame’s case may be cited as the debate rages about what to do with detainees if Guantanamo closes, said Robert Chesney, a Wake Forest University professor who compiled the data on 108 defendants. Warsame’s is the longest pretrial detention of the post-9/11 terrorism prosecutions that Chesney has found.

Some question whether federal courts are equipped to handle such cases or special courts should be set up.

Those against setting up special courts argue that defendants would be deprived of due process and a fair trial.

John Radsan, a former CIA attorney who is now a professor at William Mitchell, said the public will see more drawn-out court procedures if terrorism cases continue in federal courts. Rules have long been in place to handle classified information in federal court, he said, but few cases needed them.

Though Radsan said he favors prosecuting high-level terrorism cases in a separate arena, Warsame doesn’t necessarily fall into that category, he said.

Nevertheless, Warsame’s case highlights the difficulty of using regular courts. “If we’re having this much trouble on Warsame, imagine what’s in store if we try to handle higher-level terrorists in the regular courts,” he said.

A dragged-out case

Warsame, who was a student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College at the time of his arrest, is charged with lying to federal agents about traveling to Afghanistan in 2000 and later sending $2,000 to an associate he met at a training camp there. Authorities contend Warsame once dined next to Osama bin Laden and fought on the front lines with the Taliban.

The U.S. attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment.

A defense attorney said early in the case that Warsame was searching for a Muslim utopia and went to training camps because he was out of money and needed shelter. The attorney said someone had lent Warsame money to get back to North America and the money he sent was repayment.

The latest delay in the case comes as the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals considers a district judge’s ruling that statements Warsame made to authorities on his second day of interviews with FBI agents in 2003 cannot be used against him. U.S. District Judge John Tunheim found that Warsame was in custody that day when agents spoke to him without a Miranda warning at Camp Ripley, a National Guard base near Little Falls.

Prosecutors appealed that decision to the higher court.

Defense attorney David Thomas said he’s been frustrated by the lack of access to information. “Most of the evidence is classified, so I can’t see that,” Thomas said. “I sit there and I watch. The government will make a submission to Judge Tunheim and then Tunheim will lob something back to the government and, you know, I don’t see any of it. It’s like sitting at a tennis match, watching the ball go back and forth.”

‘Give Warsame a chance’

Thomas said his client is “full of vim and vigor” and wants to keep fighting the charges.

Warsame’s family in the Twin Cities declined to comment.

Talk of the case has been fading in the local Somali community recently, said Sharmarke Jama, a member of the United Somali Movement. Nevertheless, the length of the case helped feed skepticism, fear and mistrust of the justice system, he added.

The Somali Justice Advocacy Center’s Omar Jamal said he plans to write a letter and “plead to the court to give [Warsame] a chance for his day in court and get over with this. He’s been there suffering, not knowing his fate.”

Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102

Did PBS bury controversial torture documentary under pressure from Bush administration?


Scott Horton reports today that PBS may have refused to nationally air a controversial documentary on the use of torture by the U.S. government in order to protect its funding. Previously, the Bush administration threatened to cut PBS’s funding after it aired Bush’s War, a Frontline special critical of the war in Iraq:

On Thursday evening WNET in New York will air an important new documentary by Emmy and Dupont Award winning producer Sherry Jones entitled “Torturing Democracy.” It appears on WNET and several other affiliates independently because PBS would not run the show. […]

According to producer Sherry Jones, PBS told her that “no time slot could be found for the documentary before January 21, 2009″ — the day after George W. Bush and Dick Cheney leave office.

Watch a clip from Torturing Democracy here.

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