Prosecuting War Crimes: Will Pelosi Need a Lawyer?

It’s taking less and less time for President Obama to abandon his promises.  It took only two days for him to break his word to the intelligence community about not prosecuting officials who fought to keep our country safe by interrogating men captured as they plotted to kill Americans.   
Now, with the revelation that many members of both parties, from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on down, were well aware of the enhanced interrogation techniques used in the dark days following 9-11, the question becomes:  If Obama decides to prosecute, how many in his own party will need legal counsel?

That question suddenly became pertinent this week after it was confirmed that the CIA briefed top Republicans and Democrats, including Pelosi and leaders of the congressional intelligence committees, more than 30 times on the interrogation techniques it was using.  Intelligence sources said that the members of Congress who were briefed tacitly approved the techniques which some Democrats in Congress now insist should get Bush administration officials tossed into prison.   

Obama seemed to be on much better footing a week ago.  Last week, as Obama was palling around with tyrants in the Caribbean, his White House released the so-called “torture memos,” which describe enhanced interrogation techniques authorized by the CIA in the aftermath of 9-11.  

According to Obama, the memos prove that the United States is “losing our moral bearings.”  By making them public, Obama claimed to be putting to an end “a dark and painful chapter in our history” because, he believes, “our nation is stronger and more secure when we deploy the full measures of both our power and the power of our values-including the rule of law.”  

Upon releasing the memos, the president said the interrogation techniques “did not make us safer.”  That’s patently false.  “High value information” was obtained in harsh interrogation, including “[a] deeper understanding of the al-Qaida network,” National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair recently wrote in a letter to CIA employees.  

And Justice Department memos stated that the CIA believes intelligence obtained “from these interrogations has been a key reason why al Qaeda has failed to launch a spectacular attack in the West since 11 September 2001.”  In particular, enhanced techniques produced critical information from Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, including intelligence about a plot to launch a 9-11 “sequel” in Los Angeles.  Countless lives were no doubt saved as a result.   

Blair also said:

Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing.  As the President has made clear, and as both CIA Director Panetta and I have stated, we will not use those techniques in the future.  I like to think I would not have approved those methods in the past, but I do not fault those who made the decisions at the time, and I will absolutely defend those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given.

It’s strange that Blair used the word “safe” to describe America today in contrast to conditions here after 9-11.  The contention by many on the Left, including Obama, has always been that Bush’s policies made America less safe after 9-11.  Why then is Obama’s chief intelligence official now saying we are safer?  

It is debatable whether we are significantly safer now from terrorist attacks than we were five years ago.  But if we are, it’s in part due to, not despite, the Bush administration’s enhanced interrogations of terrorists.

Until recently, the Obama administration had insisted that it would not investigate or prosecute Bush administration officials who authorized the enhanced interrogation techniques.  Last week Obama said, “Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”  It was a point made by the administration as recently as last Sunday when White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said during an interview on "This Week," “Yeah, …those who devised the policy, [Obama] believes that they were, should not be prosecuted either.”  

But Team Obama’s stated refusal to support prosecution of Bush officials never sat well with the leftwing blogosphere, which blew up this week with threats to withhold donations and support from Democrats if investigations aren’t forthcoming.  A front page petition is not quite as unhinged, stating, “So far, the architects of Bush’s torture program have not been held accountable.  It’s time for Attorney General Holder to open an investigation to make sure those responsible face real consequences.”

This reaction helps explain Obama’s new openness to “truth commissions” and prosecuting intelligence officials. Obama has spent the last month kissing up to European leaders, bowing to Middle Eastern kings and embracing South American despots.  Why wouldn’t he extend the same treatment to his core political constituency, the radical Left?

Investigating both Republican and Democratic members of Congress would be a novel way for the president finally to deliver some of that bi-partisanship he’s been promising.  Not that anyone should be investigated.  The interrogation techniques used by CIA officials probably helped save countless American lives, and did not cause any deaths or permanent injury to terrorists.  

But it would be ironic if the Left, in finally getting what it’s been demanding for years — prosecution of anyone involved in enhanced interrogation of terrorist suspects — discovered it was taking down many of its own.