Do the Democrats Have Amnesia?

Do the Democrats Have Amnesia?

By Victor Davis Hanson - May 12, 2009

That Was Then, This is Now...

The current furor over the three water-boarded terrorists is right out of the old Greek idea of excess leading to hubris leading to nemesis leading to destruction. Do we really wish to revisit 2002?

In that seminal year 2002-remember Bali, the intifada bombings, the 800 Russian hostages, John Lee Mohammad, Jose Padilla, the Buffalo Six al-Qaedists, and the lingering fumes from Richard ("shoe-bomber") Reid and the anthrax letters?-Democrats were chest-thumping about keeping us safe. To be fair, everyone was. Bush had a 62% approval rating, and gained in the mid-term elections that hinged on matters of national security. The new Department of Homeland Security was having us remove shoes and throw away liquids from our carry-on luggage.

Meanwhile everyone from Thomas Friedman to Andrew Sullivan was advocating an invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam. Democrats were edgy, as the Clinton era was framed as a period of "firewalls" and futile cruise missile attacks that had only empowered al Qaeda. A majority of the Democrats in the Congress, worried about the upcoming November elections, voted in October for 23 reasons to go to war against Iraq. Harry Reid was giving fire and brimstone speeches about going into Iraq. Clinton was toxic, deemed dallying with Monica as our enemies plotted their attacks.

In this context, the country was convinced that radical Islam was on the rise, that another 9/11 was inevitable, that genocidal tyrants like Saddam were whipping up anti-American feeling in the Middle East, and that a popular George Bush was doing all that he could to keep us safe-barely.

So Nancy Pelosi and Jay Rockefeller were briefed on the "enhanced interrogation techniques" that led in 2002 to the waterboarding of the first of three murderers in Guantanamo. Neither at the time objected to the practice.

The Strange Case of Eric Holder

Here's what Eric Holder-set to examine whether or not to depose, indict, whatever Bush's legal advisors, told CNN in January 2002 about Guantanamo inmates:

"It seems to me you can think of these people as combatants and we are in the middle of a war. And it seems to me that you could probably say, looking at precedent, that you are going to detain these people until war is over, if that is ultimately what we wanted to do." Later in 2002 Holder elaborated, "One of the things we clearly want to do with these prisoners is to have an ability to interrogate them and find out what their future plans might be, where other cells are located. Under the Geneva Convention, you are really limited in the amount of information that you can elicit from people...[They] are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. They are not prisoners of war...Those in Europe and other places who are concerned about the treatment of al-Qaida members should come to Camp X-ray and see how the people are, in fact, being treated."

Again, that was 2002, when the Democrats, like the Bush administration, were desperate to show the public that they too could stop another 9/11 and keep us safe.

All We Need Now is Joe McCarthy

Nancy Pelosi, after calling for an inquisition, now would find herself right in the middle of it. If a lawyer is to be tried, ruined, or disbarred for offering a legal opinion, then what about a Congressional representative whose oversight allows waterboarding to continue? Will Pelosi want more memos released, à la Cheney, to show that the practice that she authorized by her complicity in the oversight briefings paid dividends by preventing new attacks?

The fact is, that once war is redefined as a criminal justice matter, everyone in government comes under this French Revolution-like reign of revisionism-did Eric Holder once authorize Clinton-era renditions? Does blowing apart suspected terrorists by Predator attacks in Pakistan without habeas corpus constitute executions?

And, of course, if we are hit again by another 9/11 attack, will all the above cease in a nanno-second, replaced by new recriminations of laxity? And would people look back in appreciation that Bush & co kept us safe for years.


If I were the Democratic leadership, I'd move on, so to speak.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His latest book is The Savior Generals from BloomsburyBooks. You can reach him by e-mailing

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