Nancy's Nutty CIA Conspiracy Tales

Nancy's Nutty CIA Conspiracy Tales

By Rich Lowry - May 19, 2009

Next, Nancy Pelosi should find a way to work in the Bilderberg Group, the annual gathering of global elites that is a perennial obsession of conspiracy theorists. It's the only thing missing from her wild tale of CIA misconduct that's so implausible, she had trouble keeping it straight at her instantly notorious "I was misled" press conference.

For Pelosi's account to be accurate, the CIA must have engaged in one of the most baroque and ineffectual conspiracies in the history of Washington. Remember: Pelosi claims that the CIA lied to her in a September 2002 classified briefing and told her that it hadn't waterboarded high-level al-Qaeda detainee Abu Zubaydah. To support her version, Pelosi needs to stack implausibility on top of implausibility in a precarious Jenga tower of self-justification.

The CIA must have convinced Porter Goss, the Republican congressman (and subsequent CIA director) who was present at the 2002 briefing, to lie and pronounce himself "slack-jawed" at Pelosi's account. It must have forged the "contemporaneous records" CIA director Leon Panetta, an Obama nominee, has cited that show Pelosi was told of the waterboarding. It must have either pulled the wool over Panetta's eyes or enlisted his active engagement in a monstrous machinery of deception.

Even Oliver Stone wouldn't touch this screenplay. And why would the CIA have lied to Pelosi in 2002? Even in her telling, the briefers informed her that the enhanced interrogation techniques had been found to be legal. So there was no wrongdoing to cover up. And even by Pelosi's account, the CIA told one of her aides in a February 2003 briefing that it had used waterboarding, and the aide passed it along to her. It's pointless to lie to the principal when a few months later you are going to funnel the information to her through a subordinate. In short, Pelosi has uncorked Washington's least believable and most internally inconsistent denial since Bill Clinton wagged his finger over "that woman."

Pelosi's motivation for putting her reputation - and perhaps her speakership - on the line is more subtle than Clinton's. She is sacrificing her credibility on the altar of moral vanity and rhetorical excess. She is trapped under the terrible freight of the word "torture," the Left's obligatory swearword for the Bush interrogation program. Torture is a war crime, and anyone complicit in it is a war criminal. It admits of no wiggle room. For Pelosi to acknowledge she knew of torture as far back as 2002 and did nothing to stop it is to condemn herself as an unindicted co-conspirator in George W. Bush's crimes. Better to obfuscate and dodge, and remain adamant about a "truth commission," even when she can't tell the truth herself.

Pelosi's inaction years ago speaks more eloquently than her denunciations of the Bush administration since. Even if she was uncomfortable with the use of waterboarding, she clearly didn't consider it torture. If she had been told that the CIA was burning detainees with cigarettes, would she also have implicitly approved? Let's hope not. But given the choice between forswearing the simplistic and morally self-gratifying attack on Bush as a torturer, and hurling herself on a pyre in front of the national press corps, Pelosi chose self-immolation.

Just as instructive is Pres. Barack Obama's condemnation of waterboarding as torture, even as he opposes creating a truth commission and prosecuting the torturers. Understandably, the Left considers this a travesty. If waterboarding as we practiced it is torture, the men who did it are war criminals whose sadistic acts can't be allowed to go unpunished. That Obama is taking a pass either makes him, on his own terms, a dastardly accomplice to war crimes after the fact, or shows that, despite his words, he doesn't truly believe it rises to the level of torture.

Obama can paper over this logical inconsistency with smooth and well-chosen words. Nancy Pelosi is impaling herself on it.

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review.

Rich Lowry

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