Time's Joe Klein: So Nancy Pelosi Knew About Waterboarding, So What?

Quickly reacting to the December 9 Washington Post's front page revelation yesterday that some Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knew about waterboarding interrogation techniques YEARS ago, Time's Joe Klein sought to silence criticism of Democratic hypocrisy.

Klein's excuse? Democrats were swept up by post-9/11 fear and paranoia:

Now, there is going to be a lot of shouting and breast-beating over this. Republicans will say, "See! See! The Democrats knew all along!" Some of the more extreme elements on the left-wing of the Democratic Party will lapse into their traditional wailing about the Bush-appeasing weakness of their party leaders. But the Washington Post reporters and their sources make clear that these briefings took place in the months after the September 11 attacks. There was fear that we would be attacked again by terrorists, and on a regular basis. Few were thinking clearly about the nature of the threat and how to deal with it. (By the time Harman was briefed, in 2003, people were thinking more clearly--hence her letter of protest.)

So does Klein think that the risk of America being attacked is now extremely remote? If so, what share of credit would he give to President Bush for that fact? Oh wait, that would cut against his persistently negative drumbeat about the Bush presidency and how it has supposedly harmed American security and foreign policy interests in the long-term, particularly in the Middle East.

As much as Klein wishes to dismiss Democratic knowledge of waterboarding as an interrogation technique, hypocrisy and political opportunism IS a huge issue here, particularly given one crucial tid bit the WaPo article disclosed to readers. Politicians briefed about the interrogation techniques wondered if the CIA was being too, how shall we say, polite to detainees (emphasis mine):

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

"The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough," said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange.

While Klein excuses Pelosi's silence in the aftermath of 9/11, doesn't that suggest that the liberal San Francisco Democrat didn't have the courage of her convictions to "stand up" to President Bush when liberals would argue such leadership was most needed: the aftermath of 9/11? And doesn't that suggest that liberal Democratic haranguing on the issue now is nothing more than a cynical sop to the party's left-wing anti-war base, and a concerted effort to undermine the Bush administration specifically and the war on terror generally?

Apparently not to Joe Klein, who can't be bothered with such questions mucking up his preferred storyline.

Photo of Klein via Time-blog.com/swampland.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.