The Republicans are trying some sort of odd defense that breaking the law doesn’t count if you tell opposite party politicians about it. The way rule of law works, you actually have to change the law, if you check the constitution, there’s not some sort of briefing exception. Regardless, here’s Dan Balz of the Post on the current controversy:
For the first time, Pelosi (D-Calif.) acknowledged that in 2003 she was informed by an aide that the CIA had told others in Congress that officials had used waterboarding during interrogations. But she insisted, contrary to CIA accounts, that she was not told about waterboarding during a September 2002 briefing by agency officials. Asked whether she was accusing the CIA of lying, she replied, "Yes, misleading the Congress of the United States…"
Instead of registering her protest to the administration, she said, she set out to help Democrats win control of Congress and elect a Democrat as president.
Basically the difference between 2002 and 2003 is the difference between asking for permission and presenting a fait accompli. Pelosi’s actions were no profile in courage and I certainly think it’s fair that she should say all she knew in front of a truth commission. However, once she did get power she has worked towards ending both torture and cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment as well as launching investigations of the lawbreaking. On this issue, she’s certainly been out in front of President Obama and for that I salute her. I actually got to see both her and Rahm Emmanuel at a fundraiser this Wednesday and even with these revelations I am still a fan. Why, because while I do think Pelosi is spinning, I think the CIA is engaging in a bald-faced lie. James Fallows helpfully explains:
It's easy! If the CIA says one thing and former Sen. [Bob] Graham says another, then the CIA is lying. Or, "in error," if you prefer.
(Background here and here, in which Graham says that some of the briefings in which he was allegedly filled in about waterboarding and related techniques never occurred. This matters, because the CIA's claims are part of the same argument that Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats in Congress had known about and acquiesced to waterboarding all the way along.
Part of the payoff of reaching age 72 and having spent 38 years in public office, as Graham has, is that people have had a chance to judge your reputation. Graham has a general reputation for honesty. In my eyes he has a specific reputation for very good judgment: he was one of a handful of Senators actually to read the full classified intelligence report about the "threats" posed by Saddam Hussein. On the basis of reading it, despite a career as a conservative/centrist Democrat, he voted against the war and fervently urged his colleagues to do the same. "Blood is going to be on your hands," he warned those who voted yes.
More relevant in this case, Graham also has a specific reputation for keeping detailed daily records of people he met and things they said. He's sometimes been mocked for this compulsive practice, but he's never been doubted about the completeness or accuracy of what he compiles…
This doesn't prove that the accounts of briefing Pelosi are also inaccurate. But it shifts the burden of proof.
As for the reputation of the CIA? Spencer Ackerman notes that they aren’t denying Graham’s statement. There are certainly trustworthy people there. On the other hand, there are also people that destroyed 92 videotapes of interrogation despite a judge’s order to preserve evidence. We’re also talking about an administration that started torturing in part for the classic reason, to get confessions that affirm the party line. In this case, to gin up ‘evidence’ of the connection between Iraq and Afghanistan. Did they genuinely believe such a connection existed? Doesn’t matter, the fact that they’d torture people until they ‘admitted’ such a connection existed shows why torture is so corrupting and why other methods are both more moral and superior.
I do fear that Ta-Nehisi Coates and Digby are right and the torture taboo is shattered. The Balz article above, like most in the media, is unwilling to call a spade a spade. But there is a chance here if the Speaker plays her cards right. I’d like to believe we have strong public support, but I don’t think that’s true. However, depending on what else is being lied about, the public might start to feel strongly about this. We should certainly not put all of our eggs in this basket, we have to look to the long game and in the short term work on a truth commission. In the likely event no one goes to trial now, we could still try them later. If we fail to get the information out now, then it will be all too easy for the torture clique to destroy more evidence.