What Did Congress Know?

David Ignatius believes that the torture report “should have addressed Congress’s own failure to oversee these activities more effectively”:

A CIA review of “contemporaneous records” shows that [a 2002] briefing to Sens. Bob Graham and Richard Shelby and Reps. Porter Goss and Nancy Pelosi included “a history of the Zubaydah interrogation, an overview of the material acquired, the resistance techniques Zubaydah had employed, and the reason for deciding to use the enhanced measures,” along with a description of “the enhanced techniques that had been employed.”

Did the members of Congress push back hard, as we now realize they should have? Did they demand more information and set stricter limits? Did they question details about the interrogation techniques that were being used? It appears that, with rare exceptions, they did not.

I agree with David that the role of the Congress in acquiescing to torture needs far more attention. But, again, secrecy makes that very hard. I’d like to ask Pelosi on the record what she was actually told. When you absorb the full report and see the CIA’s relentless campaign of deceit about the program, it’s an open question whether they were lying to the Senators as well. There are euphemisms for torture techniques that do not convey the reality. That doesn’t excuse the Senators one bit. But maybe they did ask for more details. Maybe they wanted to stop it. But what options did they actually have? PM Carpenter asks:

The CIA’s “covert” torture program was by definition top secret. Had, for instance, Nancy Pelosi strenuously objected to the gruesome details she was hearing in the CIA’s briefings, just what, precisely, could she have done about it? She possessed no legal authority to go to the press and certainly none to effectively commit treason by blaring her horrified knowledge from the floor of the House–and taking complaints to the war-criminal Bush administration would have been like exposing unsavory extortion rackets to the Gambino family.

And it’s hard to imagine Congress g0t a complete briefing when even top CIA officials claim they were unaware of some of these abuses:

Working from CIA documents, the report said detainees were made to stand on broken limbs, or forced to take in food or water rectally. But Jose Rodriguez, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center at the time, said the newly revealed abuses caught him off-guard, too. “I have no knowledge of people forced to stand with broken bones,” Rodriguez said in an interview the day after the Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats, led by Chairman Dianne Feinstein, released its report after five years of delays.

Nor was he aware of detainees being given water or food via their rectum. “Rectal hydration thing sounds like a medical procedure, but it was not part of the approved and sanctioned techniques that were given to us by our guys and approved” by the Justice Department, he said. (Former CIA Director Michael Hayden made similar remarks Wednesday on CNN, saying that he hadn’t heard of the practice, but that it sounded like a medical procedure.)

And the beat goes on.