Barack, get off the fence: Pelosi's accusations against the CIA can no longer be met with silence
Wednesday, May 20th 2009, 4:00 AM
He's the man with the silver tongue, "a gift," as he once called his inspired ability with words. Yet while a heated battle with national security implications rages around him, President Obama has pushed his mute button.
It's been six days since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went wiggy and accused the Central Intelligence Agency of repeatedly lying to her and others in Congress, saying "they mislead us all the time."
But Obama has not said a single word on the subject. His press secretary has brushed off efforts by reporters to learn whether Obama agrees with fellow Democrat Pelosi or with Leon Panetta, his CIA director.
Panetta, a former Democratic congressman himself, forcefully rejected Pelosi's charges, which, if true, would constitute serious crimes.
Republicans are happy campers, with Pelosi's televised rant providing a welcome break from their own problems. GOP House leader John Boehner, partisan motivations aside, is right when he challenges Pelosi either to offer evidence she was misled by the CIA on the waterboarding of terror detainees, or apologize to those trying to keep America safe.
Pelosi's refusal to budge is Obama's cue to get involved. He must come to the defense of the CIA or explain why he thinks Pelosi has a case.
Silence is not an option. The stakes are too high for the President to take a pass.
In political terms, Obama's desire to stay neutral is understandable. It's a no-win situation, with Pelosi holding the fate of his numerous pieces of sweeping legislation.
He would also pay a price for alienating the CIA by backing Pelosi. The spook-and-dagger crowd is well known for getting even with Presidents it doesn't like - see George W. Bush - and it takes only one disgruntled agent to leak unflattering information.
Yet the presidency is more than just our politician in chief. And the sweeping nature of Pelosi's charges, coming while we are at war with an enemy that vows to attack us again, demands Obama's voice and judgment. We cannot afford to have a demoralized CIA.
If he doubts the seriousness, Obama need only review Pelosi's shocking claims. She said she had attended a CIA briefing in September 2002, where "the only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed."
The CIA disputes that, saying it told her the interrogation technique had been used. Panetta issued a confirming report, citing agency notes.
Curiously, Pelosi does admit she learned from an aide in early 2003 that waterboarding had been used, but never once complained to the CIA or the White House about a technique she calls torture. At the time, she was the top leader of House Democrats, so her complaints could have made a difference.
Some of Pelosi's theatrics heighten the need for Obama's involvement. In what struck me as a partisan fixation bordering on paranoia, Pelosi ranted in an "us against them" way that was disturbing: "This is their policy, all of them. This is their policy. This is what they conceived. This is what they developed. This is what they implemented. This is what they denied was happening."
Later, with reporters questioning her honesty, she tried to turn the tables on the unnamed bogeymen again. "They mislead us all the time. I was fighting the war in Iraq at that point, too, you know, saying to my members the intelligence does not support the imminent threat that they are conceding. . . . They misrepresented every step of the way. And they don't want that focus on them. So they try to turn the attention on us. We had to win the election to make the change."
Indeed, Democrats won two elections in a row and Obama sits in the Oval Office.
That responsibility demands his leadership on this sordid mess.Read more: "Barack, get off the fence: Pelosi's accusations against the CIA can no longer be met with silence" - http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/columnists/goodwin/index.html#ixzz0G8xv6wKK&A