In fairness, I don’t know that I’ve heard Senator Chuck Schumer among the voices looking to round up a lynch mob for those in the Bush administration who approved, conducted, or advised the enhanced-interrogation program at the CIA in 2002-5 [see update]. In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on June 8, 2004, he certainly wasn’t among them, as this audio clip makes clear. Schumer scoffs at the “high dudgeon” over torture when talking with John Ashcroft, and predicts exactly what eventually happened when the sense of danger dissipated:
And I’d like to interject a note of balance here. There are times when we all get in high dudgeon. We ought to be reasonable about this. I think there are probably very few people in this room or in America who would say that torture should never, ever be used, particularly if thousands of lives are at stake.
Take the hypothetical: If we knew that there was a nuclear bomb hidden in an American city and we believed that some kind of torture, fairly severe maybe, would give us a chance of finding that bomb before it went off, my guess is most Americans and most senators, maybe all, would say, Do what you have to do.
So it’s easy to sit back in the armchair and say that torture can never be used. But when you’re in the foxhole, it’s a very different deal.
Note that Schumer isn’t talking about waterboarding as the outer limit, either. “Fairly severe” torture would mean something other than a procedure that causes no physical damage and doesn’t risk death or serious injury. Schumer, who watched almost 3,000 of his fellow New Yorkers get vaporized on 9/11, sounds much more like he’s talking about pulling fingernails or worse.
Whether Schumer is right is a good topic for debate, but not the point at the moment. The point here is that the CIA and the Bush administration got much different feedback on Congressional expectations for securing the nation from another devastating terrorist attack as we remained in the foxhole. That mandate got reinforced in Congressional briefings on the EITs, where people like Nancy Pelosi not only never objected, but some of them asked whether the CIA was being tough enough on Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi Binalshibh, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
If accountability is to be imposed, let it be imposed across the board, and let’s see all of the relevant information — not just the leaks from the White House and CIA that fit their agendas.
Update: Hypocrisy confirmed! Schumer appeared on Rachel Maddow’s show last month to encourage prosecutions: