Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Obama Announces Iraq Pull-Out

See the full text and video of his speech here.

This is not everything a Christian pacifist and nonviolent activist like myself could want, but it is a GREAT step in the right direction.  He has adjusted the timeline:  “Combat” troops out by August 2010; Residual force (mostly for training Iraqis) of 30-50,000 (seems large); ALL troops out by 2011–respecting the Status of Forces Agreement Bush made with Iraq.  We’ve been in Iraq WAAAAY too long and if we in the peace movement can put pressure into stepping up the pace, we should.  But ALL troops out is more than Obama would commit to as a candidate. 

Some on the left and some peace folk are purists who are never satisfied when politicians make good steps.  Others are “true believers” who never want to criticize their leader.  I think both stances are a mistake.  I have criticisms to make, but I want us to notice the good and celebrate it first:

  • Obama was against the  invasion of Iraq from the beginning. This is important to note because this marks a first in U.S. history: The very first time that a principled opponent of a particular war was elected president WHILE THAT WAR WAS STILL ONGOING–and while campaigning to end it.
  • The economic crisis (recession, depression–who knows) helps him work to end it–we simply cannot afford this war any longer.
  • The phase out will involve the United Nations and the surrounding countries–a huge change from Bush’s “go  it alone” policies. 
  • Honoring the SOFU with Iraq,  honoring Iraqi sovereignty, is a major step in rebuilding our compliance with international law.
  • Obama’s withdrawal timetable now has the support of McCain and other Republicans!  I know, this surprised me, too, especially since McCain spent the entire general election campaign last year calling Obama “naive” on foreign policy and suggesting that he wouldn’t care if we were in Iraq 100 years!  But this bi-partisan support–even if the number of GOP supporters is few–will make it harder for the rightwing hawks (in and out of the military) to pressure Obama into slowing down the withdrawal or stopping it–or make political hay out of his keeping this campaign pledge.
  • On the other hand, both Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)  are expressing concern about the number of residual troops in Iraq and the speed of withdrawal.  This is also good news on several levels:  It shows Congress reasserting itself as a separate and EQUAL branch of government again (per the Constitution, remember?) even with the same party in charge of both houses of Congress and the presidency.  It also gives us allies in pushing for quicker, more complete withdrawal.  (Pelosi noted in that interview that the House voted to end the Iraq war repeatedly in ’07 and ’08, but a timetable got out of the Senate only once and Bush vetoed it.  She did not say why she then kept impeachment off the table–since that could have ended the war sooner.)


Now for the major criticism:  As we are winding down Iraq, we are increasing troops in Afghanistan–and without much national or Congressional debate, with no timeline, no clearly defined mission.  I have mentioned before that I believe Afghanistan could be for Obama what Vietnam was for LBJ–the Achilles’ heal that undoes much  of the good he tries to do domestically.   We need to Get Afghanistan Right! and that means recognizing that there is no military solution–even if there theoretically was one when Bush largely abandoned Afghanistan to invade Iraq–a nation uninvolved with al-Qaeda or 9/11 and which was no threat to us! 

Watch the video, sign the petition, and contact your members of Congress to Rethink Afghanistan!  New polling suggests that the American people want to find a way out of Afghanistan, too–certainly by 2012 at the very latest.

Meanwhile, Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), points out that the country needs to get ready for the return of these vets. We already have too many homeless and jobless vets and these returning soldiers will be coming back into the worst economy in decades.  We aren’t prepared for their return and MUST get that way, quickly.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading to the Middle East next week to begin work on peace in the region and between Palestine and Israel particularly.  It  is my hope that she lays the groundwork for a full Middle East Peace Summit by July–with full participation by the Arab League, the EU, the UN, the US, etc.–and with Pres. Obama front and center in this process. (A July date gives time for planning, is during Congressional recess so Obama can’t work on more of his domestic challenges just then, and is hopefully soon enough that the hawks of the new Israeli cabinet will not be able to sabatouge things.  Hawks from other groups, like Hamas and Hezbollah, however don’t seem to operate on a predictable timetablee.  Much to pray about here!)

Overall, these are positive developments. Now, as peacemakers and persons of faith, let’s do our part to keep things moving in these directions.

February 27, 2009 - Posted by | Afghanistan, foreign policy, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, just peacemaking


  1. Splitting hairs maybe, but there is a distinction between “ongoing war” and “occupation,” in my mind at least.

    Comment by Steven Kippel | February 27, 2009

  2. Okay, but what does this distinction mean in terms of good or bad policy?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | February 27, 2009

  3. “Residual force (mostly for training Iraqis)”

    One thing I’ve always wondered…. How long does it take to train Iraqis???? We’ve already been there coming up on six years and supposedly we’ve been “training” Iraqis all that time. It only took the army six months to train my son. What gives?

    Comment by Marty | February 27, 2009

  4. Marty, that’s a GREAT question. That’s the kind of critical question and pressure to aim at Obama. Send it to Whitehouse.gov and we need to prepare to attend the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq in D.C. in April.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | February 27, 2009

  5. Well we could surrender to people who advocate our destruction. However, it begs the question, “Would that satisfy them?” Obama is going to have to make some difficult choices and leftists and radicals are not going to like all of them I am certain. Personally I do not think that Solomon in all of his wisdom could bring the Arabs and Israelis to actually make a valid effort at seeking peace much less achieve a viable peace. One thing that I do know – God will never abandon his chosen people. That is in the Bible.

    Comment by Paul | February 28, 2009

  6. Paul, since the coming of Jesus there all of us are potentially chosen. And in Amos, God says that he chose other peoples, complete with their own exoduses, for God’s purposes. Israel’s chosen nature was not an end in itself–but to be a “light to the Gentiles.” When it oppresses and abuses human rights, it ceases to be such a light and brings shame to God.

    As for whether or not Palestinians and other Arabs can ever have peace with Israelis, I remember the same skepticism about Egypt before Camp David 1978. Remember, Egypt under Nasser and then Sadat was the focus point of a pan-Arabic movement that intended to sweep Israel into the sea. And both Israeli PM Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Sadat had started out as terrorists.

    In fact, history is full of former terrorists and extremists becoming political actors FORCED to make peace by a variety of circumstances–and that shows up in the Bible, too.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | February 28, 2009

  7. OF COURSE, McCain has supported Obama’s Iraq plan. It differs in NO substantial degree from where Bush was heading and with what McCain himself was proposing. Beyond the removal of “combat troops’ 18 months or so from new the US will STILL have 40-50 THOUSAND troops in Iraq for training, for intelligence collection, for admin and logistic support to the Iraqis. This is as large a military presence as was in Korea during the Cold War. some “residual force”

    Meanwhile, Obama is escalating in Afghanistan–this first deployment of 17,000 is just a down payment on the number of troops the Pentagon will be sending. Oh, and while we are at it, has anyone noticed that Obama has continued to order military attacks in PAKISTAN (predator strikes and killing civilians while he is at it.) in other words, despite all the rhetorical bluster, Obama just simply is not departing in any significant way–strategically and militarily–from the Bush administration. Or, as the “peace and justice” folks might say–he is also a warmonger, but a kinder and gentler warmonger.

    Meanwhile, he tells us he is closing down Guantanamo, but…still is considering PREVENTIVE DETENTION WITHOUT TRIAL for some captured terrorists. Try to explain THAT!

    Comment by Kathy | March 1, 2009

  8. Kathy, I don’t like it. But the 40-50 thousand troops will be removed in 2011. Obama campaigned on keeping a residual force and now he’s talking about taking all the troops out for the first time–even if on a mmuch slower timetable than I want or you want. And, much as I hate it, he campaigned on escalating in Afghanistan and on pursuing al Qaeda into Pakistan.

    I disagree with all of that and I want to put pressure onto Obama to faster withdrawals. I don’t think it fair to claim that he is just a “kinder and gentler” warmonger. He inherited both wars and opposed invading Iraq. He never claimed to be a pacifist.

    I don’t like the wiggle room on keeping some Bush policies like detention without trial. We clearly have to push him from the LEFT.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 1, 2009

  9. To be honest, I don’t think we will ever get out of Iraq. I know a soldier who is there now. He has made videos of all the military construction going on. It’s massive and continuing. Do you really think the U.S. will, at some point, just walk away after investing all that money into building all those military bases??

    Comment by Marty | March 1, 2009

  10. Under Bush, no. But I think Obama will honor the Status of Forces Agreement and Iraq’s sovereignty which demands everyone from the U.S., including civilian contractors, out by end of 2011. We did it before, you know? We pulled our troops completely out of the Philippines when their new Constitution forbade foreign troops on their soil, even though we’d had bases their for decades. (Of course, Bush put us back in there when the latest president asked for help fighting terrorism, in violation of that Constitution.)

    I think to get us all the way out of Iraq, however, will take massive citizen pressure. FDR once said to a citizen, “I agree with you. Now MAKE me do it!” And MLK, JR. told LBJ about the Voting Rights Act, “I’ll find you the votes in the street.” The mainstream media is controlled by conservative GOP interests. Obama needs a strong peace movement (Labor,etc.) countering that conservative pressure and pushing him from the left. Congress does, too. Bush treated public opinion as worthless, but he was an aberration. Obama knows that he could never have made it out of the Democratic primaries without the anti-war left. If we put pressure on him, we change his calculations–just now he is more worried about his right flank and the pro-war vote. But we can change that.

    We have to avoid “Dear Leaderism” or “Presidentialism.” The BEST presidents will compromise and water-down promises–especially if they have other priorities (like fixing an economy) and don’t want to spend political capital. Electing good politicians, including presidents, is important because otherwise (like with Bush) people movements spend all their time doing damage control. But we have to have strong people movements putting citizen pressure on presidents and other politicians even when we’ve made good choices electorally.

    Responsible citizenship is about more than casting votes.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 2, 2009

  11. I am shocked at how quickly the prophetic voice of the peace and justice movement has been muted into a shill for the Obama administration. If preventive detention was evil for the Bush administration and a violation of human rights for the Bush administration it is an evil violation of human rights for the Obama administration. If killing people in Pakistan was an evil war crime for the Bush administration it is an evil war crime for the Obama administration. If sending more troops to Iraq was wrong and evil for the Bush administration then sending more troops to Afghanistan is wrong and evil for the Obama administration. Just because Obama is pro-women on abortion and pro-intervention in the economy doesn’t mean that he is not just as much a warmonger on foreign policy. In fact, it is even worse when these policies are done by a president who claims to be “progressive.” it proves that American “progressives” are really no different on important issues than the conservatives.

    Comment by Kathy | March 2, 2009

  12. Kathy, the prophetic voice is NOT stilled. The peace movement has sent in petitions to Obama and Congress. It is planning more marches and other actions.

    These actions ARE evil. Reacting differently to a partial ally who has made some breaks with Bush (but not enough) than to someone who was against everything we stand for, is not becoming mute, shills, or “in the tank” for Obama.

    I think it staggers the imagination to call Obama a warmonger. He INHERITED these wars. But we always knew he wasn’t a pacifist. He just sent Hillary Clinton to restart the Middle East Peace process. He denied Gates his desire for more nukes and wants a nuclear free world, including the U.S.

    Does Obama need pushing to do more? YES!

    But I did not start out screaming at Bush. I wrote the early open letter by the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America against invading. It did not take an angry tone. It was respectful and offered alternatives that took any REALISTIC threat by Saddam Hussein seriously. The extreme anger came after YEARS of getting nowhere.
    Obama has done much right and some things wrong–but has only been in office slightly over ONE MONTH–and inherited the worst set of problems in our post-WWII history.

    Now, yes, some liberals and some progressives are not peacemakers. And, yes, some peacemakers and even pacifists are otherwise conservative. So, they don’t match up 1 to 1. I have ridiculed some on DailyKos for now being more pro-war than Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) or Harry Reid (D-NV)! I donated money to the ACLU’s fight for Obama to make CLEAN breaks with Bush detention policies and to investigate Bush crimes.

    If he keeps on this way, your anger could be justified. But it seems premature less than 2 months into a new administration.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 2, 2009

  13. I hope you are right Michael. Time will tell. I sent my concerns to the White House regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. Right now, as thing stand, I tend to agree with Kathy.

    Comment by Marty | March 2, 2009

  14. It is never PREMATURE to lift our prophetic voice against evil. And the foreign policy of the Obama administration is evil. It is more important to lift our propehtic voices than to rush in and embrace the idolatry of Obama. Jesus is not a Republican but he is not a Democrat either. Just because he is not as bad as Bush does not mean Obama is not a warmonger.

    One more thing–it is not enough to say that Obama “inherited” these wars. sure he “inhereted” Afghanistan, but he is INCREASING the number of “combat troops” in Afghanistan. Obama didn’t “inherit” that. He did it all on his own. That is what I call a warmonger.

    Comment by Kathy | March 2, 2009

  15. No, it’s not premature to lift a prophetic voice. So, tell me, Kathy WHAT ARE YOU DOING? What peace group are you part of? What actions are you taking? What constructive proposals are you making? What pressures are you bringing to bear? Or are you just feeling self-righteous?

    Marty, thanks for expressing concerns to the White House. Now we have to organize and bring real pressure on them and Congress. Right now, Obama feels more pressure from warmongers than from peace folk. We have to change that.

    Unfortunately, although the tanking economy can help us (we really can’t afford these wars or the huge military budget), they also are leading most Americans to tune out anything not related to saving their homes, etc. Foreign policy, unfortunately, fell off the primary issues during the General Election. So did civil liberties concerns.

    The first 2 weeks of the Obama presidency saw many corrections to Bush policies–but he has dragged his feet since then.

    Let me be clear. I AM AGAINST more troops in Afghanistan and always have been. I am THRILLED that debate about this is beginning in the media and Congress. I think Obama is screwing up and that Afghanistan could become for him what Vietnam was for LBJ–and lead to a Rightwing takeover in 4 years as the anti-war Dems split just enough votes off to throw the election, but not enough to put a Kucinich type peace candidate in the White House. Then we end up with another NeoCon. I have warned the White House about this and hope to be part of actions to put pressure on them to change this.

    But I can’t pretend to be shocked and outraged like Kathy. Obama campaigned on sending more troops to Afghanistan. It CAN’T come as a surprise. The surprise, so far, is that 17, 000 is far less than he initially promised. It means that he is receiving mixed messages from generals, the public, pundits, etc. about Afghanistan–and knows that there is no military solution but can’t think of a way to leave that doesn’t leave al Qaeda in place. We need to get peace folk to the White House that have CONCRETE alternatives on Afghanistan. We also need them getting their message into the media.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 2, 2009

  16. “But I can’t pretend to be shocked and outraged like Kathy. Obama campaigned on sending more troops to Afghanistan. It CAN’T come as a surprise”

    No it didn’t. I’m not shocked or outraged…just tired.

    When will our troops get a break from constant rotations, multiple deployments, stop-loss, and I.R.R. call ups? Obama’s policies do nothing to address any of this. But I knew that when I voted for him.

    And then there is the already overloaded VA system. What’s to become of so many tortured souls returning from ill-gotten wars?

    Comment by Marty | March 2, 2009

  17. Your questions are good ones, Marty. I saw Paul Rieckoff ask them on the Rachel Maddow show. I’m glad your son is home, at least.

    I have a suggestion. We are told that Obama reads up to 10 letters a day from ordinary Americans personally. Continue to voice your concerns on Whitehouse.gov, but write a long letter about your experience and send it to Obama–and to your Representative and Senators. Send a copy to several news outlets. Send it to your UMC Bishop with a request for help in getting to the April rally of Christian Peace Witness on Iraq. Send another letter to the First Lady, who is concentrating much of her efforts on the family members of loved ones.

    Let’s see if we cannot change the nature of the debate.

    I’m tired too. The backsliding on civil liberties issues concerning detentions threatened to send me into depression as is his stonewalling on prosecuting the Bush crimes.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 2, 2009

  18. You guys are kidding yourselves. There is no “backsliding” on civil liberties issues. Or about the war. The change by Obama is merely one of tactics. This actually gives credence to the Bush administration war policies. Obama sold out on FISA last spring. He has sold out on preventive detention even while suckering everyone to believe that his change with Bush is radical. he is escalating in Afhanistan and even gets the support of the warmonger McCain. His Attorney General–Holder–testfied before congress and said that the US was at WAR even before 9/11 because of the attacks on our embassies and on the warship Cole. You aren’t going to change the “nature of the debate.” The peace and justice movement has been played for suckers. Time to simply admit it. It may be only two months, but that is enough time to know that Obama got our vote and now has sold us out.

    Comment by Kathy | March 2, 2009

  19. Yeah, and Ralph Nader was right that there was no difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush. No thanks. I won’t drink that Kool Aid.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 2, 2009


    Do you want to know why Obama is no different than Bush? Do you want to know why Nancy Pelosi will never do anything about torture? It is because she and the rest of the Democrats were in on it FROM THE BEGINNING. I say, IMPEACH PELOSI!



    Hill Briefed on Waterboarding in 2002
    In Meetings, Spy Panels’ Chiefs Did Not Protest, Officials Say
    By Joby Warrick and Dan Eggen
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Sunday, December 9, 2007; A01
    In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.
    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.
    Congressional leaders from both parties would later seize on waterboarding as a symbol of the worst excesses of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism effort. The CIA last week admitted that videotape of an interrogation of one of the waterboarded detainees was destroyed in 2005 against the advice of Justice Department and White House officials, provoking allegations that its actions were illegal and the destruction was a coverup.
    Yet long before “waterboarding” entered the public discourse, the CIA gave key legislative overseers about 30 private briefings, some of which included descriptions of that technique and other harsh interrogation methods, according to interviews with multiple U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge.
    With one known exception, no formal objections were raised by the lawmakers briefed about the harsh methods during the two years in which waterboarding was employed, from 2002 to 2003, said Democrats and Republicans with direct knowledge of the matter. The lawmakers who held oversight roles during the period included Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), as well as Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan).
    Individual lawmakers’ recollections of the early briefings varied dramatically, but officials present during the meetings described the reaction as mostly quiet acquiescence, if not outright support. “Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing,” said Goss, who chaired the House intelligence committee from 1997 to 2004 and then served as CIA director from 2004 to 2006. “And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement.”
    Congressional officials say the groups’ ability to challenge the practices was hampered by strict rules of secrecy that prohibited them from being able to take notes or consult legal experts or members of their own staffs. And while various officials have described the briefings as detailed and graphic, it is unclear precisely what members were told about waterboarding and how it is conducted. Several officials familiar with the briefings also recalled that the meetings were marked by an atmosphere of deep concern about the possibility of an imminent terrorist attack.
    “In fairness, the environment was different then because we were closer to Sept. 11 and people were still in a panic,” said one U.S. official present during the early briefings. “But there was no objecting, no hand-wringing. The attitude was, ‘We don’t care what you do to those guys as long as you get the information you need to protect the American people.’ ”
    Only after information about the practice began to leak in news accounts in 2005 — by which time the CIA had already abandoned waterboarding — did doubts about its legality among individual lawmakers evolve into more widespread dissent. The opposition reached a boiling point this past October, when Democratic lawmakers condemned the practice during Michael B. Mukasey’s confirmation hearings for attorney general.
    GOP lawmakers and Bush administration officials have previously said members of Congress were well informed and were supportive of the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation techniques. But the details of who in Congress knew what, and when, about waterboarding — a form of simulated drowning that is the most extreme and widely condemned interrogation technique — have not previously been disclosed.
    U.S. law requires the CIA to inform Congress of covert activities and allows the briefings to be limited in certain highly sensitive cases to a “Gang of Eight,” including the four top congressional leaders of both parties as well as the four senior intelligence committee members. In this case, most briefings about detainee programs were limited to the “Gang of Four,” the top Republican and Democrat on the two committees. A few staff members were permitted to attend some of the briefings.
    That decision reflected the White House’s decision that the “enhanced interrogation” program would be treated as one of the nation’s top secrets for fear of warning al-Qaeda members about what they might expect, said U.S. officials familiar with the decision. Critics have since said the administration’s motivation was at least partly to hide from view an embarrassing practice that the CIA considered vital but outsiders would almost certainly condemn as abhorrent.
    Information about the use of waterboarding nonetheless began to seep out after a furious internal debate among military lawyers and policymakers over its legality and morality. Once it became public, other members of Congress — beyond the four that interacted regularly with the CIA on its most sensitive activities — insisted on being briefed on it, and the circle of those in the know widened.
    In September 2006, the CIA for the first time briefed all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, producing some heated exchanges with CIA officials, including Director Michael V. Hayden. The CIA director said during a television interview two months ago that he had informed congressional overseers of “all aspects of the detention and interrogation program.” He said the “rich dialogue” with Congress led him to propose a new interrogation program that President Bush formally announced over the summer
    “I can’t describe that program to you,” Hayden said. “But I would suggest to you that it would be wrong to assume that the program of the past is necessarily the program moving forward into the future.”
    Waterboarding Used on at Least 3
    Waterboarding as an interrogation technique has its roots in some of history’s worst totalitarian nations, from Nazi Germany and the Spanish Inquisition to North Korea and Iraq. In the United States, the technique was first used five decades ago as a training tool to give U.S. troops a realistic sense of what they could expect if captured by the Soviet Union or the armies of Southeast Asia. The U.S. military has officially regarded the tactic as torture since the Spanish-American War.
    In general, the technique involves strapping a prisoner to a board or other flat surface, and then raising his feet above the level of his head. A cloth is then placed over the subject’s mouth and nose, and water is poured over his face to make the prisoner believe he is drowning.
    U.S. officials knowledgeable about the CIA’s use of the technique say it was used on three individuals — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; Zayn Abidin Muhammed Hussein Abu Zubaida, a senior al-Qaeda member and Osama bin Laden associate captured in Pakistan in March 2002; and a third detainee who has not been publicly identified.
    Abu Zubaida, the first of the “high-value” detainees in CIA custody, was subjected to harsh interrogation methods beginning in spring 2002 after he refused to cooperate with questioners, the officials said. CIA briefers gave the four intelligence committee members limited information about Abu Zubaida’s detention in spring 2002, but offered a more detailed account of its interrogation practices in September of that year, said officials with direct knowledge of the briefings.
    The CIA provided another briefing the following month, and then about 28 additional briefings over five years, said three U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge of the meetings. During these sessions, the agency provided information about the techniques it was using as well as the information it collected.
    Lawmakers have varied recollections about the topics covered in the briefings.
    Graham said he has no memory of ever being told about waterboarding or other harsh tactics. Graham left the Senate intelligence committee in January 2003, and was replaced by Rockefeller. “Personally, I was unaware of it, so I couldn’t object,” Graham said in an interview. He said he now believes the techniques constituted torture and were illegal.
    Pelosi declined to comment directly on her reaction to the classified briefings. But a congressional source familiar with Pelosi’s position on the matter said the California lawmaker did recall discussions about enhanced interrogation. The source said Pelosi recalls that techniques described by the CIA were still in the planning stage — they had been designed and cleared with agency lawyers but not yet put in practice — and acknowledged that Pelosi did not raise objections at the time.
    Harman, who replaced Pelosi as the committee’s top Democrat in January 2003, disclosed Friday that she filed a classified letter to the CIA in February of that year as an official protest about the interrogation program. Harman said she had been prevented from publicly discussing the letter or the CIA’s program because of strict rules of secrecy.
    “When you serve on intelligence committee you sign a second oath — one of secrecy,” she said. “I was briefed, but the information was closely held to just the Gang of Four. I was not free to disclose anything.”
    Roberts declined to comment on his participation in the briefings. Rockefeller also declined to talk about the briefings, but the West Virginia Democrat’s public statements show him leading the push in 2005 for expanded congressional oversight and an investigation of CIA interrogation practices. “I proposed without success, both in committee and on the Senate floor, that the committee undertake an investigation of the CIA’s detention and interrogation activities,” Rockefeller said in a statement Friday.
    Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a former Vietnam War prisoner who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination, took an early interest in the program even though he was not a member of the intelligence committee, and spoke out against waterboarding in private conversations with White House officials in late 2005 before denouncing it publicly.
    In May 2007, four months after Democrats regained control of Congress and well after the CIA had forsworn further waterboarding, four senators submitted written objections to the CIA’s use of that tactic and other, still unspecified “enhanced” techniques in two classified letters to Hayden last spring, shortly after receiving a classified hearing on the topic. One letter was sent on May 1 by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.). A similar letter was sent May 10 by a bipartisan group of three senators: Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
    In a rare public statement last month that broached the subject of his classified objections, Feingold complained about administration claims of congressional support, saying that it was “not the case” that lawmakers briefed on the CIA’s program “have approved it or consented to it.”
    Staff writers Josh White and Walter Pincus and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
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    Comment by Ryan | March 3, 2009

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