On Torture: Jane Harman Should Be Applauded, The Speaker Should Have Objected, Republicans Should Be Ashamed

Every president since George Washington opposed torture until George Bush. Every commander, in every branch of military service, through every year of American history, as far as I know, has opposed torture. Every leader of every religious denomination of every faith has opposed torture, except the spiritual advisers to terrorists and dictators.

First: a standing ovation for Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who should make all Americans proud of the clear, unequivocal and aggressive written objections she lodged when briefed about torture. What she did was exactly right. The way she did it was exemplary and a model for how senior members of Congress should conduct effective oversight.

At one point I worked for the Democratic congressional leadership and was briefed in a classified setting about a proposed action I obviously cannot discuss (except to say it was far less serious than torture) and which I believed violated the law. Suffice it to say I objected, followed by members who also objected, and the plan was withdrawn.

Harman was absolutely right and absolutely principled and flawless in the way she handled her objection. Again, going forward, I hope every member views her objection and the way she handled it as a model.

Second: I believe the Speaker will be a public figure of historic greatness not because of her gender but because of her conviction, toughness and character. I agree with Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) 98 percent of the time. Simply put, on this matter she should have objected formally, in writing and with "no holds barred" in a classified setting.

Third: It is shameful that Republicans who supported torture during the Bush years, some of whom support torture today, attack the Speaker over this issue. The worst of the many abuses during the Bush years did not occur because Democrats failed to object; they occurred because senior Republicans not only failed to object but in most cases supported the abuse, and often exploited the abuse in partisan attacks against Democrats.

To put this in context: Even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who at times spoke courageously against torture, at times fell short in his votes on torture.

The Speaker's support for strong anti-torture legislation stands out as principled and effective, and Republicans who opposed her efforts should be ashamed for even mentioning this issue today.

There are some hard issues in terms of exactly how to proceed, but here are some conclusions I have arrived at so far:

1. The torture lawyers should be disbarred and Jay Bybee should either resign from the bench or be impeached.

2. The final report from the attorney general should address the issues of criminality and give particular focus in a public report about the role of former Vice President Cheney that should be written, detailed and released.

Cheney not only advocated what most experts consider torture, and not only continues to advocate them today, he continues to use his advocacy for partisan political attacks. Reliable reports suggest that his office was abusive and threatening toward some Bush administration officials who opposed certain actions and for these reasons he stands in a legally and morally unique position.

The former vice president should testify under oath and that testimony should be public.

3. There should be public disclosure of whether President Bush signed any executive orders implementing torture regardless of any decisions that will be made about whether to prosecute anyone.

Whatever is done, we need a statement of policy, law, morality and Americanism that will ring through the ages: that the United States of America must never commit torture.

Every public official should demonstrate the clarity, conviction and courage that Jane Harman demonstrated when she said: This is wrong, and I must object.

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