Last week, the Central Intelligence Agency upset a few political apple carts when it revealed what many people already suspected: that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was briefed on the use of "enhanced interrogation tactics" -- torture -- against detainees suspected of terrorism as early as September of 2002. The revelation undercuts Pelosi's criticism of civil liberties violations committed by the Bush administration. It also helps to dispel the myth that either of the two major political parties in this country has much regard for individual liberty -- or basic decency.
According to CIA documents (PDF), Nancy Pelosi was one of the first two members of Congress clued in about the use of torture, the other being Porter Goss, the Republican then-Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on which Pelosi sat as ranking Democrat.
Other in-the-know members of Congress included Senators Bob Graham (D) and Richard Shelby (R), Senators Pat Roberts (R) and John Rockefeller (D), and Rep. Jane Harman (D) -- all briefed by early 2003. Others were informed of the use of enhanced interrogation techniques in the years that followed. The Washington Post has reported that none of the briefed lawmakers protested the use of the harsh practices.
All of the legislators informed of the use of torture were sworn to secrecy, though humanitarian concerns might be considered by some people to be of greater importance than any such vow.
None of this should be a surprise. As terrible as the Bush administration was when it came to respecting individual liberty and restraints on the power of the state, its excesses differed from those of previous administrations more in quantity than in quality.
In fact, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, the Bush administration crafted the enormous, government-empowering PATRIOT Act in what seemed like record time largely by recycling legislative proposals originally put forward by its predecessors. In 2003, former Rep. Bob Barr told Reason, "the first version of what later became the PATRIOT Act was very familiar to a number of us on the Hill. We had seen many of these provisions submitted previously by the Clinton administration."
Perhaps it was the Clintonian roots of the PATRIOT Act that made then-Senator Barack Obama comfortable enough with the law that he voted to reauthorize the measure. Obama also voted to expand the government's use of electronic surveillance and to immunize telecommunications companies against liability for helping the government with wiretapping.
And the Obama administration has one-upped the Bush administration in arguing that some government actions are so super-secret that, even when people's rights are violated, victims shouldn't be allowed to sue, since national security might be damaged by the court proceedings.
It's the same on economic matters, of course. The massive government intervention in the economy and binge-spending begun by then-President George W. Bush -- policies explicitly called "fascist" by Robert Scheer -- have been enthusiastically expanded and extended by President Barack Obama.
Republicans and Democrats alike love to use the the words "liberty" and "freedom," but, with rare exceptions, politicians operating under those affiliations are firm allies of the concepts behind those words only when they're out of power and a little rabble-rousing helps to favorably contrast them with the folks holding the reins. Once in control, or simply out of public view, they show themselves as the kind of people who can sit through briefings on the use of torture without batting an eyelash.
The eternal political warfare between Republicans and Democrats makes for great political theater. It's also an effective way to divide and conquer the people over whom they rule.
But if you're looking for principled advocates for your freedom, don't look to the creatures roaming the halls of power -- from either party.