My post about Jane Harman's remarks at a town hall meeting yesterday about the secret "torture memos" revealed this week by the New York Times is up at Think Progress, submitted through their Blog Fellows Program, which I can't recommend enough. Let me contextualize those remarks a bit more, and add some of the other interesting things Rep. Harman had to say at the meeting.
I asked the question to Harman about the secret memos. Earlier this week, the White House claimed that all relevant members of Congress had been fully briefed on the classified program sanctioning harsh interrogation techniques by the CIA. At the time of the memos, Harman was a member of the "Gang Of Eight" routinely briefed on intelligence matters. Harman was shaking her head as I asked the question if she was fully briefed, chuckling almost in disbelief. Her answer:
We were not fully briefed. We were told about operational details but not these memos. Jay Rockefeller said the same thing, and I associate myself with his remarks. And we want to see these memos.
Harman is now the third member of the Gang of Eight, joining Jay Rockefeller and Nancy Pelosi, to reject the White House's claim that they were fully briefed about these memos. The Administration is lying, again, and it is now incumbent upon Congress to make every effort to obtain those memos and to enshrine into law a full repudiation of the arguments therein described. The follow-up question I wanted to ask Rep. Harman, but could not, was how she would go about pressuring the White House to get those documents. Obviously the vehicle for this is through the confirmation of Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey. Considering that these memos came out of the Justice Department, there should simply be no movement on his confirmation without an exchange of the memos.
Let me add some additional information about the town hall. I wrote in my Think Progress post this tidbit:
Harman later revealed that she was speaking with an unidentified Republican in her office, who told her that if President Bush were to attack Iran, then even he would vote for impeachment.
You have to understand the environment of this town hall meeting. The audience included the hardcore progressives that made up the core of the Marcy Winograd primary challenge to Harman in 2006; in fact, Winograd was on a panel right before Harman's arrival. These people were SCREAMING for impeachment; the first two questions were about this issue. And Harman could do nothing but reiterate that Nancy Pelosi, not her, had taken impeachment off the table. She went on to describe her no votes against the Clinton impeachment and how MoveOn.org was born out of the impeachment debate (odd of her to approvingly cite MoveOn, considering she voted to condemn their remarks in the "General Betrayus" ad). But when she brought up Iran, she said "this little anecdote should make you smile," and mentioned the above exchange.
Here are some of the other notable tidbits in Harman's meeting.
• She recommended Jack Goldsmith's "The Terror Presidency" as the best source for understanding how the Bush Administration attempted to expand executive power through neutering the Office of Legal Counsel. She had the book with her.
• She reiterated that "intelligence was politicized again" on the FISA bill, referring to the fake terror attack hyped by the White House designed to get wavering Democrats to sanction warrantless surveillance. It was a cold-blooded tactic, and it should be heavily publicized. I thanked Rep. Harman for speaking out on this, and I hope that she'll continue as well as encourage other members to corroborate her allegations. Harman said she is working to change the new FISA bill, which will "probably be introduced this week." The goals are that any surveillance must be done through the FISA court, with a warrant, and with minimization protocols if a US national is involved.
• Harman spoke about her legislation to close Guantanamo, restore habeas corpus, and end the use of national security letters outside their initial purpose. She spoke glowingly about the vote this week to put Blackwater contractors under the auspices of US law, and thanked both Rep. Waxman and Rick Jacobs, who produced Iraq for Sale, with their efforts to get the word out about Blackwater's numerous abuses and how they fell into the "legal black hole" regarding their activities.
• She recommended the Seymour Hersh article about developments with respect to Iran, and said that she has invited him to speak to the Congress. Harman was adamant in saying that "targeted sanctions are working" with Iran, and that the government should "stop the saber rattling" that could lead us to another catastrophic war.
• She trumpeted her contribution to the House energy bill, a measure to retire the incandescent light bulb by 2012.
• On trade, she made a disappointing statement. Despite voting against NAFTA and CAFTA and claiming that she was proven right on those votes, she said that some trade deals are admissable with proper labor and environmental standards as well as trade adjustment assistance, and referring to the current Peruvian Free Trade Agreement that will come up for vote in a couple weeks, she said that "It was approved by Charlie Rangel." Uh-oh. We know that this bill, crafted in the dead of night to appease corporate interests, does not go nearly far enough to ensure labor and environmental standards, and would be nothing more than NAFTA-light.
• Someone asked Rep. Harman about the Walt-Mearshimer book "The Israel Lobby" and AIPAC's support for endless war, including war with Iran. Harman, who has been linked in the past to lobbies like AIPAC, said "I'm not a member of AIPAC... I support a two-state solution where Palestine can thrive economically with borders that are defensible to Israel." She pretty much dodged the question.
• On the still-unresolved EPA waiver that would allow California to make their own rules on tailpipe emissions that contribute to global warming, Harman said that she signed on to a letter protesting the slow-rolling from the EPA and the Department of Transportation, and she added that Gov. Schwarzenegger should work harder to get DoT to "back off" (they've been accused of lobbying lawmakers to pressure the EPA to block the California law).
• Finally, Harman asked for education activists to call her office and tell her about the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. While she said that Rep. Miller has claimed to her it has been improved, she said "I am prepared to oppose it" if the changes are not satisfactory.