In the aftermath of the death of Osama bin Laden, conservatives were urging Republican senators to demand answers from CIA Director Leon Panetta during hearings over his nomination to be secretary of defense on the role torture played in finding bin Laden.
Instead, senators mostly gushed over what a good job Panetta had done, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) telling Panetta he couldn’t wait to vote for him.
Desperate to claim some small measure of credit for bin Laden’s death, Republicans had settled on the narrative that torturous interrogation techniques had played a large and essential role in finding his whereabouts, fudging key details in the process. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), produced a letter from Panetta stating that “no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts” and that the information “was discovered through other intelligence means.”
But yesterday there were no confrontations over the role torture played in getting bin Laden, and few questions regarding interrogation. Despite the fact that Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn’s spokesperson had said the senator would “insist in the confirmation hearing that Leon Panetta answer questions about enhanced interrogation techniques and the ongoing investigation of CIA operatives by the Justice Department,” Cornyn didn’t even bring interrogation up. Most of the questions regarding interrogation came from Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who was fixated on whether or not the CIA was allowed to “take the lead” in interrogations involving the government’s Interagency High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group. Panetta simply said that which agency “takes the lead” depends on the context and repeated his assessment that the HIG process “works pretty well.”
While Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee will get their opportunity to question Gen. David Petraeus about interrogation during hearings on his nomination to be CIA Director, if anything, his prominence makes him an even tougher target than Panetta. This was a remarkably anti-climactic conclusion to a confrontation torture dead-enders insisted would prove them right. Just weeks ago, Republicans were putting up a furious fight trying to “prove” torture lead the U.S. to bin Laden — yesterday they didn’t even bother to make the argument. Granted, the facts weren’t on their side, but that’s never stopped them before.