Today, I think we have a pretty straightforward case of "red herring." This fallacy is classically described as occurring when one changes the subject of argument in order to derail criticism. The red herring is another instance of the "no-inference-being-explicitly-drawn" kind of fallacy. I think that's the trick that works on the mind of the red herring monger and the red herring. The red herring monger isn't drawing any kind of illegitimate inference, "he's just saying." Let's take a look:
It began with the release of the Justice Department memos — a move opposed by CIA Director Leon Panetta along with four previous directors. Then, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. did not rule out Justice Department cooperation with foreign lawsuits against American intelligence operatives. Then, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the CIA of lying to her in 2002 about waterboarding, which she admitted learning about five months later anyway but did nothing to oppose because her real job was to "change the leadership in Congress and in the White House."
To stanch the CIA's bleeding morale, Democrats have tried reassurance. President Obama, speaking at CIA headquarters, took the Fred Rogers approach: "Don't be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we've made some mistakes. That's how we learn." Yes, children, hypocritical congressional investigations and foreign kangaroo courts are really our friends. House intelligence committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes sent a sympathy note to Langley: "In recent days, as the public debate regarding CIA's interrogation practices has raged, you have been very much in my thoughts." There should be a section at Hallmark for intelligence operatives unfairly accused of war crimes.
That's the very Christian Michael Gerson, former Bush Speechwriter, who is beginning to sound like the very spiteful Charles Krauthammer. Some Democrats (and some Republicans–no mention of them here) have leveled criticism of CIA methods and practices. That's democracy, I think. The question now is whether that criticism is deserved or not. Did the CIA participate in war crimes? I would like to know the answer to that question. Did the CIA mislead the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States of America? That would be good to know. But alas. No such luck. Michael Gerson is not interested in those questions at all, actually.
For he's worried about the effect on CIA morale that such criticism might have. He is also concerned as to why Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, didn't say anything (she couldn't) about the secret briefing at the time.
Those are all great concerns, I think, but they aren't really what we're talking about. Did the CIA, under orders from someone, commit war crimes? No amount of what-did-Nancy Pelosi-know-and-when-did-she-know-it ought to distract us from that very simple question.