There is a simple way for Speaker Pelosi and Congressional Democrats to counteract the implicit blackmail to which they were subjected in Sunday’s Washington Post. Go public. They should call the White House’s bluff and immediately create a Joint Investigative Committee to commence public hearings on the entire history of US torture and interrogation practices under the Bush Administration.

Let’s get it all out there: who ordered it; who sanctioned it; who knew about it and when; who opposed and who remained silent. Then let the chips fall where they may.

In Sunday’s WaPo article, unnamed sources claimed that Democratic leaders, including Speaker Pelosi and the ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees were fully briefed on the CIA’s harsh interrogation measures that had been ordered by the President. The article claims that except for Jane Harman, those briefed did not object. We don’t know the truth yet; Rockefeller’s response on the WaPo story was "contradictory", and as emptywheel notes, other responses to the original CIA story were not all reassuring. It’s time we got all the facts out, in open public sessions.

The leaks that led to the WaPo story, and the Post’s predictable willingness to run the story without identifying its sources or revealing their possible motives, come across as a threat to the Democrats that any honest investigation of the CIA’s suspicious destruction of torture/interrogation tapes will wind up hurting not only CIA and Administration officials but also the Democratic leadership. It is a stark reminder that we are dealing with a criminal regime, and it now appears we are having thugs threaten Congress with embarrassment or worse if they dare to perform their oversight functions. Democrats should not allow themselves to be blackmailed. Go public. Get it out there. All of it.

The Democratic Party must respond, but it cannot possibly be well served by leaving this investigation in the hands of Committee chairs who have already proven to be compromised or derelict. Nor does it serve the nation’s interests to allow the continuing disgrace of the Administration’s torture and detainee policies to continue without clear repudiation from Democrats. We need to expose these national disgraces, condemn them, and hold those responsible accountable to the law.

Yesterday on ABC’s This Week, Senator Biden called for a special counsel to investigate possible criminal violations involved in withholding and destroying evidence on the CIA tapes. He scoffed at the idea that the Bush Administration, even under Attorney General Mukasey, could be trusted to investigate this matter fairly. A special counsel should probably happen. But that should not foreclose a full public accounting of what happened and who is responsible.

We also need a credible Congressional Investigative Committee to hold open, public sessions so that the American people can learn and confront what has been done in our names. If Congress is to perform this task, it cannot be left to either the Senate or House Intelligence Committees, because the actions (or acquiescence) of those Committees’ current or past leadership is part of what needs to be investigated and exposed.

We will need a special, joint investigative committee composed of and led by those whose integrity on these matters is unquestioned. Others have suggested, and I agree, that Senator Feingold (or Whitehouse) and House Member Holt would be ideal chairs for the Joint Investigation. This is the test of leadership, and now is the time for the Party’s real leaders to step forward.

Digby has more. Update: Check out emptywheel’s take today on the intelligence community’s role; and see today’ NYT article.