06/24/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

What Did Powell Know, and Why Isn't He Subjected to the Pelosi Treatment?

Sunday morning Colin Powell went on "Face the Nation", ostensibly to debate the future of the Republican party. But late in the interview, Powell was walked, oh so delicately, into the past by moderator Bob Schieffer. The general was asked what he knew about the use of waterboarding and other "unpleasant things," to use last week's Cheneyism, and Powell gave what in Washington is known as a non-denial denial.

Here's what he was almost denying: an ABC news report, one of several such reports, that pinpoints Powell as a member of the Principals Committee which met frequently to approve, in excruciating detail, what should be done to whom in the pursuit of interrogation enhancement. Why were the Secretaries of State and Defense and the National Security Advisor (Ms. Rice, at the time) dragged into such close-up work deep in the muck of detainee abuse? Because the CIA was even then getting cold feet about being hung out to dry if Cheney ever started losing the argument, and wanted high-level fingerprints all over the operation.

In other words, for the same reason that Republicans have been spending the past two weeks trying to checkmate Nancy Pelosi -- to spread the web of guilt for these practices widely enough that no one individual, or few individuals, can be factually, or politically, held responsible.

So, why was General/Secretary Powell treated with such kid gloves on this question? Why hasn't he been given the "Full Pelosi", hammered by questions about what he knew, and what he personally approved? Is it because Washington has already forgiven and/or forgotten Powell's role in making the final "close" on the sale of the Iraq War? In D.C., apparently, Powell's credibility has experienced seamless reweaving.

That just leaves the rest of us.