BLENDZ NOTE: It seems these people can't keep their story straight,but then again politicians never could do that
Pelosi Says She Knew of Waterboarding by 2003
By CARL HULSE
Published: May 14, 2009
WASHINGTON — The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, acknowledged for the first time Thursday that she knew by early 2003 that the Central Intelligence Agency had subjected terror detainees to waterboarding but saw little recourse to challenge the practice except by achieving Democratic control of Congress and the White House.
Ms. Pelosi offered her account at a tense news conference as she was pressed for a full accounting of when she became aware that the Bush administration had sanctioned harsh interrogation techniques.
The issue is emerging as one of the toughest tests of Ms. Pelosi’s tenure, as she finds herself fending off accusations of hypocrisy from Republicans for criticizing the interrogation methods, even though she had known about them, and from liberal critics who say that she should have raised the alarm earlier if she knew what was transpiring.
In her roles as both Democratic leader after 2004 and then speaker after Democrats won control of the House in 2006, Ms. Pelosi has been an outspoken critic of the administration’s treatment of detainees, saying the specter of torture had damaged the nation’s reputation and put military forces at risk.
But it was not until late 2007 that it was disclosed that, as the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Ms. Pelosi had been briefed to some degree on the interrogation methods.
Ms. Pelosi was present at a C.I.A. briefing in September 2002 that a recently released C.I.A. account says included discussion of techniques that “had been used” against a terrorism suspect.
That briefing was the only one that Ms. Pelosi attended in person, and on Thursday, she repeated her assertion that the only mention of waterboarding during the session was that while it was deemed to be legal, the technique was not being used.
“We later find out that it had been taking place before they even briefed us about the legal opinions and told us that they were not being used,” she said.
But she went on to acknowledge for the first time that she had been told five months later, in February 2003, that top lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee had been briefed on the use of tough interrogation methods on terror suspects, including waterboarding.
She said the account had been provided by a staff member who attended the briefing. She did not speak out at the time due to secrecy rules, and so was not complicit in any abuse of detainees, she said.
“The speaker’s comments continue to raise more questions than provide answers,” said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader. “It’s pretty clear that they were well aware of what these enhanced interrogation techniques were; they were well aware that they’d been used; and it seems to me that they want to have it both ways. You can’t have it both ways.”
Other Republicans have sought to drive the point home, suggesting that Ms. Pelosi tacitly supported the interrogation techniques in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks but sought to back away when disclosures about mistreatment of detainees shifted public opinion.
“We know that if the C.I.A. proposes something that we believe is wrong, we could do something about it,” Senator Christopher S. Bond, Republican of Missouri, a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Thursday. “We’ve done things about it and it’s no excuse to say that I was powerless.”
Ms. Pelosi said she had supported a letter opposing the tactics sent in 2003 by Representative Jane Harman of California, who replaced Ms. Pelosi as the top Democrat on the panel when Ms. Pelosi took over as Democratic leader. But she said that she realized a letter would not change administration policy and that she instead set about to win Democratic control of Congress.
“It was clear we had to change the leadership in Congress and in the White House,” she said. “That was my job — the Congress part.”
To resolve the dispute about what was said during the September 2002 meeting, Ms. Pelosi has urged the C.I.A. to disclose the contents of that session. But that appears doubtful because the agency has rebuffed a request by former Vice President Dick Cheney for two memorandums that Mr. Cheney says would demonstrate the effectiveness of harsh interrogation methods in obtaining information from captured operatives of Al Qaeda.
The C.I.A., reacting to Ms. Pelosi’s comments, said Thursday that a chart prepared by the director of national intelligence and cited last week by Congressional Republicans to show that Ms. Pelosi had taken part in a September 2002 briefing on interrogation techniques was “true to the language in the agency’s records.”
An agency spokesman, George Little, said the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, had pointed out in a recent letter to Congress that the information “is drawn from the past files of the C.I.A.” and represented contemporaneous memorandums “and notes that summarized the best recollections of those individuals.”
The chart said that in a briefing on Sept. 4, 2002, attended by Ms. Pelosi, the interrogation methods that “had been employed” against a prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, were described. According to the legal memorandums released last month, Abu Zubaydah had been waterboarded 83 times the month before the briefing.
Porter J. Goss, a former C.I.A. director who as a Republican congressman from Florida attended the September briefing with Ms. Pelosi, said in an article published in The Washington Post that lawmakers were suffering from “amnesia” if they “claim to have not understood that the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed; or that specific techniques such as ‘waterboarding’ were never mentioned.”
An aide to Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Intelligence Committee in 2002, said Thursday that Mr. Shelby recalled that in a separate 2002 Senate briefing, “not only did the C.I.A. briefers provide what was purported to be a full account of the techniques, they also described the need for these techniques and the value of the information being obtained from terrorists during questioning.”
Former Senator Bob Graham of Florida, chairman of the intelligence committee at the time, has said he did not recall discussions of waterboarding during the briefings.
Representative Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Thursday that he would push for new legislation requiring all government interrogators to abide by the noncoercive techniques mandated in an executive order signed by President Obama in January.
Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting.