Politics & Government

Pelosi says CIA misled lawmakers on torture

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Chuck Kennedy / MCT

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi charged Thursday that U.S. intelligence officials had misled Congress about the use of torture on terrorism suspects.

The California Democrat recalled a September 2002 briefing in which "the only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed.

"But we also now know that techniques including waterboarding had already been employed, and that those briefing me in September 2002 gave me inaccurate and incomplete information."

In short, the House leader said, "The CIA was misleading the Congress. And at the same time, the administration was misleading the Congress on the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, to which I said the intelligence does not support the imminent threat."

In an opinion piece April 25 in The Washington Post, former Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., who was the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee from 1997 to 2004, wrote that "the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed," which appears to suggest that the CIA briefers didn't tell congressional leaders that the "enhanced interrogation techniques" were already in use.

Nevertheless, Pelosi has come under increasing fire recently from Republicans, who've suggested that she needs to be more forthcoming and explain why she didn't protest the interrogation policy at the time. Pelosi was the House Intelligence Committee's top Democrat in 2002.

Pelosi said that she'd signed an oath not to disclose classified information, and suggested Thursday that speaking out wouldn't have made much difference anyway.

"This is their policy," she said of the Bush administration. "This is what they conceived. This is what they developed. This is what they implemented. This is what they denied was happening.

"And now they're trying to say, 'Don't put the spotlight on us; we told the Congress.' Well, they didn't tell us everything that they were doing. And the fact is that anything we would say doesn't matter anyway."

Earlier this month the director of national intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, submitted a report to the Senate Intelligence Committee containing notes taken by a CIA officer at a CIA briefing of ranking lawmakers, including Pelosi, on Sept. 4, 2002. The notes said the lawmakers were told that "enhanced interrogation techniques" had been used on Abu Zubaydah, a top al Qaida operative. Pelosi disputes that.

The CIA has provided to Congress recollections of lawmakers who were briefed on enhanced interrogation techniques from 2002 to 2009. It will be up to lawmakers "to determine whether this information is an accurate summary of what actually happened," according to a recent letter from CIA Director Leon Panetta to Congress.

In a related development Thursday, the CIA turned down former Vice President Dick Cheney's request to make public documents that he claimed illustrate the effectiveness of using tough interrogation methods.

Cheney wanted to declassify two memos, but the CIA said they were needed for pending litigation. "For that reason, and that reason only, CIA did not accept Mr. Cheney's request for a Mandatory Declassification Review," CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said.

The controversy has rattled Pelosi. She read a lengthy statement Thursday outlining her actions, and her news conference featured only one question that wasn't about the intelligence controversy.

The speaker recalled that she was told in 2002 that Justice Department opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques was legal. "The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed," Pelosi said.

In February 2003, one of her staff members told her that House Intelligence Committee officials — she was no longer the ranking Democratic member — had been told about "certain techniques," and Democrats sent a letter raising concerns to the CIA.

"But no letter could change their policy," she said

Republicans scoffed at her comments. House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said that Pelosi's explaining raised more questions than answers.

"I've dealt with our intelligence professionals for the last three and a half years, on an almost daily basis," Boehner said, "and it's hard for me to imagine that anyone in our intelligence area would ever mislead a member of Congress."

(Jonathan S. Landay contributed to this report.)


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