WASHINGTON -- Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, has charged that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) deliberately misled her and other members of Congress about the use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques."
Pelosi has been under a cloud recently because of suspicion that she's known for seven years that the CIA subjected some suspected terrorists to the techniques, which many consider to be torture.
Opposition Republicans say this undermines Pelosi's demand for a "truth commission" to bring out all the facts on the use of such techniques during the administration of former President George W. Bush. If the speaker has known about the practice for so long, they argue, why is she only now publicly criticizing it?
Speaking with reporters on May 14 at the Capitol, Pelosi said that she was present only once -- in September 2002 -- at a CIA briefing on enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, or simulated drowning. At the time, Pelosi was the senior Democratic Party member on the House Intelligence Committee, which was controlled by the majority Republican Party.
"I was informed then that the Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques [was] legal," Pelosi said. "The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed. Those conducting the briefing promised to inform the appropriate members of Congress if that technique were to be used in the future."
It's hard for me to imagine that anyone in our intelligence area would ever mislead a member of Congress.
According to Pelosi, Congress and the American people now know that some members of the Bush administration believed that such techniques weren't legal. Yet those peoples’ opinions weren't included in Congressional briefings.
"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," Pelosi said.
"At the same time, the Bush administration -- this is exactly the same time, September of 2002, the [autumn] of 2002 -- at the same time, the Bush administration was misleading the American people about the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," she added.
Letter Of Protest
Pelosi said it was only five months later, in February 2003 -- after she had left the Intelligence Committee -- that senior members of the committee were told waterboarding was being used as an interrogation technique.
Pelosi said the ranking Democrat on the committee -- Jane Harmon -- immediately sent a letter of protest to the CIA, which Pelosi called “the proper response.”
On May 14, Pelosi renewed her call for a truth commission to determine how the Bush administration came to permit the use of harsh interrogation techniques. The idea isn't popular in Congress.
Most Republicans oppose a truth commission, as does Pelosi's chief Democratic ally in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid. President Barack Obama hasn't embraced the idea, either.
Pelosi's Republican counterpart, House Minority Leader John Boehner, held his own meeting with reporters on May 14 and said the record shows that the CIA held several briefings on interrogation techniques for members of Congress. He said CIA officials said the enhanced techniques had been used during those briefings.'Very Bad Idea'
Boehner said he doubts anyone at the CIA deliberately misled anyone.
"It's hard for me to imagine that anyone in our intelligence area would ever mislead a member of Congress. They come to the [Capitol] Hill to brief us because they're required to, under the law," Boehner said. "I don't know what motivation they would have to mislead anyone. And I don't believe -- and don't feel -- that in the briefings that I've had that I've been misled at any one point in time."
And while Boehner has spoken out against Pelosi's call for a truth commission, he now says it may be a good idea, if only to show that congressional Democrats have known about the use of harsh interrogation for years, but kept silent about it.
"I think if [the Democrats] insist on having this so-called truth commission -- which, frankly, I think is a very bad idea -- but if they're going to go down that path, then let's just get it all on the table," he said. "Let's find out who knew what, and when, and what they did about it.
"And if we're going to get into these interrogation techniques, we also ought to give the American people a bigger picture of what we were able to glean from the use of these techniques," Boehner added.
The CIA's Office of Public Affairs also responded to Pelosi's comments. It said the agency would make its staffers' notes of congressional briefings available to Congress, which can determine on its own whether those notes are accurate.