Pelosi Claims CIA Deceived Her on Waterboarding

By Alan Stewart Carl | Related entries in Democrats, Pelosi, Torture

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When it comes to waterboarding, the question now surrounding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is what did she know and when did she know it. Today, Pelosi claimed what she knew, at least at first, was a lie.

[T]he House’s top Democrat, speaking at a news conference in the Capitol, was unequivocal about a CIA briefing she received in the fall of 2002.

“We were told that waterboarding was not being used,” the speaker said. “That’s the only mention, that they were not using it. And we now know that earlier they were.” She suggested the CIA release the briefing material.

The CIA denies the agency ever deceived lawmakers.

So we now have a “he said/she said” situation and most of the official records are classified. What the CIA has released is a chart listing discussions with congressional members:

The chart specifically notes a discussion of waterboarding in 13 briefings between February 2003 and March 2009, most attended by Democrats as well as Republicans. Two Democrats, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and former Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, have challenged the accuracy of some of the CIA’s chart.

However, the whole “what she knew and when she knew it” question really misses the point. The right question is: could Pelosi and the Democrats have done more the stop the technique many consider torture? Or was winning control of Congress and the Presidency the only way to effectively halt the use of waterboarding?

Just because Pelosi knew about harsh integration techniques doesn’t mean she approved. Then again, if waterboarding is as morally unacceptable as Pelosi has claimed it is, shouldn’t she have been a lot more vocal a lot earlier?


This entry was posted on Thursday, May 14th, 2009 and is filed under Democrats, Pelosi, Torture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

13 Responses to “Pelosi Claims CIA Deceived Her on Waterboarding”

  1. DougL Says:

    Then again, if waterboarding is as morally unacceptable as Pelosi has claimed it is, shouldn’t she have been a lot more vocal a lot earlier?

    And exactly how do you go about being “a lot more vocal a lot earlier” without violating the terms under which members of congress were briefed on what was then classified information?

    I absolutely do not intend to excuse Pelosi. Seems to me that a lot of Republicans are playing this “but the Democrats knew, too” gambit thinking, perhaps cynically, that it’ll take some weight from behind calls for a full investigation. On the contrary, I think it even more forcefully makes the case for the need for a full investigation, and if Pelosi and other Democrats are found culpable for approving of torture, then I’m entirely fine with them facing whatever consequences there are, as well.

    Aside from that – again, not making excuses for Pelosi or any other Democrats involved – there’s a level of culpability for being briefed and perhaps arguably approving, and there’s an entirely higher level of culpability for whoever formulated the policy to begin with.

  2. Terry Says:

    This is just another never ending smear that the republicans keep throwing out there. They know they are fully to account for the issue, yet they’ll find someone on the opposition to point fingers out then they pull out all of their guns. If we look at government on a whole rather then one person, it is VERY clear where blame should lie. We have let these people distract ourselves for years, and where has it gotten us to?

  3. Reaganite Republican Resistance Says:

    Obama really kicked an ant hill with his ill-advised and politically motivated release of Bush Administration memos regarding EITs- I’m sure he already regrets it.

    Let’s have a hearing and get it all out there, shall we? Then watch the rats scatter who attacked Bush for protecting the country from terrorist attack… but who clearly knew what was going on five years before we heard a peep out of them

    http://reaganiterepublicanresistance.blogspot.com/

  4. Reaganite Republican Resistance Says:

    Obama really kicked an ant hill with his ill-advised and politically motivated release of Bush Administration memos regarding EITs- I’m sure he already regrets it.

    Let’s have a hearing and get it all out there, shall we? Then watch the rats scatter who attacked Bush for protecting the country from terrorist attack… but who clearly knew what was going on five years before we heard a peep out of them.

  5. kranky kritter Says:

    My strong suspicion is that some or even many senior democratic leaders went along with such policies in the time soon after 9/11. Or else they took a hands-off approach where they said they understood that what needed to be done needed to be done, and they didn’t want to be privy to the details.

    To me, that means such folks are either incompetent or dishonest. If any of them are grandstanding against these very unsavory interrogation techniques now, then they fully deserve to get dragged right into the same mud as the rest of the folks involved.

    I have always thought that Nancy Pelosi is a very venal, small-minded, petty person without a strong set of core principles, unless you count winning by any means.

    Nothing that anyone can say about how bad the republicans are on these issues, no matter how much I agree with them, is enough to make me think any more highly of Nancy Pelosi. Every member of the GOP could be Ted Bundy or Attila the Hun or Adolf Eichmann, and that still would not make Nancy Pelosi, fair, statesmanlike, insightful, or of high character.

  6. John Burke Says:

    DougL

    The notion that Pelosi and others briefed were hamstrung from doing anything because of the secrecy of briefings is a total dodge.

    The whole point of briefing Congress since it was first required by the Hughes-Ryan Act of 1974 is to give Congress the ability to exercise its Constitutional powers to legislate and appropriate. It is not commonplace but it is entirely possible to withhold funding from any particular CIA covert action without spilling any beans, since the whole intelligence budget is hidden anyway. The Intelligence Committees of the two house control that process.

    Anyway, for many years, these Committees had been advocates for the CIA and the IC generally. There was a strong, positive relationship between the IC and the committees back in 2002-03. If Pelosi and others had objected strenuously, the CIA, then headed would have found it very difficult to proceed — and likely would not have wanted to buck Congress.

    The scenario that is most credible is that Pelosi and the others were not particularly perturbed by hearing that CIA was interrogating Zabaydah harshly to try to fill the information void about about Qaeda that existed then. Look, in that period of time, anyone in Washington who did not worry about a second strike would have had to be demented. They all worried, and they wanted CIA to do whatever it had to do.

  7. DougL Says:

    Oh, and regarding the none-too-subtle implication that the Intelligence Committee (or the Gang of Four or the Gang of Eight) being briefed equates to (is conflated with?) their approval, see The National Security Act of 1947, the following sections of which seem applicable:

    TITLE V – ACCOUNTABILITY FOR INTELLIGENCE ACTIVITIES
    GENERAL CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT PROVISIONS

    SEC. 501. [50 U.S.C. 413] (a)(2) Nothing in this title shall be construed as requiring the approval of the congressional intelligence committees as a condition precedent to the initiation of any significant anticipated intelligence activity.

    Feel free to read the whole thing at the link. Sure, I don’t interpret that to mean that approval couldn’t be asked for, but color me just a bit skeptical at the thought that The Decider would seek approval beforehand for anything where approval isn’t strictly required.

    Also, on a side note, the following seems to shoot a hole in the oft cited objection at the time to briefing the whole intelligence committee on the grounds that it “leaks like a sieve”.

    SEC. 501. [50 U.S.C. 413] (e) Nothing in this Act shall be construed as authority to withhold information from the congressional intelligence committees on the grounds that providing the information to the congressional intelligence committees would constitute the unauthorized disclosure of classified information or information relating to intelligence sources and methods.

  8. DougL Says:

    John Burke

    So we’re in agreement? Full investigations and let the cards fall where they may?

  9. DougL Says:

    Also re: John Burke

    It is not commonplace but it is entirely possible to withhold funding from any particular CIA covert action without spilling any beans, since the whole intelligence budget is hidden anyway. The Intelligence Committees of the two house control that process.

    And given the Democrats position in the minority at that time, exactly how would such a “witholding of funding for any particular CIA covert action” be accomplished in a way that still leaves them holding the majority of bag of culpability for not having done so?

  10. Chris Says:

    I don’t get why this is such a huge freakin deal. It’s not like she was the one waterboarding people. She may have politically lied about knowing, but that’s nothing new. they’re making a huge deal out of nothing.

  11. michael reynolds Says:

    KK:

    I don’t like her much, either.

    And if a full and fair investigation contradicts her story, okay.

    But this new Bob Graham statement is interesting. Sometimes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is useful.

  12. John Burke Says:

    DougL

    No, I’m not for further investigations or a “truth commission.” We’re unlikely to find out anything that we don’t know for all practical purposes, now, or at least we’re unlikely to find out anything that will change anyone’s mind about whether waterboarding KSM was a good/bad (or effective) thing. And the “chips” can only fall al Qaeda’s way.

    Let me explain that by pointing out that CIA is also right about refusing to release the memos that Cheney keeps sayimg will show that CIA interrogations yielded vital intel. The more you reveal, the more UBL and Dr. Z (who are not dopes) will know about our intelligence about them. Right now, they don’t know if KSM was captured because of intel provided by Zabaydah (with or without waterboarding) or whether we captured him because some ISI guy in Pakistan they trust is on CIA’s payroll; or whether we have some communications intercept capability they have not figured out yet; or whether CIA or a friendly foreign intel service has recruited agents among people on AQ’s periphery (not likely anywhere close to the inside). What they don’t know now, they don’t know. Why should CIA allow them to check off a few boxes about how it came to know this or that. That’s crazy, That’s not how CIA officers operate. They don’t want Cheney to get his memos, and they don’t want to make public detailed notes about what they told Pelosi or anything else from which a smart enemy could deduce something useful. You can’t run an untel agency when secrets are constantly being exposed because politicians have their axes to grind.

    Obama is 100% right to want this to stop and to “focus on the future.” All this raking over old coals will make it harder to run the essential intelligence war that has to be run in the Af-Pak region to get anywhere. I think that’s what’s shaping up in his strategy there — and part of the reason for the McKiernan-McChyrstal change. McChrystal is the guy who wants to run covert operations with CIA wherever they need to be run to nail UBL and company. The rest of the Afghan war is largely a holding action to keep the Kabul govt. from imploding until we can clean out al Qaeda and get the Pakistanis to play ball. Hordes of infidel troops slogging around the mountains will get us nowhere.

    There is still a war on — against the right enemy, the one that did attack us and will again given the chance. Obama now wants to finish it. Let him get on with it.

  13. mike mcEachran Says:

    There is something about Pelosi that makes her an easy target and hard to defend – I don’t what it is – the “marmy” thing. Accusing the CIA of lying – holy cow, but she gets a lot of points for being the one calling for full disclosure. This is no doubt this is a trap set long ago, by the Bush Administration, to try and implicate Dems by “briefing” them. The trap is snapping shut on Pelosi now, but I have a sneaking suspicion she’s going to wriggle out of it. I love it that Bob Graham’s OCD could end up saving the day. Hysterical! How does it help the former Administration (Repubs in general) to say “torture isn’t wrong but if it was, Pelosi knew about it too”? What? so, you’re saying it was wrong, and she should have stopped it. Fair enough. I buy that.

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