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Hill Briefed on Waterboarding in 2002

That decision reflected the White House's decision that the "enhanced interrogation" program would be treated as one of the nation's top secrets for fear of warning al-Qaeda members about what they might expect, said U.S. officials familiar with the decision. Critics have since said the administration's motivation was at least partly to hide from view an embarrassing practice that the CIA considered vital but outsiders would almost certainly condemn as abhorrent.

Information about the use of waterboarding nonetheless began to seep out after a furious internal debate among military lawyers and policymakers over its legality and morality. Once it became public, other members of Congress -- beyond the four that interacted regularly with the CIA on its most sensitive activities -- insisted on being briefed on it, and the circle of those in the know widened.

In September 2006, the CIA for the first time briefed all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, producing some heated exchanges with CIA officials, including Director Michael V. Hayden. The CIA director said during a television interview two months ago that he had informed congressional overseers of "all aspects of the detention and interrogation program." He said the "rich dialogue" with Congress led him to propose a new interrogation program that President Bush formally announced over the summer

"I can't describe that program to you," Hayden said. "But I would suggest to you that it would be wrong to assume that the program of the past is necessarily the program moving forward into the future."

Waterboarding Used on at Least 3

Waterboarding as an interrogation technique has its roots in some of history's worst totalitarian nations, from Nazi Germany and the Spanish Inquisition to North Korea and Iraq. In the United States, the technique was first used five decades ago as a training tool to give U.S. troops a realistic sense of what they could expect if captured by the Soviet Union or the armies of Southeast Asia. The U.S. military has officially regarded the tactic as torture since the Spanish-American War.

In general, the technique involves strapping a prisoner to a board or other flat surface, and then raising his feet above the level of his head. A cloth is then placed over the subject's mouth and nose, and water is poured over his face to make the prisoner believe he is drowning.

U.S. officials knowledgeable about the CIA's use of the technique say it was used on three individuals -- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; Zayn Abidin Muhammed Hussein Abu Zubaida, a senior al-Qaeda member and Osama bin Laden associate captured in Pakistan in March 2002; and a third detainee who has not been publicly identified.

Abu Zubaida, the first of the "high-value" detainees in CIA custody, was subjected to harsh interrogation methods beginning in spring 2002 after he refused to cooperate with questioners, the officials said. CIA briefers gave the four intelligence committee members limited information about Abu Zubaida's detention in spring 2002, but offered a more detailed account of its interrogation practices in September of that year, said officials with direct knowledge of the briefings.

The CIA provided another briefing the following month, and then about 28 additional briefings over five years, said three U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge of the meetings. During these sessions, the agency provided information about the techniques it was using as well as the information it collected.

Lawmakers have varied recollections about the topics covered in the briefings.

Graham said he has no memory of ever being told about waterboarding or other harsh tactics. Graham left the Senate intelligence committee in January 2003, and was replaced by Rockefeller. "Personally, I was unaware of it, so I couldn't object," Graham said in an interview. He said he now believes the techniques constituted torture and were illegal.

Pelosi declined to comment directly on her reaction to the classified briefings. But a congressional source familiar with Pelosi's position on the matter said the California lawmaker did recall discussions about enhanced interrogation. The source said Pelosi recalls that techniques described by the CIA were still in the planning stage -- they had been designed and cleared with agency lawyers but not yet put in practice -- and acknowledged that Pelosi did not raise objections at the time.


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