Pelosi News Conference on Waterboarding Disclosure

CQ Transcriptwire
Thursday, May 14, 2009; 11:55 AM


PELOSI: ... take the time to read this to you. Throughout my career, I have been proud to have worked on human rights and against torture around the world. I say this with great pride because it has been a great focus of my time both even before I came to Congress and here. As ranking member of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of Appropriations, I helped secure the first funding for the Torture Victim's Relief Act to assist though suffering from the physical and psychological efforts of torture. I unequivocally oppose the use of torture by our government because it is contrary to our national values. Like all members of Congress who are briefed on classified information, I have assigned oaths pledges not to disclose any of that information. This is an oath I have taken very seriously, and I've always abided by it. The CIA briefed me only once on enhanced interrogation techniques in September 2002 in my capacity as ranking member of the Intelligence Committee. I was informed then that the Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques were legal. 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. Congress and the American people now know that, that contrary to the opinions within the -- contrary opinions within the executive branch concluded that these interrogation techniques were not legal. However, those opinions were not shared with Congress. 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. At the same time, the Bush administration -- exactly the same time -- September of 2002, the fall of 2002, at the same time, the Bush administration was misleading the American people about the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Five months later, in February 2003, a member of my staff informed me that the Republican chairman and the Democratic ranking member of the Intelligence Committee had been briefed about the use of certain techniques which had been the subject of earlier legal opinions. Following that briefing, a letter raising concerns was sent to CIA general counsel, Scott Muller by the new Democratic ranking member of committee, the appropriate person to register a protest. But no letter could change the policy. It was clear we had to change the leadership in Congress and in the White House. That was my job -- the Congress part. When Democrats assumed control of the Congress in 2007, Congress passed legislation banning torture and requiring all government agencies to abide by the Army Field Manual. President Bush vetoed this bill barring the use of torture. An effort to overturn his veto failed because of the votes of Republican members. We needed to elect a new president. We did. And he has banned torture. Congress and the administration must review -- I've always believed the Congress and the administration must review the National Security Act of 1947 -- now, we have a chance to do that with a new president -- to determine in a larger number of members of Congress should receive classified briefings so that the information can be utilized by proper oversight -- for proper oversight and legislative activity without violating oaths of secrecy.

PELOSI: I have long supported creation of an independent truth commission to determine how intelligence was misused and how controversial and possibly illegal activities like torture were authorized within the executive branch.

PELOSI: Until a truth commission is -- comes into being, I encourage the appropriate committees of the House to conduct vigorous oversight of these issues.

I'd be pleased to take any questions.

QUESTION: Regardless of the individual who told you that these techniques were being used and regardless the venue in which you learned of this fact, does not the foreknowledge of the use of these techniques make you complicit in their use?

PELOSI: No, this is a policy that has been -- that was conceived and implemented by the Bush administration. They notified Congress that they had legal opinions saying that this was -- was legal, but they would let us know if they were planning to use them, is what they briefed us on.

I think you can see by what Mr. Panetta has sent out that it's really hard to confirm what did happen, and the committees of jurisdiction may have to look into that, but it does not make me complicit, no.

QUESTION: But Mr. Sheehy...


QUESTION: You say that Mr. Sheehy did tell you, your staff did tell you.

PELOSI: He informed me that the briefing had taken place. We were not in a place where he could -- that was all that he was required to do. We're not in a setting -- we weren't in -- I'm no longer the ranking member on intelligence. He just informed me and that the letter was sent. That is the proper person to send the letter, the ranking member of the -- of the Intelligence Committee.

So my statement is clear, and let me read it again. Let me read it again. I'm sorry. I have to find the page.

I was informed that the Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogations was legal. The only mention of waterboarding was that the briefing -- in the briefing was that it was not being employed.

When -- when -- when my staff person -- I'm sorry, the page is out of order -- five months later, my staff person told me that there had been a briefing -- informing that there had been a briefing and that a letter had been sent. I was not briefed on what was in that briefing; I was just informed that the briefing had taken place.

So -- so let's get this straight. The Bush administration has conceived a policy, the CIA comes to the Congress, withholds information about the timing and the use of this subject. They -- 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.

This is a tactic, a diversionary tactic to take the spotlight off of those who conceived, developed and implemented these policies, which all of us long opposed. My action on it was further to say: We have to change the majority in Congress. We have to win the White House so that we can change it.


QUESTION: ... Sheehy did not tell you that the -- he was informed that they were actually using the techniques?

PELOSI: No, he did say that. He said that the -- the committee chair and ranking member and appropriate staff had been briefed that these techniques were now being used. They -- that's all I was informed, that they were being used and that a letter was sent.

And that is a complete -- my responsibility -- it's different. I'm no longer the ranking member. Appropriately, the ranking member sent the letter.

So let me say this: Of all of the briefings that I had received, at this same time, they were misinforming me earlier. Now, in September, the same time as the -- as the briefing, they were telling the American people there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and it was an imminent threat to the United States.

I, to the limit of what I could say to my caucus, told them the intelligence does not support the imminent threat that this administration is contending.

So it was on the subject of what's happening in Iraq, whether it's talking about the techniques used by the -- by the intelligence community on those they're interrogating, at every step of the way, the administration was misleading the Congress. And that is the issue. And that is why we need a truth commission to look into that.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Madam Speaker, just to be clear, you're accusing the CIA of lying to you in September of 2002?

PELOSI: Yes, misleading the Congress of the United States, misleading the Congress of the United States. I am. QUESTION: And also -- and doing it again now, as they've released this list of briefings that says you were briefed on the interrogation tactics that were used.

PELOSI: I'm saying -- I'm quoting what the head of the CIA has said. This is -- we don't know if this information is accurate that he's talking about.

What they briefed us on -- and perhaps they should release the briefings. I would be very happy if they would release the briefings. And then you will see what they briefed in one time -- in one time and another, House and the Senate and the rest, and perhaps with the intense interest that this has generated because of the distraction that the Republicans want to cause with this, then you can make a judgment yourself about what you think these briefings were.

But I'm telling you that they talked about interrogations that they had done and said, "We want to use enhanced techniques, and we have legal opinions that say that they are OK. We are not using waterboarding." That's the only mention, that they were not using it. And we now know that earlier they were.

So, yes, I am saying that they are misleading -- that 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, "This intelligence does not support the imminent threat," to which the press asked the same question you just did now. "Are you accusing them of lying?" I said, I'm just stating a fact. The intelligence...


PELOSI: I'm sorry. I -- no, no, just because I promised -- in the back there. Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: Do you wish now that you had done more? Do you wish...


QUESTION: ... it had been your own letter?

PELOSI: No, no, no, no, no, no. I mean, the point is, is that we had the conversation. They told us they had legal opinions. As I say in my statement, we now know what they didn't inform us then, that there were other opinions within the executive branch that concluded that these interrogation techniques were not legal.

So no letter or anything else is going to stop them from doing what they're going to do. My job was to change the majority in Congress and to change -- to fight to have a new president, because what was happening was not consistent with our values, certainly not true, and -- and something that had to be changed.

We did that. We have a new president. He says he's going to ban torture. When we won in '06 and -- and passed legislation in that Congress, President Bush vetoed that bill. I think we're in a whole different stage.


QUESTION: ... when you hear about this sturm und drang about this over the past few weeks, regardless of your desire to have a truth commission, doesn't this make it harder to go forward in that regard because so many on the other side have sort of ginned this issue up?

PELOSI: Well, I have always been for a truth commission, as you probably know. Others in the legislative branch have thought maybe the committees of jurisdiction should do that job. And until we have a truth commission and unless we have a truth commission, they must do that.

But it isn't -- and I don't think it would -- I think a truth commission would be a good idea. I think the American people want it. I think they want to know how we got to this place.

And that's why I say in this, until we have a truth commission, the committees of jurisdiction, whether it's the intelligence commission -- committee or the Judiciary Committee, are the appropriate places for that to go.

But understand -- and I don't know how you can fall prey to this -- this is their policy, all of them. This is their policy. 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. We had to change the majority in Congress. We had to get a new president in order to change the policy. And that is what we have done.

And I, as I say, had taken special interest in this issue over time, take pride in it and -- and the work that we have done on the issue of torture. So I was pretty sensitive to what they would be briefing us, and what they said they were doing, and what they didn't. But they did not represent the facts in that regard.

Yes, sir?


QUESTION: Madam Speaker, on health care...


QUESTION: ... do House Democrats have the...


PELOSI: Did you get booed? Did I hear you get booed?

QUESTION: Not the first time. Do House Democrats have the political will to raise taxes to reform health care?

PELOSI: We're putting everything on the table. We -- we believe that the health care reform that the president is advocating for quality, affordable, accessible health care can be achieved with about -- much of the money that is being spent now, but spent more wisely, in terms of prevention, in terms of early intervention, in terms of information technology, to make health care more affordable, fewer errors, better quality.

But when we do these -- when we're doing the health care issue, you have Democrats, Republicans, House and Senate. I don't think we should -- I hope that we could find the savings within the system. But in the interest of listening to everyone put everything on the table and see what its worth is and whether it's necessary. QUESTION: You don't think you need a tax increase to cover 46 million more people? PELOSI: You know what? We have a -- what the president said is that if you like the insurance that you have, you can keep that. What we have done already, from the beginning of this year with the recovery package, with the omnibus bill, with the budget, with the children's health, what we have done already has done more for health care than anything since the establishment of Medicare in the '50s -- 50 years ago, more than 50 years ago. So we're down the path. We have momentum on this. And we'll listen to see what the Ways and Means Committee and the Finance Committee and the rest have to say. We'll have our listening sessions with our members. This is very important. And I hope that it can be done in a bipartisan way. I really do. I know we have the reconciliation mechanism there, but I would hope that we would not have to use that. But we will have a health care reform bill on the floor of the House by the end of July. And you will see, in this very short period of time, this next week and then when we come back in June, you will see the particulars of it emerge. And Mr. -- Mr. Rangel will be in charge of that piece of it -- the how do we pay for it piece and listening to all kinds of views. QUESTION: May I ask one last question? PELOSI: Sure. QUESTION: OK. The question is: At the end of April, you had a press conference with us and you said very clearly we were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used. PELOSI: That's right. We, in that -- in that meeting, in the briefing that I received, we were not told that -- in fact, we were told that waterboarding was not being used because that's sort of one that stood out. QUESTION: So in that press conference, we were all fairly trying to get at the broader question of whether -- whether you knew about waterboarding at all. And the idea that we got from you was that you were never told that waterboarding was being used. But now we know that, later, in February, you were told. It wasn't in that briefing, but you were told. So... PELOSI: No. By the time we were told, we are finding out that it's been used before. In other words, that was beyond the... QUESTION: Well, why did you tell us at the press conference PELOSI: Well, I told you what our briefing was. And our briefing was... QUESTION: That you had been told, just not at that particular briefing. PELOSI: No. QUESTION: You've been very adamant that you didn't know that waterboarding was used. PELOSI: No, that is right. We were told -- in the briefing that I received, we were told that they had legal opinions that this was legal. We were not told that it was -- that there were other legal opinions to the contrary in the administration. And we were told specifically that waterboarding was not being used. When my assistant told me that the committee had been briefed -- now, I'm not on that committee any more. I'm now out of it. We have a new -- that ranking member wrote the appropriate letter to protest that. And then we find out just slightly more subsequent to that that, perhaps, they were using waterboarding long before they tell us. QUESTION: (Inaudible). PELOSI: No. But the point is is that I wasn't briefed. I was told -- informed that someone else had been briefed about it. I'm only speaking from my -- I'm only speaking from my own experience. And we were told that it was not being used. Subsequently, the other members of the committee were informed. QUESTION: So were you. PELOSI: No, I wasn't informed. I was informed that a briefing had taken place. Now, you have to look at what they briefed those members. I was not briefed that. I was only informed that they were briefed, but I did not get the briefing. QUESTION: (Inaudible). PELOSI: Well, we'll find out. QUESTION: (Inaudible). They mislead us all the time. I was fighting the war in Iraq at that point, too, you know, saying to my members the intelligence does not support the imminent threat that they are conceding. But what's the point? Yes, they did. They misrepresented every step of the way. And they don't want that focus on them. So they try to turn the attention on us. We had to win the election to make the change. We did. President Bush vetoed the bill. We have a new president who is going to do that.

But the committees can look into and see the timing of who knew what and when and what the nature of the briefing was. I have not been briefed as to what they were briefed on in February. I was just briefed that they were informed that some of the enhanced situations were used.


STAFF: Thank you. Thank you.


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