Pelosi Accuses CIA of Misleading Congress on Interrogations
Friday, May 15, 2009
The debate over the tactics used by the Bush administration to combat terrorism continued to grip Washington yesterday, as Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill lobbed accusations about controversial interrogation methods used on suspects.
The battle among lawmakers over who knew what, and when, coupled with the CIA's assertion that it had fully informed congressional leaders about classified matters, made it all but certain that the debate will drag into the summer, when the Obama administration hoped to have Congress's full attention focused on its ambitious legislative agenda.
CIA officials found themselves caught in the middle as both sides pressed for the release of documents that they argued would bolster their arguments.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) yesterday charged the CIA with knowingly misleading members of Congress about the interrogation practices, even as she acknowledged for the first time that she learned six years ago that waterboarding was being used on detainees.
Pelosi's comments during a heated news conference added another layer to the debate over President George W. Bush's anti-terrorism methods and their effectiveness.
On another front, the CIA yesterday rejected former vice president Richard B. Cheney's request to release documents that he said would reveal that waterboarding and other interrogation practices helped thwart terrorist plots.
In her most explicit comments to date about the controversial interrogation methods, Pelosi slammed the CIA and called on the agency to release classified notes about the secretive briefings congressional leaders received.
"At every step of the way, the administration was misleading the Congress. And that is the issue," Pelosi said at the news conference.
Pelosi, who was the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee until January 2003, has emerged as the central focus of an effort by congressional Republicans and former Bush administration officials to paint Democratic leaders as giving their tacit support for the interrogation tactics. They contend that top Democrats were aware that CIA interrogators were using waterboarding, or simulated drowning, and that their support waned only after its use became public and led to an outcry from human rights activists.
Pelosi's news conference marked her first time addressing the issue since the CIA released a detailed memo last week outlining almost 40 congressional briefings on interrogation practices since September 2002.
Yesterday, the CIA offered conflicting accounts about the merits of Pelosi's charge. In a statement, the agency stood by records it released last week suggesting that Pelosi was informed in September 2002 about the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques."
"The language in the chart -- 'a description of the particular [enhanced interrogation techniques] that had been employed' -- is true to the language in the agency's records," a CIA spokesman said yesterday. That chart contradicts the speaker's assertion, which she has maintained consistently for the past 18 months, that she was told only that the Justice Department had provided a legal basis for using waterboarding or other harsh techniques in future interrogations.