Pelosi says Bush team misled her on waterboarding
WASHINGTON — Under strong attack from Republicans, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the CIA and Bush administration of misleading her about waterboarding detainees in the war on terror and sharply rebutted claims she was complicit in the method’s use.
“To the contrary … we were told explicitly that waterboarding was not being used,” she told reporters, referring to a formal CIA briefing she received in the fall of 2002.
Pelosi said she subsequently learned that other lawmakers were told several months later by the CIA about the use of waterboarding.
“I wasn’t briefed, I was informed that somebody else had been briefed about it,” she said.
The House’s top Democrat made her comments at a news conference where she was peppered with questions about her knowledge of a technique she and others have called torture. Republicans have insisted in recent weeks that Pelosi and other Democrats knew waterboarding was in use but made no attempt to protest.
Pelosi’s comments Thursday were her most pointed yet on the topic of what she learned about waterboarding.
In a written response issued moments after Pelosi spoke, an official at the CIA neither disputed nor accepted the California Democrat’s statements.
Instead, George Little, head of the CIA office of public affairs, said it would be up to Congress to determine whether notes made by agency personnel at the time they briefed lawmakers were accurate. He said the notes could be made available at the CIA “for staff review.”
House Republican Leader John Boehner dismissed Pelosi’s account.
“When you look at the number of briefings that the Speaker was in and other Democrat members of the House and Senate, it’s pretty clear that they were well aware of what these enhanced interrogation techniques were,” said the Ohio lawmaker. “They were well aware that they had been used, and it seems to me that they want to have it both ways. You can’t have it both ways.”
Despite Boehner’s comments, CIA records show Pelosi attended only one briefing — the one in the fall of 2002 where she says she was told that waterboarding had not been used. A chart released by the CIA detailing its briefings for lawmakers is vague on what transpired at that session. It says Pelosi and the top Intelligence Committee Republican, then-Rep. Porter J. Goss of Florida, were given a “description of the particular (enhanced interrogation techniques) that had been employed,” without further details.
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.
Pelosi renewed her call for a so-called truth commission to investigate the events in the Bush administration that led to the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques. While President Barack Obama has banned waterboarding, calling it torture, he has been notably cool toward an independent inquiry that might distract attention from his domestic agenda.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also has expressed opposition, as have congressional Republicans.
Pelosi was particularly harsh in describing the CIA.
“They mislead us all the time,” she said. And when a reporter asked whether the agency had lied, Pelosi said yes.
She also suggested that the current Republican criticism marked an attempt to divert attention from the Bush administration’s actions.
“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,” she said.
Pelosi contended that Democrats did what they could to stop the use of waterboarding. The senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, who received the 2003 briefing on the practice, sent the CIA a formal letter of protest, she said.
But Pelosi defended her own lack of action on the issue, saying her focus at the time was on wresting congressional control from Republicans so her party could change course.
“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,” Pelosi said.
When Pelosi first addressed the question in late April, she said only that those present at her 2002 briefing were not told that the practice had been employed.
“We were not — I repeat, were not — told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used,” she said at the time.
Later, her spokesman elaborated, saying Pelosi had been told the methods were legal but that they had not yet been used.
On Thursday, Pelosi accused the CIA of having lied during that session by explicitly telling her that waterboarding was not used.
Associated Press Writers David Espo and Ann Sanner contributed to this report.