The Washington Post reported today that select members of congress were briefed by the CIA in 2002 about enhanced interrogation techniques. Included in the briefing was current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.
"The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough," said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange.
According to the article, the CIA gave congressional overseers approximately 30 private briefings, some of which included descriptions of waterboarding, other harsh interrogation methods, and virtual tours of the CIA's overseas detention sites.
Then-Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-FL) was also a party to the briefings.
"Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing," said Goss, who chaired the House intelligence committee from 1997 to 2004 and then served as CIA director from 2004 to 2006. "And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement."
The article cites to "several officials familiar with the briefings" who recalled the meetings with a deep concern of future terrorist attacks.
"In fairness, the environment was different then because we were closer to Sept. 11 and people were still in a panic," said one U.S. official present during the early briefings. "But there was no objecting, no hand-wringing. The attitude was, 'We don't care what you do to those guys as long as you get the information you need to protect the American people.' "
As to the Speaker herself, Pelosi declined to comment to the Washington Post.
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.
This report comes after many months of criticism by congressional Democrats about enhanced interrogation methods administered by the Bush Administration. Democrats have repeatedly complained about waterboarding, calling it torture (and making it a one-phrase rallying cry akin to "Halliburton" and "Abu Graibh"). They have also complained about clandestine detainment facilities. Some objected recently to the appointment of Attorney General Michael Mukasey solely because he wouldn't declare waterboarding to be torture. And just this week, Democrats have reached full fury again over some destroyed interrogation tapes.
So with all this outrage over torture, it is quite a revelation that the House Speaker knew of waterboarding all along, and even approved of it (if you believe the Washington Post, hardly a conservative pamphleteer).
What is even more interesting is an examination of some of Pelosi's statements since 2002.
Pelosi issued a press release November 16, 2005 titled: "Torture is not Consistent with American Values." In it Pelosi states:
When we put our young men and women in harm’s way, we always owe the American people the truth, and that is what the Congress is asking the President for: the truth.
I served many years on the Intelligence Committee, and I know we endanger our own troops and personnel when we use torture, because it can be used on them. The quality of intelligence that is collected by torture is worthless – it is uncorroborated and it is worthless. We have the know-how, the personnel, and the resources in our country to protect the American people in a way that protects our values, that reflects the priorities of our citizens. And that means not using torture.
(Pelosi repeats here statements about the uselessness of torture in the eighth minute of this video.)
A later press release by Pelosi (December 16, 2005) once again condemns torture, but also speaks of getting the facts on clandestine detention facilities.
Yesterday, the House took a critical step toward redeeming the standing of our country in the eyes of the world by endorsing a prohibition on torture. Today, the House took another big step toward improving our world standing by voting to get the facts on charges that the CIA has run, and continues to run, clandestine detention facilities at which torture is practiced.
Congress has failed to conduct proper oversight on the detainee mistreatment issue. In many cases, there has not even been an effort to collect the information necessary to determine the scope of the problem so that effective corrective action can be taken.
Just two months ago, Pelosi was interviewed by Fox News, during which Pelosi evasively indicated that waterboarding could constitute torture.
"There is a legal definition of torture that I believe this would fit. And the president says it would not," the California Democrat said. "Again, we have to see the degree, and what he is talking about. Because, again, to answer on the basis of something that's been reported in the press that the president has deemed is not torture, it's just not -- I just can't give you an informed answer on that."
(Watch here to see Pelosi at her squirmy best avoid the question as to whether she was briefed on waterboarding.)
The Washington Post article raises a lot of questions about what Nancy Pelosi knew, and when did she know it?
At the very least, somebody in the media should ask Pelosi directly if she was present for these 2002 meetings? Was she briefed about waterboarding and clandestine interrogation facilities? Did she tacitly approve of these procedures? And if not, what steps did she take to condemn them (other than self-serving press releases and attacks on President Bush years after-the-fact)? Why did she question the existence of clandestine detention facilities in 2005 when she was briefed about them in 2002? When did she first decide torture was useless? Is waterboarding torture? (These are just a few questions that come to mind, but certainly the trained experienced mainstream media will come up with more.)
The media spent the weekend over-reporting the destruction of some CIA videotapes that depicted waterboarding. With regard to these tapes, MSNBC reporter Patty Culhane on Saturday specifically asked the question [paraphrasing]: "What did they know, and when did they know it?"
If the Democrats are furious about the destruction of waterboarding tapes in 2005, then wouldn't they be even more upset to learn that the House Speaker learned about (and approved of) waterboarding in 2002?
These would be great questions for the media to ask congressional Democrats and the Speaker herself. But will they?