Pelosi Accuses CIA Of Misleading Congress

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that the CIA misled her in 2002 about the use of waterboarding against detainees in the war on terrorism. Pelosi went beyond her previous remarks about a briefing she attended, saying she had asked about the technique that many consider torture, and had been told it was not being used.

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The speaker of the House is being grilled over what and when she knew about harsh interrogation. Nancy Pelosi spoke out for the first time since the CIA released a memo last week on classified briefings it gave members of Congress.

That document says Pelosi was briefed, in September of 2002, on interrogation techniques used on terror suspect Abu Zubaydah. In the month before that briefing, he'd been waterboarded 83 times. Speaker Pelosi flatly denied she knew of the waterboarding. Of the CIA she said, they mislead us all the time. NPR's David Welna has more.

DAVID WELNA: First, a little background. The CIA memo that details its 40 briefings to a select group of Democrats and Republicans in Congress was actually requested by Republicans. Those Republicans, like the CIA, had opposed the Obama administration's release last month of four memos from the Bush Justice Department.

These four so-called torture memos made a legal argument for the CIA's use of what the agency called enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, which many regard as torture. The memos released, prompted demands that both the authors of the memos and those who authorized them, be prosecuted.

That's when congressional Republicans appealed to the CIA to show Democrats, too, knew about these techniques. The CIA responded with the memo that listed Nancy Pelosi as one of the first members of Congress to be briefed, saying she'd been told about the interrogation techniques already used on Abu Zubaydah. But if Republicans expected that to stifle the speaker, it didn't. Yesterday, Pelosi contradicted the CIA and said she was not told about the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah when she was briefed by the CIA in September of 2002.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): 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 okay. 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.

WELNA: Pelosi says the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah was not the only thing the CIA failed to tell her about.

Rep. PELOSI: 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.

WELNA: Pelosi says, she only learned that waterboarding had been used five months later, after she had left the intelligence committee. She says she learned about it then from a staff member who'd attended a later briefing.

Rep. PELOSI: I was not briefed that. I was only informed that they were briefed but I did not hear the briefing.

WELNA: A CIA spokesman responded to Pelosi by saying the language and the memo is quote, "true to the language in the agency's records." House minority leader, John Boehner, who requested the CIA memo, said it's pretty clear that Pelosi was well aware that enhanced interrogation techniques had been used.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): And it's hard for me to imagine that anyone in our intelligence area would ever mislead a member of Congress.

WELNA: Kit Bond, who is now the top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee, said Pelosi should have known that the CIA had every intension to use waterboarding.

Senator KIT BOND (Republican, Missouri): They don't come in and tell us, well here's a - here's a technique that we are not going to use. They come in to tell us these are techniques that were going to be used, or this is what we're going to do.

WELNA: For her part, Pelosi called for a truth commission to get to the bottom of the CIA's interrogation program and to explore the chain of command that led to its creation. She accused Republicans of trying to focus all the attention on her and her fellow Democrats.

Rep. PELOSI: 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.

WELNA: Meanwhile, the CIA yesterday, declined to release two classified documents Vice President Dick Cheney had asked to be de-classified, documents, he contends, which show the CIA's interrogation methods helped keep the country safe from terrorists. The CIA said it had to withhold the memos due to a pending lawsuit.

David Welna, NPR News.

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